Floods in Pakistan kill more than 1,000 and threaten economic recovery

Floods in Pakistan kill more than 1,000 and threaten economic recovery

More than 1,000 people have been killed and nearly 1 million homes damaged in the worst flooding to hit Pakistan in at least a decade, as the latest in a series of climate change-induced disasters jeopardizes economic recovery.

Heavy rainfall and flooding have ravaged Pakistan in recent weeks, affecting Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, three of the country’s four provinces. According to government data, Sindh received nearly eight times the average rainfall in August, wiping out crops such as rice and cotton.

Officials estimate that more than 30 million people have been affected, or about 15 percent of the population, and thousands have been forced to leave their homes.

“It’s the climate catastrophe of the decade,” Climate Change and Environment Secretary Sherry Rehman told the Financial Times in an interview. “We have not seen such a biblical flood come to Pakistan in time immemorial.”

South Asia has been ravaged by extreme weather in recent months, with heatwaves followed by torrential rains that have killed thousands in India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

The floods have increased Pakistan’s financial distress. The IMF board is expected to approve a $1.2 billion payout Monday to support the country’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves, which have fallen to about five weeks of import coverage. Inflation has also surged, with an indicator of “sensitive” items such as food and other essentials rising to 45 percent year-on-year last week.

Rehman predicted that authorities may be forced to divert development grants and possibly budget funding to contain the consequences.

“We will have problems with our import accounts and foreign exchange reserves will be affected because we are now going to import food, in a much larger [way],” she said. “Once our trade balance is affected, the rupee will weaken further. We are in for a very difficult time.”

The government is preparing a UN appeal for humanitarian aid to support the affected areas and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif met with foreign diplomats on Friday to press for more international aid. “The ongoing rainstorm has caused havoc across the country,” he said.

Investors had feared Pakistan could follow Sri Lanka in its default, although the prospect of imminent aid from the IMF – part of a $7 billion package launched in 2019 – has largely allayed those concerns. China recently lent more than $2 billion to Islamabad, while Saudi Arabia has agreed to extend a $3 billion deposit with Pakistan’s central bank. The Pakistani authorities expect more help from Qatar, among others.

The flooding has put further pressure on Sharif’s government as it faces an ongoing political challenge from former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was ousted this year by a vote of no confidence. Khan’s popularity has since skyrocketed as he pushed for new elections but has been released on bail after he was charged with terrorism offenses over a controversial speech last week.

Some policy experts argue that chronic neglect and mismanagement has exacerbated the toll of the catastrophe caused by climate change.

Abid Suleri, head of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute think tank, said “man-made disasters,” such as buildings built poorly and in unsafe locations, exacerbated the damage. “Natural disasters cannot be prevented [by any one country] but human catastrophes that result can be avoided,” he said.

But Rehman argued that no country can handle such extreme flooding. “If Islamabad got 700 percent extra rain, Islamabad would pack — just like New York,” she said. “It’s sexy to say it’s a development flaw. . . But I’m not sure if that’s all in the story. It’s just too much water.”

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