The cost of floods

September 11, 2022

The lack of coordination between the federal government and the governments of the Punjab and Sindh is worrying

The cost of floods


he devastation caused by recent floods cannot be accurately quantified for now. The loss of life is irreparable; the loss of property has deprived 3.5 million people of all their material resources and the destruction of infrastructure has badly impacted mobility. Food and crops have been washed away.

The impact is not limited to the direct flood victims. Those living in safer areas are also experiencing the aftershocks of these floods. Most of the areas where vegetables and fruits are grown have been inundated by water. Whole crops have been destroyed. The resultant shortage of food has increased the prices of vegetables, including onions and tomatoes.

The supply of milk has been severely disrupted, resulting in the shortage of milk in many cities. Rural poultry farms have vanished. The loss of livestock is 20 times more than the loss of human life. A large number of people are semi-starved. In many places cattle are dying due to starvation.

The initial estimates of $10 billion damage due to floods have been dwarfed by more recent reporting. The displaced population needs both temporary and permanent shelter. The authorities have not been able to provide even tents to all the affected families. Many, as a result, are left in the open. They badly need medicines for malaria and intestinal diseases. They also need clothes in addition to light blankets as nights in flooded areas are cooler and the winter is approaching.

It will take a great effort to mitigate their sufferings. The resources needed to cope with the situation are clearly lacking. Early efforts at rehabilitation have appeared to lack proper planning. Many philanthropists sincerely want to help the affected people. They are sending truckloads of relief goods but the trucks cannot go beyond certain points because of the shattered infrastructure. As a result people in remote areas lack access to these goods.

Those forced to live in knee-deep water remain deprived of relief goods sent for them. Also the distribution is a temporary arrangement. The victims need rations on a daily basis. Those living in safer areas might not realise that a seventh of Pakistanis have been affected by the floods.

The province of Balochistan has been devastated by the flash floods caused by unusual rains. There are few permanent pathways for water in Balochistan. There is no way in some areas for the water to recede. The flood has damaged many small dams and wiped out bridges connecting different regions of the province. Most of the loss of cattle has occurred in this province.

The cost of floods

The affected population needs food and healthcare for the next three months. Even if the minimum daily amount needed by each person averages Rs 100 per day, the resource allocation needed for the three months is huge.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was impacted first by flash floods and then by river overflows as the River Kabul and River Indus flooded most areas that came in their path. The Punjab, particularly its southern part, first suffered from heavy rains. Then it was ravaged by the mighty Indus. In the same way, Sindh first suffered from flash floods and then by the water that accumulated in the Indus River. This kept the army and federal and provincial governments on their toes.

The state and the army lack the resources to cope with the situation. They should first assess the total damage caused by this havoc. It is definitely much higher than the initial estimates. The provision of monetary support for those who have lost their houses will force the recipients to construct temporary shelters. But floods next year or a year later will again uproot them. They should be allowed instead to live in tents for a while and the state, in partnership with private sector philanthropy, should construct residences on safer land.

Many private sector associations have announced plans to build model villages comprising a hundred houses each. The government must provide a design for model villages to ensure that all new construction complies with safety standards. It should also announce a tax incentive for those funding the construction of one hundred houses.

The affected population needs food and healthcare for the next three months. Even if the minimum amount needed by each person averages Rs 100 per day, the allocation required for three months is going to be huge.

Repairing and building infrastructure will take years as the devastation is widespread. Arranging resources for the rehabilitation of infrastructure will be an uphill task. The cost of reconstruction in flood-prone areas will be much higher.

Keeping this in view, the initial estimate of $10 billion for infrastructure appears too conservative. However, building an inferior infrastructure is not an option. The government must seek assistance from friendly countries. Some of the infrastructure may be built through a public-private partnership and the cost recovered through a toll on the use of new infrastructure. This might also ensure its proper management.

The loss of crops and vegetables destroyed by the floods must be compensated through imports. In fact, the government has already imported onions and tomatoes from Indonesia and Afghanistan. The cotton crop in Sindh and south Punjab has been destroyed. This means that Pakistan will have to import more cotton this year to run its textile industry. We have already been importing cotton worth $1.5 billion annually. The import bill on this count alone may shoot up to $3 billion.

Sindh produces large quantities of coarse rice that earns it more than $2.5 billion in foreign exchange yearly. The rice crop has been damaged in the province due to standing water that may take months to recede. We might lose $500 million worth of coarse rice exports this year.

We might as well not be able to cultivate wheat in the water-logged regions of Sindh. This will further pressure our food security.

A matter of utmost concern is the apparent lack of effective coordination between the federal government and the provincial governments of Sindh and the Punjab. It impedes planning and might result, in some cases, in a duplication of relief efforts.

The writer is a senior   economic reporter

The cost of floods