1pc GDP at risk from floods
GHULAM Nabi came to Lahore along with his younger brother around 10 months ago after the Chenab had devastated his village in Hafizabad district last September. "Each of our possessions - a mud house, a buffalo, crops, clothes etc - were swept away in the flood waters," he reminisces. "We were left with only debts to pay off."
The government did put some cash in his pocket, but that wasn't enough for the family of eight to start over. "Our village is very close to the banks of the Chenab and is vulnerable to floods. Most villagers have nowhere to go to as advised by the district administration through announcements from the local mosque," Nabi says. The World Bank estimates that Pakistan has suffered losses in excess of $18bn because of natural disasters in the last one decade
According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), more than 2.5m people were affected, mainly in Punjab, due to last year's deluge in the Chenab and Sutlej rivers, which claimed 367 lives, washed away crops spread over 1m acres, and partially or completely damaged about 130,000 houses.
Many small non-farm enterprises and manufacturing and processing businesses were also affected and livelihoods swept away. The NDMA had estimated the cost of the recovery effort at around $439m. The actual cost of the losses resulting from the floods is not yet known - and may never be known - as a significant number of people affected by the floods find it difficult to start over. "Anecdotal evidence suggests that a large portion of the population affected by the floods since 2010 has not been rehabilitated," says Ali Salman, the executive director of the Policy Research Institute of Market Economy (Prime). "Many remain without shelter and jobs, and some have shifted to the cities to find livelihoods."
Salman says floods result in longterm food insecurity for the affected population, increase poverty, disrupt supply chains, push prices and eliminate jobs. "A majority of the affected families find it difficult to recover from the impact of such disasters. If super floods hit, the impact on the macroeconomic and financial stability of a country like Pakistan can be even more severe and lasting."
The World Resources Institute (WRI) says Pakistan falls 5th on the list of top 15 countries that account for 80pc of the population exposed to riverflood risk worldwide.
It estimates that just a little less than 1pc of Pakistan's GDP is exposed to river floods every year. It is ranked 16th by the WRI on the list of the top 20 countries with the highest GDP exposure to river floods.
Ever since the super floods hit almost one-fifth of the country's area and displaced more than 20m people in 2010, parts of Pakistan have regularly experienced flash floods. And while most of the country, except parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and GilgitBaltistan, has escaped the floods so far this year, the NDMA says over half a million people have been impacted by them. In total, 801 villages have been affected and 2,058 houses damaged.
A farmer and ginner from Rahim Yar Khan, Seth Mohammad Akber, fears cotton crop losses because of torrential rains in south Punjab. "The cotton fields are under water. The crop will be irreparably damaged if the water doesn't dry up soon. The crop losses could increase manifold if the cotton belt in south Punjab and Sindh is hit by floods in the weeks to come, as feared by many."
The World Bank estimates that Pakistan has suffered economic losses in excess of $18bn because of natural disasters in the last one decade since the massive earthquake hit KP and Azad Kashmir in 2005. The 2010 floods alone had cost the economy around $10bn. The World Bank report - Fiscal Disaster Risk Options for Pakistan - released earlier this summer says that approximately 3m Pakistanis on average, or about 1.6pc of the population, are affected by natural catastrophes each year. According to an analysis of historical natural disaster data, since 1973 around 77pc of all the people affected by natural disasters were impacted by flooding events.
"Pakistan faces a major financing challenge arising from natural catastrophes, with flooding causing an estimated annual economic impact of between three and four per cent of the federal budget," adds the report. It estimates the annual economic impact of flooding at between $1.2bn and $1.8bn, or 0.5-0.8pc of GDP.
Simulations show that a major flood event - occurring, on average, once every 100 years - could cause losses in excess of $15.5bn, which equates to around 7pc of GDP and almost 40pc of the federal budget. Both the WRI and the World Bank say the size of Pakistan's GDP that is exposed to floods will continue to rise as its population and asset bases increase.
Natural disasters like floods also have a social cost that no study has ever measured in the country, contends Shahid Zia, an economic analyst from Lahore. "Floods and earthquakes often damage or destroy schools and health facilities in the affected areas, reducing the access of the affected population to education and healthcare. Moreover, most parents stop sending their children to school because they can no longer afford to. If you visit the flood-affected areas, you'll find more children working to support their families."
He is sorry to note that successive governments have failed to protect the people exposed to floods despite repeated flooding in the country. "Our government is focused more on eyecatching development projects than on building defence against floods to protect the poor, who are exposed to the risk of losing their lives, shelter and livelihoods."