International assistance to Pakistan in the wake of devastating flooding that began last month is finally showing signs of picking up steam.
But the hundreds of millions of dollars that donor countries and relief organizations are coming up with will be dwarfed by the billions of dollars it will take to put Pakistan back on its feet, development experts warn.
The international community, Pakistani authorities reported Sunday, has pledged more than $800 million in aid, although part of that is in uncommitted pledges – the kind that often are never delivered. In addition, the United Nations announced that it had reached almost $320 million, or about 70 percent, of the $460 million it called for in an emergency appeal issued Aug. 11.
But as floodwaters continued Monday to extend their devastation into the country’s breadbasket in Sindh and Punjab Provinces, Pakistani officials were in Washington on a mission to garner the assistance of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for what is certain to be a long-term rebuilding program.
Saying the Pakistan floods constitute a “massive economic challenge” to a country already in delicate straits, the IMF indicated that the meetings beginning Monday would focus on Pakistan’s short- and medium-term financial and economic prospects. Among the possibilities is either a tweaking or a complete redo of Pakistan’s existing loan program with the IMF. A new emergency relief loan is also a possibility.
Pakistan had set a target growth rate of 4.5 percent for the year, but economists now estimate a rate of somewhere between zero and 3 percent. The main reason for that is the damage the flooding has already wreaked on Pakistan’s dominant agricultural sector: More than 4 million acres of crops have been wiped out or heavily damaged, Pakistani officials estimate.
US officials who have toured a flood-ravaged Pakistan say the damage to agricultural lands and infrastructure stands out.
“The extent of the damage just visually was every bit as epic and devastating as you would imagine,” said Daniel Feldman, the deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, in briefing reporters Monday on his tour last week of Pakistan.
There were “agricultural fields underwater, roads and bridges underwater, roads continuously disrupted by water, so [it is] impossible to move people or food or supplies out,” he said. The entire scene added up to a picture that reinforced “not only the degree of immediate relief that will be needed as the UN and other international donors have focused on,” he added, “but longer term, the recovery and reconstruction efforts – which will take many, many months, if not years.”
Pakistani officials have given an initial, off-the-cuff rebuilding estimate of $15 billion.
The floods have killed nearly 1,600 people, left more than 4 million homeless, and in some fashion affected 20 million. Relating the situation in Pakistan to other high-profile natural disasters and conflicts, Oxfam’s humanitarian director, Jane Cocking, told journalists that this is “a single, long event which has the scale of the tsunami, the devastation of Haiti, and the complexity of the Middle East.”
Indeed, some humanitarian aid experts theorize that the drawn-out nature of the flooding – as opposed to the shock associated with something as quick as an earthquake – could help explain why the international response to Pakistan’s devastation has been slow.
Despite a United Nations General Assembly session last week on Pakistan that US officials termed a “success” in terms of drumming up additional aid, some UN officials continued Monday to characterize the international response as disappointing.
“One of the major challenges that we have which is quite extraordinary is the lack of ... support from the international community,” said Louis-Georges Arsenault, director of emergency operations for UNICEF, on Monday. “Our level of needs in terms of funding is huge compared to what we’ve been receiving,” he said, “even though it is the largest, by far, humanitarian crisis we’ve seen in decades.”