Pakistan floods: Cash grants for families on the way

The government plans to start handing out cash grants to victims of the Pakistan floods in the coming weeks. Donations from abroad are dwindling as a costly recovery effort begins.

By , Staff writer

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    A Pakistani flood-affected woman looks at a camp for people displaced by floods in Sukkur, Sindh province, south Pakistan Monday, Sept. 13.
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Sajad Hussein returned home last week after the Pakistan floods started to recede, walked onto the jumble of thatch and mud that had been his home, and sat down. He says he’s been mostly sitting these past five days, waiting for someone to give him something with which to rebuild.

Hundreds of miles upriver near Risalpur, Abdullah Jan grew tired of sitting around in a tent camp so he started making his own cement bricks. After some trial and error, the farmer now has 3,000 bricks baking in the sun, not nearly enough to rebuild his former mud hut.

The difference in approach represents a broad problem across the country that comes down to a key difference between the two men: access to money. Mr. Jan borrowed money from friends. What he collected wasn’t enough to buy bricks – now selling at double the price they sold for before the flood – so he found a way to make his own.

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IN PICTURES: Pakistan floods

Starter funds, like the boost Jan got from his friends, are needed to help Mr. Hussein and hundreds of thousands like him on to their feet again. The Pakistani government plans to start cash grants in the coming weeks. But with the floodwaters receding and international media attention fading, donations from abroad are dwindling just as the country embarks on a costly recovery effort.

Pakistani aid breakdown

Pakistan is planning substantial grants for citizens. Here's the breakdown, according to the Pakistani government:

* Every flood-affected family will receive 20,000 rupees, or $234. With 20 million affected, that would total at least $4.68 billion.

* Those whose homes were destroyed will receive an additional 80,000 rupees, or $935. That will cost another $1.76 billion.

* Extremely at-risk families – such as those headed by women or the disabled – will also receive $58 a month for the next six months. Total cost: unknown.

The government will also give seed and fertilizer to help farmers start replanting.

“These people have lost everything – their houses, their agricultural land, their crops, their livestock, and they don’t have anything,” says Nadeem Ahmed, the retired general in charge of Pakistan’s disaster response. “So we need to hold their hands for a longer duration.”

Getting people back on their feet could take about a year, while the overall reconstruction effort will take “three to five years, minimum,” says Mr. Ahmed.

Going home to mud

But as individuals wait for that aid to reach them, many villagers are returning to their land to see what can be done with their homes in the mean time.

Some houses still stand. But a look inside reveals large holes, fallen roofs, and deep cracks. Many homes made of mud – which is common in rural areas – have simply washed away.

For some like Hussein in Muzaffargarh district, the shock of the loss appears to be paralyzing. He said there was nothing he could do until someone gave him materials and money. Asked if he could begin at least cleaning up the ruins of his home, he said he had no tools to do so.

His neighbor, Gualum Rasual, spent the first two days back home clearing up the deep mud left in his compound. “We are looking for our belongings which were buried,” says Mr. Rasual. The mud, which is several feet deep in places, “is very sticky and you sink into it. It’s slippery. There are snakes.”

He says the thing he needs most is money so that he can rebuild his house – this time with cement.

Do-it-yourself approach

Near Risalpur, Jan gave up on waiting for the government.

“Since 40 days passed, nobody from the government came. Nobody asked us about rebuilding our homes,” he says.

After raising money from friends, he went to a local blacksmith for three brick molds he designed himself. Then he purchased cement and sand, grabbed a hose, and began making bricks in an empty lot near his wiped-out mud home.

He estimates his do-it-yourself bricks will cut the cost of his home by half. He still needs to make another 3,000 bricks. But because his funds are starting to run out he’s skimping on cement – leading to shoddier bricks.

“We are laborers and we can build our homes by ourselves. We just need money to build,” says Jan.

Aid's price tag

The Pakistani government is estimating an overall flood price-tag of $43 billion. So far, the international community has pledged $1.16 billion. The US has provided $258 million so far.

On Friday, the United Nations is expected to launch an updated appeal for donations. UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said Tuesday that new donations had dwindled to $20 million over the previous two weeks.

“The world’s attention is waning at a time when some of the biggest challenges for the relief effort here are still to come,” said Ms. Amos. People "affected when the floods started in late July are now looking to us for help to get back on their feet.”

Down the line Pakistan will also be looking for help rebuilding its infrastructure. That later appeal will happen after the government develops a reconstruction plan based on the findings of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. The two international bodies have sent assessors to fact-check damage reports and assess the needs of communities up and down the Indus River system.

There is some recognition among urban Pakistanis that they must step up financially to help save their rural counterparts.

“In the urban areas we are fed by these people in rural areas. It is the time for us to feed them. Otherwise in five or six years we will all starve,” says Mohammad Asad Khan, a manager of the nonprofit Punjab Rural Support Program.

A high-ranking US official expressed satisfaction that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has publicly floated plans for raising taxes to help pay the flood costs.

President Zardari told the Financial Times today that he has local government agreement for a one-off tax on large urban properties that could raise $82 million.

“Unless we can begin coming up with the money ourselves, how can we expect [foreign] taxpayers to be generous?” he told the FT. “It is not the amount which matters – it is also the intent.”

But tax dodging is pervasive, meaning fewer than 2 percent pay income taxes, a heavy challenge to domestic fund-raising.

IN PICTURES: Pakistan floods

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