Month: September 2010
The misery shows no sign of abating, even as waters recede in some places
PAKISTAN’S floods are looking ever more monstrous. In the south waters continue to rise, eating up new areas and swamping districts such as Jaffarabad, in Baluchistan province, a full 100km from the Indus river. Farther north the tide is now receding, only to reveal the many homeless and hungry, their stores of wheat and their crops and livestock destroyed. Everywhere it is becoming clearer how social, economic and political misery will endure for a long time yet.
Overall 1.2m homes have been damaged or destroyed. Some 800,000 people remain cut off from all help. Even where the government or aid agencies are present, the help is patchy at best, with many left to fend for themselves. Now dark (and plausible) accusations are circulating: the well-connected chose which areas were purposefully flooded to relieve pressure elsewhere; aid is being diverted to constituencies of powerful figures; woefully feeble flood-protection infrastructure was left badly maintained.
The threat of epidemic disease lurks in unhygienic, crowded camps and back in villages where putrefying animals lie under the mud and in pools of stagnant water. But hunger may prove to be a bigger problem. An estimated 23% of the year’s harvest was washed away, including a quarter of the cotton crop, which matters to the economy. About 2.6m acres of cultivated land have been drowned, says Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority. Officials say that the rehabilitation will take three years, barring more floods. Food inflation will hurt even the driest of the poor.
Pakistan, negotiating new lending terms with the IMF, now estimates that economic growth will fall to 2% (or worse) of GDP this year, down from a predicted 4.5%. Repairing roads, bridges, the electricity grid and other infrastructure (including flood protection) will be costly, but should at least boost the economy later.
Most of Pakistan’s big political parties are part of the national or provincial governments, so blame for the inept official response will be widely shared. A powerful exiled leader, Altaf Hussain, whose Muttahida Qaumi Movement is part of the ruling coalition in Islamabad but is also known to be close to the military establishment, has called for the army to “take any martial law-type action against corrupt politicians and feudal lords”. Yet a coup still looks unlikely. As Asif Zardari, the unpopular and much-criticised president, points out: “I don’t think anybody in their right mind” would want to take over Pakistan right now.
Nor would outsiders be impressed. Donors, who were relatively slow to respond at first, have now pledged over $815m to Pakistan. Much more will be needed. Thoughtless (or cynical) officials are saying they will cut development spending to pay for reconstruction, though other bits of the bloated state apparatus should be chopped first. In any case the officials will struggle to enact a complex rehabilitation programme. Yet those made destitute need to be put back on their feet as quickly as possible, not least to deny the Taliban and their allies—who this week carried out three attacks in a single day—more supplies of willing and hungry recruits.
Courtesy: The Economist