TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: The United Nations says the floods in Pakistan are the worst emergency happening anywhere in the world today. And yet the UN’s having trouble collecting on pledges of relief money. They’ve only gotten about half of the $460 million that’s been promised so far. Even the full amount may not be enough to help the millions who’ve been displaced and rescue the troubled Pakistani economy.
Omar Waraich writes for Time Magazine. We reached him in Islamabad. Mr. Waraich, welcome to the program.
Omar Waraich: Pleasure being here.
Ryssdal: As you have been out reporting this story of this flooding in Pakistan, what are you seeing in terms of daily life? How are people getting by?
Waraich: Over 40 million have been affected. That means, many of them have been rendered homeless, they’ve been forced to stay in makeshift shelters. There’s a scarcity of clean drinking water, which is leading to health problems such as diarrhea. There’s very little medical care. People are constantly complaining that they aren’t able to get access to relief in time. And beyond all of this, of course, you have food shortages, prices rising — just miserable circumstances throughout the country.
Ryssdal: Pakistan’s economy was heavily agricultural to begin with. What I imagine, it’s just been all but destroyed, the agricultural economy and how people make so much of their living there.
Waraich: Yes. I mean, agriculture in Pakistan accounts for 25 percent of the economy at least. Nearly half of the population actually works in the agricultural sector. Many more depend on the agricultural sector indirectly. It’s main crops, cotton, which is a major export crop in Pakistan, has been devastated. Wheat… People have been hoping this year that they’d be able to benefit from a wheat surplus, exported. And as you may know, since Russia has put a ban on its own exports, the price has risen. And Pakistan saw that as an economic opportunity. Now, the focus will have to be on feeding its own people. So, there are acres and acres and people are talking about 25 million acres of land that have been devastated.
Ryssdal: Once the waters recede, though, there will be talk of rebuilding. How much of the infrastructure do you think remains? I mean, bridges, roads — they’ve been washed out.
Waraich: In a number of cases, yes, especially in the North-West Frontier Province. For example, all the bridges there along the river have been destroyed. Schools will have to be rebuilt. Dams will have to be repaired to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Roads have meant that some people are still stranded and haven’t been able to make the way back. So there’s huge infrastructural damage, which Pakistan’s finance minister estimated to be in the region of billions of dollars.
Ryssdal: There’s a macroeconomic question here as well, right? I mean, Pakistan is dependent on IMF loans, it’s in not-good condition — it was in not-good condition even before all of this happened.
Waraich: No, in fact, before the floods, Pakistan’s economy was in a miserable state. As you mentioned, it was dependent on $11.3 billion support package from the IMF. Pakistan was always struggling to meet the conditions for that support package. The idea was after that support package, it would actually take out another support package from the IMF. At the moment, before the floods, its national debt stood at $55.5 billion. Much of the national budget is devoted to two things: Maintaining the military and debt servicing. Now, just yesterday, they took a $900 million loan from the World Bank. And today, there’s a special loan that’s been announced from the Asian Development Bank. This is very expensive borrowing that Pakistan really can’t afford. But since there’s been very little funds coming in from donors — only about $250 million have arrive so far — the Pakistan government has no other choice.
Ryssdal: Omar Waraich in Islamabad, Pakistan talking about the floods there. He reports out of Islamabad for Time Magazine. Mr. Waraich, thank you so much for your time.
Waraich: Thank you.