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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.

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

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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