The forgotten affectees?


The Economic Survey 2010-11 has a special section on Flood Impact Assessment in it. “The 2010 monsoon flood disaster in Pakistan was massive and unprecedented, killing more than 1,700 persons, affecting over 20 percent of the land area and more than 20 million people, and causing loss of billions of dollars through damages to infrastructure, housing, agriculture and livestock, and other family assets. Essential infrastructure – including roads, bridges, and markets – has been severely damaged and many remain impassable.”

The section goes on to share that the total damage that was wreaked by the floods was Rs. 855 billion across Pakistan and it would cost Rs. 578 billion to reconstruct what had been destroyed. Transport and communication area alone needed Rs 200 billion for reconstruction and another Rs. 126 billion is needed to reconstruct housing that has been destroyed.

The finance minister, in his budget speech, had almost an entire section on the devastating floods and the damages caused by the floods, and how this had to be taken into account when looking at the performance of the economy over the last year. The floods clearly had a huge impact on the country, especially on the agriculture sector, and given its magnitude, it would have been surprising if they had not.

But this is where the break in the narrative occurs. When it was time to discuss development priorities for next year and mentioning the big ticket items in development or even other expenditure, the floods were almost not mentioned at all. All I could find was one sentence in the first part of the budget speech that said: “Hundreds of billions of rupees are being allocated for rehabilitation and development of flood affected infrastructure.” But the minister did not, when discussing expenditures, mention specifics about these hundreds of billions.

Surely this seems more than an oversight. The floods devastated lives of millions, and it is being acknowledged in all official documents that many still need assistance. Yet, when it comes to explaining the ‘relief’ items that the ‘people’s government’ is providing for the people, there is no explicit mention of any specific initiatives or amounts. There is nothing mentioned about reconstruction in flood affected areas in the press brief that accompanies the budget documents, and is available on the finance ministry’s website.

Some of the reconstruction is going to be hidden in the allocations that have been done for communications and transport sector (road reconstruction), and some will be in other areas as well, but what is interesting is that nowhere did the government, in the budget speech, the documents accompanying the release of budget or for interactions with the press afterwards, make it a point to share with the people what the aggregates for reconstruction are going to be and under what heads are they being allocated.

I am sure the federal government is going to take the line that most of development is now a provincial matter and the provinces, under the new NFC, are being given more money and it is up to them to manage these issues. This is especially going to be the case for areas like health and education, which by virtue of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, have been made provincial subjects.

But this is just a lot of hot air. For the federal and the provincial governments, the patterns are not going to be different. Reconstruction means spending resources on the poor. The federal as well as provincial governments are so set in the ways they spend money, usually not on the poor, that it is very unlikely they will be able to break away from these patterns and give reconstruction the importance that it deserves.

We can go back to the reconstruction after the earthquake and see what happened there. We created a new body ERRA to look after reconstruction. A lot of money was also pledged for reconstruction, and the usual kind of promises made. And five years down the road ERRA documentation, on their website reveals that only 30% of the schools they were going to construct/reconstruct have been completed while 70% are behind schedule. In health, completion rates are 50%. If one were to get third party audits done, one can be sure that numbers will be lower and quality/corruption issues will come forth as well. In fact studies both by Omar Asghar Khan Development Foundation (OAKDF) and LUMS had shown significant issues in the distribution of money for reconstruction of houses.

For post-flood reconstruction, there do not seem to be any pledges, national or international. There is no single entity responsible for reconstruction, and the responsibilities seem to be divided between the planning bodies at the federal and provincial levels and then the executing departments. If we cannot find specific flood related allocations in the budget, the likely allocations cannot be very significant. What is this signaling?

The federal finance minister said Rs 160 billion were to be given to people as compensation (for losses and especially for getting houses reconstructed). Some Rs 30 billion were disbursed last year, but he did not mention how much would be distributed this year. And where ever we have visited, in the flood affected areas, or have our partners working, the feedback has been that after the relief efforts, government, of all levels, has been missing from the scene. Those who got Watan Cards — and not all did — have gotten the first tranche but there is no indication when or even if the second tranche will come through.

And the next monsoon season is round the corner. If rains are heavy this year, or if the snow melt in the north is heavy, are we ready for facing floods this year?

It seems the poor and vulnerable appear in our budgets only to explain our poor performance, but when it comes to expenditure side, it remains business as usual. It would probably be interesting to analyse the last budget and this one and see if there is any differences in priorities between pre-flood and post-flood budgets. My dollar would on finding that there is no difference that is attributable to the floods.


The writer is an Associate Professor of Economics at LUMS (currently on leave) and a Senior Advisor at Open Society Foundation (OSF). He can be reached at [email protected]



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