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Pakistan faces risk of repeated floods

The United Nations (UN) has warned that up to 5 million Pakistanis face the risk of being affected by floods again this year.

The floods of 2010 killed 2,000 Pakistanis and left around 11 million people homeless. The UN launched its largest ever emergency appeal, hoping to raise 2 billion dollars to help survivors reconstruct their homes and support families in rebuilding livelihoods. However, the appeal only reached 30 per cent of its target. This means that millions of survivors from last year’s floods remain especially vulnerable.

The monsoon season starts in late June and carries on until early September and the UN is conscious that infrastructure such as dykes and embankments is still “weak”. Though the monsoon rain is forecast to be lower this year, greater melting of snow in mountainous regions has already meant high water levels in rivers. And groundwater remains high, reducing the amount of rainfall which can be absorbed.

Manuel Bessler, head of the UN emergencies office (OCHA) in Pakistan, told Alertnet that a lack of funding “has meant that perhaps things were not done to the level they could have been” to reduce the risk of further flooding. Nevertheless, the UN believes that it is in a better position to respond to any emergency. Relief supplies of tents, water and sanitation equipment have already been prepared and warehouses have been stocked with food items. The aid community has also established co-ordination structures with government authorities at both federal and provincial levels. Mr Bessler affirmed that “lessons from last year’s experience” had been learned and any unpreparedness on the part of the government or aid agencies would be seen as a “major failure”.

The international community is also hoping that other improvements will be made after the catastrophic floods highlighted the endemic poverty faced by millions in Pakistan. This month, the country’s Finance Minister promised that the country would take serious steps to broaden its tax base in order to generate more revenue from the wealthy in society. Pakistan has one of the lowest ratios of tax to gross domestic product in the world, with a mere 1.5 million Pakistanis paying tax out of a population of around 180 million. This means the country is heavily dependent on foreign aid and loans. Since the disaster last year, more pressure is being exerted for the country to improve its tax system and increase state revenues. Both the International Monetary Fund and the UK’s Department for International Development have said that future investment in Pakistan is dependent on fiscal reforms taking place. In an interview with Reuters, the Finance Minister said work was already being done to reform public institutions in order to reduce corruption, eliminate tax exemptions and collect revenue due from areas such as agriculture and property tax. He admitted “it’s a fragile situation and yet at least some new beginnings have been made”.

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