The death toll from the cataclysmic floods in Pakistan neared 1,700, officials said on Saturday, a disaster that has displaced over 33 million and caused economic damages to the tune of $40 billion, fanning fears that the cash-strapped country may not be able to meet its debt obligations.
At least 15 people have died in the last 24 hours, taking the toll to 1,693, with 12,865 being injured, according to Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the chief national organisation tasked to deal with natural calamities.
Record monsoon rains and melting glaciers in northern mountains submerged nearly one-third of the country, wiping off fertile agricultural lands, destroying property and putting more than 33 million or one-seventh of Pakistan’s population without access to food and water.
The threat of waterborne diseases is also adding to the travails, making it one of the world’s deadliest crises this year.
The floods have destroyed 13,074 km of roads, 410 bridges and 2,045,349 while killing 1,160,078 livestock, according to the NDMA estimates. Till date, 81 districts across five of Pakistan’s six provinces have been declared ‘calamity hit’ by the Pakistan government — with Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh provinces being the worst hit.
The floods have also raised questions on whether the cash-strapped country would be able to pay its debts on time, with the local currency weakening against the U.S. dollar and the forex reserves declining.
Inflation in Pakistan reaches 27%
Pakistan's teetering economy is facing a balance of payments crisis, a ballooning current account deficit, and inflation hitting an all-time high of 27%.
The U.S. on Friday unveiled a roll-over agreement to suspend payments of $132 million of Pakistan’s debt.
The U.S. embassy tweeted that U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Donald Blome signed the agreement to extend the loan relief under the G20 debt service suspension initiative.
"Our priority is to redirect critical resources in Pakistan," it said.
The rollover is related to the Paris Club agreement in April 2020 to support 73 lower-income countries during COVID-19.
Under the scheme, the U.S. provided relief on $128 million in debt to Pakistan.
The agreement to suspend payments on that debt, plus an additional $4 million, has now been rolled over again.
The move came as ties between Islamabad and Washington have shown signs of improvement in recent weeks, with the U.S. playing a leading role in helping the flood-affected people by providing more than $66 million in assistance.
Pakistani officials said the disaster has caused economic losses to the tune of more than $40 billion, which the fragile economy of the country was ill-prepared to sustain, forcing the country to seek international support.
The United Nations is set to launch another appeal next week for an additional $600 million to Pakistan to help the country recover from the impact of the record-breaking floods.
Last month, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres undertook a two-day solidarity trip to Pakistan to assess the extent of damage.
Meanwhile, the flood relief activities in Pakistan are likely to continue for the next two years, Pakistan’s Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said earlier this week, as he blamed climate change for the unprecedented rainfall and flooding.
"Natural disasters are a result of climate change, however, we are coming up with plans to deal with them in the future. For now, the government has allocated (Pakistani) Rs 40 billion for 20 underdeveloped districts," he said.
Apart from the lives lost, more than two million houses have been destroyed and over one million livestock — a major source of income for rural households — have been lost in the floods.