LONDON (Reuters) - The cost of rebuilding Pakistan after its devastating floods could exceed $10 to $15 billion, the country’s High Commissioner to Britain said on Monday.
He said this was a rough estimate because an assessment of the extent of the damage caused by the floods — which have affected 20 million people — had yet to be carried out.
But the number gave an indication of the scale of the reconstruction needed after the floods swept away roads, bridges and telecommunications, and destroyed crops for food supplies, exports and cotton for its vital textile industry.
“It will take at least five years,” High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan told Reuters in an interview. Asked about the cost of rebuilding, he said, “I think more than $10 to $15 billion.”
Pakistan, already embroiled in a battle against Islamist militants, is appealing for international aid to help it cope with one of the worst natural disasters in its history.
The United Nations says only a quarter of the estimated $459 million in international aid needed just for immediate relief has arrived so far.
Hasan said about 2,000 people had died — earlier estimates put the death toll at 1,600 — and said this number was expected to rise as people began to die of disease.
But if dealing with the immediate crisis was hard enough, an even bigger challenge would be in rebuilding the country.
Failure to provide relief and reconstruction would be exploited by Islamist militants fighting to overthrow the state — bringing with it instability which would engulf the region.
“If something happens to Pakistan, the whole region will be plunged into Balkanisation. You can’t stop it there.”
He said he was not suggesting Pakistan would collapse, but nonetheless drew a parallel with a cyclone which hit then East Pakistan in 1970 which fuelled resentment against the government — then, as now, it was accused of not doing enough.
This fall-out from the cyclone exacerbated tensions which led to a war in 1971 in which East Pakistan, with help from India, broke away to become Bangladesh.
And comparing the devastation from the floods to that of the cyclone, he said, “It is worse than that.”
The World Bank has said that $1 billion in crops have been lost. On top of that is damage to infrastructure, to schools, hospitals and houses, to dairy farming, and to industry. “These floods have really dislocated everything,” Hasan said.
The government has been criticised for its slow response to the floods, while President Asif Ali Zardari was slammed for pressing ahead with a visit to Britain and France as the scale of the disaster became clear.
Misgivings about the government, and concerns about corruption, have been cited by some analysts as a reason for a relatively slow response by western donors to the floods.
Hasan also acknowledged that in a world still struggling to come out of economic crisis, finding the money would be hard.
“That is how our tragedy has been compounded.”
But he said given the scale of the disaster, the government was doing its best, adding that 85,000 people had been rescued by the navy.
He also noted Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and opposition leader, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, had agreed to set up an independent commission — made up of people “of impeccable integrity” — to oversee relief work to ensure there would be no accusations of government misuse of funds.
After the flood waters receded, the World Bank and other institutions would have to assess the damage.
“In the longer term, when the water subsides, we need reconstruction ... We’ll have to have a long-term plan, something like the Marshall Plan.”