Pakistan has been hit by one of the worst monsoon and riverine floods in its history as it was gathering momentum to overcome its economic woes. From June to September, Pakistan witnessed catastrophic flooding in large parts of Sindh, Balochistan, South Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, where far-off areas are still inaccessible. The unprecedented floods have added tremendous socio-economic challenges to an already struggling economy.
The total number of Pakistanis affected by the devastating floods is 33 million. Increasing cases of water-borne and vector diseases are the first major concern in the most affected regions of Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and South Punjab. On 20 September alone, the National Institute of Health reportedly recorded 1,900 cases of acute watery diarrhoea, 200 cases of malaria, and 50 cases of dengue fever across Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Sindh. It appears the health woes are just beginning.
According to a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), which coordinates the global emergency response to humanitarian crises, as of 20 September, in 18 out of 22 districts of Sindh, floodwater levels had receded by at least 34 per cent, and in some districts up to 78 per cent.
Increasing cases of water-borne and vector diseases are the first major concern in the most affected regions of Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and South Punjab
Organizations and volunteers working for floor relief activities report that many people in these areas are living in unsanitary conditions in temporary shelters or tents, often with limited access to necessities, adding to the risk of a major public health crisis. Pregnant women are especially vulnerable. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said that almost 650,000 pregnant women in flood-hit areas require maternal health services to ensure safe pregnancy and childbirth. Out of these up to 73,000 women were expected to give birth in September with no permanent shelter or access to necessary medical facilities.
The UN agency has stressed that pregnant women will need skilled birth attendants, newborn care, and support. The onus of that delivery rests on Pakistan’s government and its friends and donors.
Dr Zarina Ashraf, a gynaecologist by profession and member of Rotary International has been working in relief camps in different areas of South Punjab for weeks now. So far, they have arranged camps in Rajanpur, Rojhan, Dajal, Makool, Taunsa, Manghar Watta, Sogar and Jatoi. She says, “They have nothing except death, misery, horrific memories of everything being taken away by water and helplessness. Women, children, men, the elderly, and animals are in miserable conditions there. With each passing day, water-borne diseases are increasing there, women don’t have access to sanitary hygiene products and things are even more difficult for pregnant women.”
Fund (UNFPA) said that almost 650,000 pregnant women in flood-hit areas require maternal health services to ensure safe pregnancy and childbirth.
Before the floods, Pakistan already had one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Asia. The present devastation is likely to harm mothers even more. The lack of qualified health service providers and limited access to severely impacted zones due to infrastructural damage is aggravating the situation.
Malnutrition in flood-affected communities is another alarming concern. Even before the floods, the prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) was already alarmingly high in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Sindh; 96 per cent of children under two were not consuming a minimum acceptable diet, and at least 40 per cent of children under five were chronically malnourished (stunted). The current floods are expected to raise serious concerns for food insecurity, as over 3.6 million acres of crops and over 750,000 cattle heads have been eliminated by the flooding.
As of 30 September, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has recorded nearly 1,700 deaths and more than 12,800 injuries since mid-June. The highest death rates were recorded in Sindh (747), Balochistan (325), and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (307). More than two million houses have been damaged or destroyed and around 7.9 million people are reportedly displaced, including some 598,000 people living in relief camps, according to reports by the Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMAs) of the affected provinces. Estimates indicate that more than 7,000 schools are currently being used to host displaced populations, while an estimated 25,100 schools have been damaged.
From agriculture to industry, the floods have affected all; the havoc caused by the floods will cause a predicted decline in the growth of the agriculture sector from 3.9 per cent to 2.7 per cent
Documented flood damage to school infrastructure suggests that the learning losses from the floods have the potential to surpass the losses incurred due to Covid-19 with the scale of flooding so severe in certain parts of Sindh and South Punjab that Pakistan may see its learning poverty rise. Experts predict that learning poverty may rise by five percentage points from schooling deprivation alone. It is pertinent to note that some of the areas hit by floods didn’t even have a primary or secondary school, to begin with.
The areas affected by floods have always consistently lagged in terms of socioeconomic and educational indicators as compared to the areas unaffected by the floods. The loss of infrastructure and livelihood sources will further increase this gap. The people most severely affected were predominantly small farmers and unskilled labourers, who are already among the most vulnerable segments of society in Pakistan and almost all live below or just around the national poverty line.
However, immediate effects are just a tip of the iceberg; the ripples shall continue to be felt on the socio-economic tapestry of Pakistan as experts predicted an economic loss of $12.5 billion because of the destruction caused by flooding, with inflation projected to reach a record high of 30 per cent by the end of this fiscal year.
From agriculture to industry, the floods have affected all; the havoc caused by the floods will cause a predicted decline in the growth of the agriculture sector from 3.9 per cent to 2.7 per cent, which shall in turn have a dampening effect on the growth of downstream economic activities. As the industry and services sector experience deceleration in growth, the future for Pakistan`s economy appears uncertain.
As the country increases its borrowing in the coming months to recover and rebuild from the floods, the mounting inflation, widening of fiscal debt and loan conditionalities the strings attached with it such as conditions to increase electricity prices, impose additional taxes or cut fuel subsidies shall mount additional pressure on both the government and the people of Pakistan.