Pakistan flood relief tests cash-strapped government

Reuters , Monday 12 Sep 2011

Pakistan, still struggling to assist victims of last year's floods, is expected to face another wave of floods in its southern region, as monsoon rains near the region

Pakistan's cash-strapped government, still struggling to help victims of last year's floods, could face another major test as monsoon rains sweep across Sindh province in the south.

"The situation in Sindh is already serious and there will be more flooding and more problems because of these rains," said meteorology department official Arif Mehmood.

"We have alerted all relevant government agencies dealing with the flood situation."

Flooding has killed about 200 people, destroyed or damaged nearly one million houses and flooded 4.2 million acres of land since late August, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Prospects for further flood damage would put Pakistan's government, already battling Taliban militants, allegations of widespread corruption and public anger over power cuts, under immense pressure.

Pakistan's far more decisive military, which has ruled the country for more than half of its history took charge of rescue and relief operations during last year's floods, while the government was seen as slow and ineffective.

Still, more than a year later, over 800,000 families remain without permanent shelter, according to aid group Oxfam, and more than a million people need food assistance, mostly in Sindh.

Pakistan may also have lost up to two million cotton bales, or about 13 percent of its estimated crop, due to heavy monsoon rains during harvesting in major producing region Sindh, government and industry officials said.

Monsoon rains sweep the subcontinent from June to September and are crucial for agriculture in the region.

The South Asian nation, which relies heavily on foreign aid and an IMF emergency loan package, cannot afford heavy losses in the agriculture sector, a pillar of the economy.

Last year, the cotton output fell to 11.70 million bales against a target of 14 million bales due to 2010's floods.

The losses in the cotton crop were among the reasons Pakistan's economic growth that year slipped to 2.4 percent from the original target of 4.5 percent.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has already appealed for international help to cope with the latest floods.

Pakistan is still haunted by memories of the 2010 floods which killed about 2,000 people and made 11 million homeless in one of the country's worst natural disasters.

One-fifth of Pakistan was then submerged in water, an area the size of Italy, and the government, which was widely accused of reacting too slowly, faced $10 billion in damages to infrastructure, irrigation systems, bridges, houses and roads.

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