Seven million without shelter months after Pakistan floods

Published on WSWS, by Sampath Perera, 23 October 2010.

Seven of the 21 million Pakistanis affected by this summer’s floods are still without shelter, the United Nation’s Pakistan Office reported this week. And an estimated 14 million continue to need urgent humanitarian assistance.

These figures are an indictment of the Pakistan ruling elite’s incompetently organized and poorly funded flood relief effort. They also are an indictment of the imperialist powers. Under conditions where Pakistan has faced what the UN has repeatedly described as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis in decades, the agency has repeatedly had to plead for the “international community” to come to assist Pakistan … // 

… The World Food Programme (WFP) warned, in a report issued last week, that severe and moderate malnutrition is “rising dramatically in some flood-affected areas.” “Sadly,” said WFP spokeswoman Jackie Dent, “we are getting low on funds and by November we have a pipeline break for several commodities.”

Three days prior to the UN announcement that 7 million people in Pakistan are still without shelter, the Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP)—a grouping dominated by the US and European powers—met in Brussels.

The meeting, which was co-chaired by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, considered recent reports from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank that estimated the floods caused $9.7 billion in damages to houses, schools, crops and indirect future economic losses. This is a far cry from the Pakistan government’s initial estimate of $43 billion.

But even if the lower estimate is correct, it represents more than a quarter of Pakistan’s annual national budget.

Yet the scale of the disaster confronting the Pakistani people did not prevent the gathering from demanding “continued efforts by the Government of Pakistan under its reform programme towards economic stabilisation and sustained economic revival, including widening the tax base, and taking other necessary structural measures to generate and enhance the maximum possible term development.”

This is a demand for Islamabad to speed up implementation of an IMF restructuring program that calls for the government to phase out within the current fiscal year all subsidies on energy prices, otherwise cut government spending, and introduces a new value-added sales tax. The IMF has held up the last tranche in an $11.3 billion loan negotiated in the fall of 2008, insisting that the funds will only be released after these socially incendiary measures have been implemented by Islamabad.

With much fanfare, the Obama administration has pledged several hundreds of millions of dollars in flood aid to Pakistan. But it is taking this from monies already earmarked for Pakistan under a five-year aid plan adopted in 2009, the Kerry-Lugar bill. And Washington continues to balk at Islamabad’s longstanding plea for the US to reduce tariffs on Pakistan-made cotton goods, the country’s biggest export-earner. (full text).

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