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Pakistan battles economic pain of floods
by Sajjad Tarakzai | August 19, 2010

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Pakistan is courting IMF help to alleviate the threat of economic ruin as enormous floods wipe out farmland and industry, triggering UN warnings that the restive country faces years of pain.

Authorities Sunday were evacuating people from a town and flood-hit villages in the south from encroaching floodwaters, which nationwide have killed 1,500 people and affected up to 20 million, according to official tallies.

Pakistan's weak civilian government has faced an outpouring of public fury over sluggish relief efforts, while officials warn the country faces economic losses of up to 43 billion dollars.

The International Monetary Fund said it would meet Pakistani officials in Washington this week to discuss the impact of floods that have devastated the country's southern agricultural breadbasket and its textiles industry.

Pakistan may reportedly ask the IMF to ease the terms of a 10-billion-dollar loan, which since 2008 has helped to prop up the enfeebled economy.

Millions of flood survivors in desperate need of food, shelter and clean drinking water meanwhile require humanitarian assistance to survive, as concerns grow over potential cholera, typhoid and hepatitis outbreaks.

On Saturday, six flood victims, including three women and two children, were killed and 25 others injured after being electrocuted in the Kashmore district of the southern province of Sindh, officials said.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has praised the global community as emergency donations for Pakistan neared 500 million dollars, but warned the flood-stricken nation faces "years of need".

The United States, which has made the nuclear-armed nation a cornerstone ally in the fight against Islamic extremism, has given the most, followed by Saudi Arabia and Britain.

On Friday Ban welcomed the donations, but warned: "We must keep it up. Pakistan is facing weeks, months and years of need."

"It is very likely that the need for donations will strongly increase because... the number of people in need of immediate humanitarian aid has risen from six to eight million," Maurizio Giuliano, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Islamabad, told AFP.

The UN has increased its estimate of the number of people without shelter from two million to six million, he added.

"We have more than doubled the rate at which we are delivering relief but, since August 11, the number of people who need emergency help has undoubtedly more than tripled. We are in a race against time."

The UN World Food Programme said it urgently needed helicopters to get food to millions of flood victims who remain cut off by the high waters, although weather forecasters say the monsoon systems are easing off.

The WFP warned that the floods have killed or are threatening millions of livestock, and launched an urgent appeal for animal feed.

Flood survivors camping out in miserable conditions have staged angry, if isolated, protests against the government, shutting main highways and forcing police to mobilise.

Food prices are soaring. Pakistan has suffered an electricity crisis for years, but now the flood waters have forced power stations to close, exacerbating energy cuts and leaving entire communities without power.

"Alienation towards the government has increased and in the long run it can create internal instability. The opposition can cash in on that and in the long term, Islamist militants can benefit," analyst Hasan Askari warned.



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