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The New Year brings little hope for Pakistan’s flood survivors

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new year often starts on a festive note. People celebrate to mark a new beginning. These celebrations have an inherent hope that the coming year will be better than the outgoing one. However, amidst these festivities, there are those for whom the dawn of a new year is just another ordinary, painful day. Zoom in, and you will find millions of people in flood-affected areas of Pakistan who see themselves as helpless today (without much hope for a better tomorrow) as they were yesterday.

To be precise, 5.4 million people remained displaced by mid-November 2022 in the flood-affected districts of Pakistan (as per the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). Millions more have gone back to their homes but are surrounded by stagnant water. Mainly in Sindh and some parts of Balochistan, water has yet to recede. It may remain for several months into the new year, protracting the dire humanitarian situation for people in these areas.

The return of flood survivors to their places of origin is a misnomer. As per OCHA’s flood situation report, 5.5 million people in schools and communities were left without access to safe drinking water and sanitation by end of November. Five million additional people will likely slide to emergency levels of food insecurity in the next three months. The losses in food production are compounded by the disruption of income and livelihood and the rising prices amidst national and global inflation. Preliminary estimates indicate an increase in the national poverty rate of 3.7 percent to 4.0 percent as a direct result of the floods, placing between 8.4 million and 9.1 million people into abject poverty.

OCHA alerts that winterisation with the onset of the winter season, stagnant receding water, displacements at inadequate and makeshift sites, damaged shelters and the lack of appropriate winter clothing, basic household items and safe heating supplies are contributing to placing millions of people at risk of illness, disease, and protection concerns, especially of gender-based violence. Based on damage severity and propensity for severe weather, 14 districts of Sindh, ten districts of Balochistan, nine districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and two districts of the Punjab have been identified as most exposed to difficult winter conditions.

That the New Year may not have brought any hope for the flood survivors of Pakistan can also be gauged from the post-disaster needs assessment (PDNA) that the government of Pakistan undertook with the support of international financial institutes and the UN. The PDNA estimates the total damage (direct costs of destroyed or damaged physical assets) as $14.9 billion or 4.8 percent of GDP of FY22, total loss (changes in economic flows resulting from the disaster) as $15.2 billion (another 5 percent of GDP), and total needs (monetary cost of recovery and reconstruction) as $16.3 billion. The sector that suffered the most damage is housing. Agriculture, food, livestock and fisheries come next, followed by transport and communications.

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The (upward revised) UN flood appeal of $816 million is insufficient. It covers less than ten percent of Pakistan’s $30 billion flood loss and damage. There is worse news: only a quarter ($218 million) of this amount has been pledged so far. Most flood survivors have been taking care of their shelter (in make-shift places or temporary repair of houses) and food (not meeting their nutrition) on a self-help basis.

That the communities would be able to take care of their shelter by themselves seems to be an underlying assumption of the PDNA. While the housing sector suffered the most damage ($5.2 billion), its reconstruction and recovery need is estimated to be the least ($2.8 billion) or fifty percent of actual damage.

Dig deeper into numbers, and flood loss and damage equal to 10 percent of GDP would mean a loss of revenue by at least 10 percent. Missed revenue targets would require a readjustment of the macroeconomic framework with the IMF. The delay in this task would keep the next loan tranche from IMF in limbo, adding to Pakistan’s economic woes.

Flood damage has also impacted Pakistan’s economic growth for the current fiscal year. The GDP growth for FY23 has been revised downward to around 2.2 percent. On the other hand, the need for flood recovery and reconstruction is projected at 1.6 times the budgeted national development expenditure for FY23. In technical terms, this would widen the fiscal deficit. In layperson language, the government has insufficient resources for flood recovery and reconstruction.

Of the total reconstruction cost of over $16 billion, the government has prepared a strategy to utilise $8 billion from its budgetary resources (in the medium term). The remaining $8 billion will be sought from multilateral and bilateral creditors in the forthcoming donor’s conference in Geneva next week.

However, high hopes should not be set for the donors’ conference. The world is passing through economic turbulence. Amidst global recession and record inflation, there are visible signs of donors’ fatigue. The international community pledged almost 1 billion euros to Ukraine just two weeks ago in a conference organised by France. This is in addition to bilateral assistance that Ukraine has received (and will receive) since Russia attacked it. Now they will be asked to pledge for Pakistan’s floods.

The World Bank and the ADB have already approved $2 billion in loans for flood reconstruction in Pakistan. Amid the Ukraine crisis, one is not expecting more than $1 billion on top of this amount for Pakistan. This means that there will be a shortfall of $5-6 billion for flood reconstruction, even if all pledges at the donor conference materialise.

It must be kept in mind that reconstruction is only part of what is required for a dignified recovery for flood survivors. Their health, food, shelter, water and sanitation, protection, and education needs are to be met to ensure that their tomorrow is better than today.

Most flood survivors in Sindh and Balochistan do not follow the global economic debates. However, they know for sure that they cannot put their life on hold waiting indefinitely for external help. They are trying to build back on their own resilience, which should not be taken for granted. As we step into the new year, the elite in Pakistan will do well to take a moment out of their festivities and celebrations to take stock of the post flood devastation. It is the duty of our elites, both within and outside the decision-making circles, to strengthen that resilience through finances and by placing the flood recovery high on our collective agendas during 2023.

The writer heads the Sustainable Development Policy institute. He tweets @abidsuleri

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