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Pakistan rejects flood rebuild loans as repair bill tops £6bn

Work was this week underway in Pakistan to bring shelter to the victims of July’s floods, although uncertainty about permanent reconstruction plans remains.

Concern about reconstruction efforts has grown since the Pakistani government this week said it intended to turn down $3bn (£1.9bn) worth of loans from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB).

An ADB spokesman said the government told the banks it would instead “use [its] own resources for flood-related reconstruction, particularly in rebuilding the infrastructure”.

But the government has made slow progress on flood recovery on its own, said disaster relief charity RedR’s country director for Pakistan Imam Baig. “They haven’t started a real recovery programme,” he said. “There is no real reconstruction of roads, infrastructure and schools.”

Baig said that it had fallen to aid agencies to lead progress by clearing blocked roads. In addition, aid and development agency CARE International has begun building temporary shelters.

“There’s not enough time to build permanent houses before the winter for everyone that needs them,” said its shelter sector specialist Lizzie Babister.

Materials costs for temporary shelters currently cost £500 per family unit. Such shelters are more durable and provide more dignity than tents.

They comprise skeleton structures built from wood - bamboo in the south, local timber in the north - and are assembled by engineers.

Locals can then build up the walls themselves with adobe - a clay/straw/water mix . The roof is made from plastic sheeting which can later be re-used for permanent construction, as many local homes are built from adobe layered with plastic sheeting.

With strong sunshine now pushing temperatures to around 35°C, shelter is vital, said Babister. “They’re going to get exposure. They’re going to get sick. We need culturally appropriate and dignified shelter in this situation. Privacy is a very important thing in this culture.”

Aside from reconstruction loan offers, several national governments have stepped in to offer resources. The UK Department for International Development and United States Agency for International Development have begun work on programmes to build Mabey Compact 200 prefabricated temporary steel bridges (NCE 9 September).

Babister said flood waters reached such force in some areas that concrete bridges had “snapped like twigs”.

Drainage infrastructure also needs urgent attention. Irrigation and drainage systems are blocked by rubble and flood debris, meaning that in some places continued inundation is preventing the timely replanting of crops and reconstruction of buildings.

“The sites have been disrupted to such an extent that you’re going to need a lot of work to build on it again,” said Babister. Water supplies must also be restored. “Existing water systems - which were few and far between anyway - were damaged,” said Babister. “Now we’re setting up water tanking and filtration plants.” Around £4,500 can pay for the repair of water infrastructure for one village, she said. “That will be critical forpreventing disease.”

CARE International is focusing on three provinces: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab in the north, and Sindh in the south. In the north, the floods have receded and people are returning to their homes, so quicker movement towards reconstruction is expected. But on the southern plains the recession of flood waters is much slower.

A damage and needs assessment (DNA) by the World Bank and ADB last week reported that the flood damage totals £6bn. But Baig said this figure is too low. “The estimated losses are a bit on the conservative side. The loss of the land is really huge.” Reconstruction costs will likely be even higher, he said.

The Pakistani government has already offered rebuilding funds of 25,000 rupees (£189) to families who have lost their homes. It is expected to offer further grants for housing reconstruction, following the publication of the full DNA report next week. However, Babister said illiteracy prevents many families from claiming funds due to the paperwork involved.

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