Pakistan floods: Damage and challenges

A month of flooding across Pakistan has left millions of people homeless and devastated thousands of square kilometres of land. While the south battles new floods, in the north workers have begun clearing up as waters recede. The BBC's M Ilyas Khan assesses the huge task ahead.

Damage to infrastructure

Most damage to infrastructure has been caused in the mountainous north, where gushing currents washed away roads and bridges, cutting off large communities from each other and from the rest of the country.

Flood victims in Punjab, Pakistan, 26 August 2010 Infrastructure in Punjab has been extensively damaged

Officials have appealed for dozens more helicopters to reach those in need.

Roads, bridges and rail tracks have also been damaged extensively in the Punjab and Sindh provinces.

Officials say more than 45 major bridges and thousands of kilometres of roads have been destroyed or badly damaged. Thousands of electricity poles and communications towers have been uprooted.

In the north-west, a dam that irrigated nearly 200,000 acres of farmland has been destroyed.

It is still unknown how much damage has been caused to the irrigation system in Punjab and Sindh provinces, which is the largest contiguous irrigation system in the world and has been entirely flooded.

Economic impact

There are varying estimates of how much economic loss has been caused.

The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have agreed to carry out damage assessment which they hope to complete by mid-October.

But rough estimates by experts put total damage anywhere between $25bn and $40bn (£16bn-£26bn).

Minister for Food and Agriculture Nazar Mohammad Gondal says some 20% of the country's total cropland has been inundated, causing a loss of $2.8bn.

This is obviously going to impact on the country's textile and sugar industries.

Experts expect inflation to exceed 12% in coming months, which will obviously hit the most vulnerable segment of the population the hardest.

Textile exports, which constitute Pakistan's major foreign exchange earner, have exceeded the targets for this year but if agriculture is not put back on track, they may suffer and the country's gross domestic product (GDP) growth may take a hit.

Food

Pakistan had a bumper crop last year so there is no immediate food shortage in the country.

A farmer in a submerged field in Shikarpur, Pakistan, 16 August 2010 A substantial amount of farmland has been inundated by flood waters

But millions of acres of pulse and rice crops have been washed away, which may lead to shortages and high prices.

The situation may deteriorate if farmers miss the winter sowing season, which starts in September and continues until November.

The loss of cattle may also affect supply and prices of dairy products.

Experts estimate that 200,000 cattle have died in the floods, and some 10 million are now at risk due to shortage of water and upkeep.

Health issues

The time to treat immediate injuries caused by flashfloods is over. It is not yet known how many have been injured or maimed.

Access to maternity health for those affected has also been negligible, though aid groups are now providing services in some accessible areas.

The World Health Organisation estimates that a 5th of the country's health facilities have been damaged.

Two children being treated for diarrhoea in a hospital in Sukkar, Sindh Province, southern Pakistan, 25 August 2010 Tens of thousands of cases of diarrhoea have already been reported

Experts say flood related epidemics usually surface four to six weeks after the floods.

UN officials say more than 70,000 cases of acute watery diarrhoea have already been reported, and there is a risk that many of these people may have actually contacted cholera.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani said last week that 3.1 million children in flood-affected areas were at risk of contacting water borne diseases.

The situation might get worse if proper shelter, clean drinking water and latrines are not provided immediately.

Damage to infrastructure is also going to impact delivery of health services as many people are unlikely to be able to access health facilities due to damaged roads and bridges.

Short-term rehabilitation

While floods are still ravaging vast areas in the southern Sindh province, the government is under pressure to return life in the provinces of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and Punjab to normal.

It has already announced incentives for canola sowing in the cotton belt of Punjab province next month when the flood waters are expected to recede.

But the farming community has lost almost all its resources and the government will need to spend huge amounts of money to facilitate land preparation, and the provision of free seeds and fertilisers.

If foreign assistance is not available, the government may have to cut its own development budget to provide assistance to farmers.

Security issues

Problems may worsen if the Taliban attack Western aid workers in the flood zone.

There are already fears that security concerns may drive up the expenses of UN and other Western aid workers delivering relief in the region.

It may also slow down relief work in the affected areas, intensifying the discontent already discernible among displaced people who believe the government has not done enough to help them.

Sluggish aid delivery and delays in restoration of vital infrastructure are also likely to heighten fears of increased urbanisation.

Tens of thousands of people displaced by the floods have taken refuge in urban centres of Punjab and Sindh.

If the funding to rebuild their houses and the restoration of their infrastructure is slow, they may stay on in the cities.

This will put pressure on already crowded Pakistani cities and exacerbate ethnic tensions, particularly in Sindh province.

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