As floodwaters have started receding in various inundated areas across Pakistan, the country is bracing for a string of secondary disasters, which experts warn could be “more disastrous and lingering.”
From disease outbreaks to severely damaged infrastructure and the looming threat of food security, the South Asian nuclear country is racing against time to mitigate the aftershocks of the devastating floods, which are expected to affect millions for a long time.
Since mid-June, destructive rains — 10 times heavier than usual — and swirling floods have killed nearly 1,400 people and injured over 12,000 others, aside from washing away hundreds of thousands of houses, bridges, roads, and buildings across the country, which is already grappling with political and economic turmoil.
Over 33 million of the country's approximately 220 million population have been affected by the raging floods, causing a staggering loss of around $10 billion in damages to an already weakened infrastructure.
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The monsoon season in Pakistan, like in other countries in the region, usually results in heavy rains, but this year has been the wettest since 1961.
Massive rains and melting glaciers, followed by raging floods submerged one-third of the country.
Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are also dealing with outbreaks of waterborne skin and eye diseases, with health experts warning of a higher number of deaths from diarrhea, typhoid, malaria dengue, gastrointestinal, and other infections than from rains and floods.
Next two months ‘crucial’
Food security, repair of infrastructure, and reconstruction of houses are the major challenges for cash-strapped Islamabad in the short term, experts and government officials reckon.
According to them, the government is facing three major challenges to meet in the next two months; to save the forthcoming winter crop season, repair the battered roads and highways, and provision of shelter to hundreds of thousands of flood victims who will begin returning to their hometowns in days to come.
The UN and Islamabad made a joint appeal for $160 million in international aid last week, as the swirling floods are still posing threat to at least five densely-populated districts of southern Sindh province.
In an interaction with Anadolu Agency, Chief Minister of Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah said the lurking food insecurity is the immediate challenge the country has to tackle.
The imminent winter crop season, according to him, is crucial for the country’s food security.
Almost 45% of the country's cropland has already been inundated by the floods, posing a serious threat to food security and further adding to already skyrocketing inflation.
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“The forthcoming rabi (winter) crop season will be the biggest challenge for us as the farmers have lost everything. We plan to give them relief in terms of fertilisers, seeds, and cash,” Shah pledged.
For that the irrigation system also needed to be restored, he added.
"It will be a serious threat to the country's food security if we cannot ensure the winter crops," he warned.
Over 300,000 mud houses across rural Sindh have completely been destroyed by massive floods, he added.
"It is not possible to rebuild all of these houses at once, but we must provide permanent shelter to flood victims, particularly farmers who will be returning to their homes and lands in the coming days."
To ensure the transportation return of displaced people, as well as the construction and other materials, scores of destroyed roads and highways need to be repaired to the point where at least the vehicles can ply,” he said.
"This isn't like going for a walk in the park. We're racing against the clock because this all has to be done in the next two months," he explained.
Sindh alone requires at least Rs500 billion (approximately $2.23 billion) to meet these immediate challenges, according to Shah.
Reducing growth rate
Pakistan emits less than 1% of greenhouse gases, but it is at the forefront of a human-caused climate crisis.
Khaqan Najeeb, an Islamabad-based economist and former adviser to the Ministry of Finance, said the repair and reconstruction cost is well over $10 billion.
Aside from inflicting heavy casualties and damages, Najeeb told Anadolu Agency that the floods have also forced the country to cut its growth forecast for this fiscal year to 2.3% from 5%.
In addition, he said the damage to cotton and rice crops may reduce exports earlier estimated at around $36 billion, putting pressure on the current account deficit to rise beyond the earlier estimates of $ 9.3 billion for the fiscal year 2023.
Tough tasks ahead
Dr Tabassum Jafri, an official with the Alkhidmat Foundation, a non-governmental relief organisation that has been involved in relief and rescue operations in all four provinces, believes the victims and the government are in for "tougher" tasks.
"While the relief and rescue of hundreds of thousands of people was a difficult task, the challenge ahead, which is the rehabilitation of such a huge displaced population, is far tougher," Jafri told Anadolu Agency.
He cited the 2005 earthquake in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, which killed over 80,000 people, and said it took years for displaced people to resettle.
“The combined resources of the government and private relief organisations are insufficient to cope with the rehabilitation challenge," he observed, adding, "They will soon be exhausted considering the colossal nature of the calamity."
Jafri noted that his organisation, which is one of the country's largest non-governmental relief organisations, has set aside funds for house reconstruction as well as the provision of livestock and other income resources to flood victims.
“This is a huge task. Even the government and non-governmental organisations together cannot meet it,” he said, urging the international community to join hands to tackle the challenge.
Moreover, he added that a huge number of people may suffer for a "longer period” from the complications of diseases and infections contracted as a result of a "highly" unclean environment.