Pakistan after the Flood: Needs and Challenges for a Sustainable Reconstruction

Executive summary

In July Pakistan was hit by a flood crisis of unexpected dimension. Against this background, the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung initiated a dialog with Pakistani and German representatives from politics, academics and the NGO sector on political and economic impacts of the flood and on current needs and challenges.

First panel of our conference: Shahgufta Malik, Muhammad Idrees Kamal, Britta Petersen, Ayesha Siddiqa, Abid Suleri.
January 10, 2011
By Susanne Mahrwald


Executive Summery

In July Pakistan was hit by a flood crisis of unexpected dimension. Against this background the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung initiated a dialog with Pakistani and German representatives from politics, academics and the NGO sector on political and economic impacts of the flood and on current needs and challenges.

The impact of this natural catastrophe is disastrous: about 1.500 people died, hundreds of thousands of families lost their houses and huge parts of the country’s infrastructure were destroyed. The agricultural sector, Pakistan’s main source of income, was badly damaged. Moreover, the present crisis has a multiplying effect on the already existing crises including food, fuel, fiscal, democracy, terrorism and climate crisis.

Particularly the northwest of Pakistan, the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is badly affected. After the flood struck the province with its full strength, the provincial government is now confronted with both a natural disaster and the impacts of the war on terror.

The government’s overall crisis management in general was considered, by observers, to be inefficient and corrupt. Although eventually governmental relief aid was provided, it was the military and militant groups that came to the people’s immediate assistance.

Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has provided 35 Million Euro emergency aid to Pakistan and also restructured some ongoing development projects in order to meet the needs of the flood affected people particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Germany is also convinced that the Pakistan government is able and committed to support and assist its people, though it is not clear yet whether it uses own funds or whether it needs financial support  of the international community.

The existence of widespread corruption and institutional weaknesses made international donors sceptical whether funds would be used properly. Since less than ten percent of the population are paying taxes, it was also questioned whether Pakistan should fix this problem first before it gets more funds. Another controversy was the issue of land reforms, including redistribution of land to peasant families. However, it should be considered that the deep rooted feudal structures in the country cannot be changed overnight and that it is a lengthy process that needs a careful approach.

So far, international organizations in Pakistan face many challenges including security and corruption issues, lack of coordination in regard to emergency aid, lack of opportunities to implement available funds for projects, discrimination of minorities regarding their access to assistance or the general lack of basic information and data (population, meteorological data) for proper project planning.

Pakistan is still in need of international assistance. For the upcoming winter season, people need warm shelter, beds and blankets. Furthermore it is necessary to assess the needs of the people after the first emergency aid, particularly in terms of reconstruction and the implementation of sustainable development projects. However, it is most important that donors cooperate with a legitimate, elected government with a strong monitoring and evaluation mechanism.

Aim of the Conference

Pakistan is a crisis-ridden country – it is challenged by political, economical, ecological and security problems. In July 2010, Pakistan was hit by a flood disaster of unexpected dimension. About 1.500 people lost their lives, hundreds of thousands of families became internally displaced and huge parts of the country were destroyed. The impact of this catastrophe on the country’s stability is uncertain so far.

The Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung initiated a dialog with Pakistani and German representatives from politics, academics and the NGO sector on political and economic impacts of the flood and also on current needs and challenges. Questions in regards to the region’s stability were put in the focus: Is the military the winner of disaster? Could Islamist organizations strengthen their image among the people? And is the aid of the international community sufficient? In regard to the last question, the work of the international community, particularly the role of Germany, was highlighted.

The speakers from Pakistan were:

  • Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa, Expert on the Pakistan Military, Islamabad
  • Dr. Abid Suleri, Executive Director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad
  • Muhammad Idrees Kamal, Citizens Rights and Sustainable Development, Peshawar
  • Shahgufta Malik, Member of Provincial Assembly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Peshawar

The speakers from Germany were:

  • Ute Koczy, Development Spokesperson of the Green Group (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) in the German Parliament
  • Christiane Hieronymus, Head of the Afghanistan/Pakistan Department, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development
  • Thomas Gebauer, Executive Director of Medico International

The Pakistani Perspective: Status Quo Four Months after the Flood

In July this year the flood hit the north-west of Pakistan heading southwards in the following months and devastating huge parts of the country. People died. Hundred thousands of families lost their homes, their livestock or their cultivated fields. The flood did not only destroy the livelihood of already poor people but also affected important parts of the infrastructure including education and health facilities.

The north-western part of Pakistan (the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa formerly known as Northwest Frontier Province) was affected most by the flood. About 80 to 90 percent of the province was destroyed, particularly the region of Nowshera and Charsadda. Despite the overall destructive force of this natural catastrophe, it was partly man made in the southern province of Sindh. When the flood reached the province, it was already September. Thus, the federal as well as the provincial government failed to take some precautions and arrangements.

Furthermore, the flood caused the erosion of soil and the damage of irrigation channels and cultivated fields. As a result, subsistence-based families remain vulnerable and dependent on external support for a certain time. In a state, where agriculture constitutes the main source of income, the damage in the agrarian sector poses a midterm problem not only for single families but also for the entire economy of Pakistan.

Role of Government Institutions

When the flood reached the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the government announced the evacuation of houses. This was initially refused by many people, because hardly anybody believed in an upcoming disaster. The refusal of people to leave their homes is also linked to local cultures and traditions. Daily life takes place in the privacy of a family’s home. Therefore, the destruction of houses deprives families of housing place and, at the same time, of a retreat, particularly for female family members.

After the flood struck the province with its full strength, the provincial government was paralysed. It was a critical situation, as the government had hardly any resources to provide aid to the people. It was the assistance of the military (and its equipment, such as helicopters and boats) that enabled the government to first rescue people and then provide food and non-food items. By now, the provincial government has started different relief activities in almost every constituency. Camps were established and food was distributed. Besides the provisions of tents, government school buildings were transferred into temporary shelters. Nevertheless, the help given was not sufficient, since the province was, prior to the flood, already in a state of war. Many people, particularly children and women, are mentally disturbed and most vulnerable in this crisis. Despite all efforts by the provincial government and other actors, such as NGOs, civil society or host families, more resources and aid is urgently needed. In regard to the upcoming winter season, however, the temporary tents are not sufficient any more. There is a need of warm shelters, beds and blankets. The main need, which cannot only be provided by the provincial government, is, however, the beginning of a rehabilitation process.

So far, the provincial government has not received any financial support from the federal government or international donors. The chief minister of the province has already initiated a meeting with international donor agencies to convince them of the necessity to help and support the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Regarding the ongoing war on terror in the region, it is even more important to support this crisis-ridden province.

In general, Pakistan is in need of international support. Many regional organisations, which help affected families, are charity based or depended on external funding. Also the financial support of the Pakistan government does not meet the needs of the people so far. The government has issued so called “Watan Cards” with a balance of 20.000 Rupees (approx. 180 EUR) to affected families. This amount is, however, not sufficient for the reconstruction of houses. Thus, main problems are the rehabilitation and reconstruction of houses and livelihoods, as well as the resettlement of homeless people. If such processes are not initiated in the upcoming months, a crisis after the crisis will emerge and aggravate the security situation in the region. In this regard, Pakistan needs assistance by the international donor community, also because the government lacks functioning institutions to handle such issues.

The Flood as a Catalyst for Existing Crises

Pakistan is facing a multi-fold crisis: a food, fuel, fiscal, democracy, terrorism and climate crisis. They are all interlinked and somehow extent the effect of each other. The flood now multiplies the effect of these already existing crises in the country. Prior to the flood, there was yet a food crisis in the country. According to a report by the World Food Programme and Sustainable Development Policy Institute released in June 2010, about 48 percent of Pakistan’s population is affected by food insecurity. After the flood and its disastrous impacts, this crisis was aggravated and the number of people rose to 60 percent.

Pakistan has been facing a deteriorating fuel crisis for many years, which leads to energy shortage and blackouts. This crisis was in turn aggravated by a lack of energy and lack of budgetary discipline. The flood threatened some of the power plants, and the supply of natural gas and oil had to be reduced because of standing water.

Furthermore, the fiscal crisis led to the reduction of funds for the “Public Sector Development Programme” (education, health, agriculture, sanitation, infrastructure etc.) in order to meet the needs for flood relief and reconstruction. This drastic move, in turn, leaves half of the population, which was not directly affected by the flood, economically vulnerable.

The democracy crisis became particularly visible in regards to the district government system. During the flood crisis, the tenure of local governments expired, but the election commission has not announced elections to fill vacant government position of the districts. Thus, the lack of local governments has a negative effect on the coordination of relief items and reconstructions activities.

Furthermore, the security (terrorism) crisis is interlinked with the food crisis. Those districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Mohmand Agency, North and South Waziristan, Lower and Upper Dir, Shangla), Baluchistan (Dera Bugti), Punjab (DG Kahn, Rajanpur and Muzaffargarh) and Sindh (Dadu, Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Sukkur), which are facing a chronic food crisis, are also classified as most insecure and dangerous districts regarding militancy or tribal violence. At the same time, some of the districts are also the worst flood affected areas which in turn aggravate the already existing crises.

Finally, the flood also has a serious ecological impact. The Indus River is a habitat for rare and endangered species such as the Blind Dolphin. In the course of the flood, barrages were opened and many dolphins could slip into canals, where they died. Also mangroves in lower Sindh and forests in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were destroyed by the flood.

Civil-Military Relations

Currently, military and civil government institutions are struggling on issues of distribution of relief aid. The question of dividing the government resources is central. Different stakeholders battle for the greatest share of resources which in turn undermines the efficiency of the state and its ability to address problems.

Pakistan’s image on the outside, but also inside the country, is rather negative. Both media and the establishment created an extremely negative image of the government’s crisis management and portrayed the military as saviour of the people. However, in the case of Punjab, it was initially the local government, not the military, that came to the people’s assistance. Despite many problems, the government is not as incompetent as it is always portrayed.

Nevertheless, the military is the only entity, which is prepared and equipped for such an immense crisis. Regarding government expenditure on the military (approx. 35-40% of government expenditures), it would be logical for the government to use the military for emergency aid. Moreover, there are just no alternative institutions, which could cater in case of floods, earthquakes or other national emergencies. In case of civil-military relations, it should be considered along the cost for deploying the military or the cost of not having alternative institutions in such situations. However, Pakistan and the international community need to esteem the value of the civilian structure of the state which is, despite all inefficiency, committed to the creation of a peaceful Pakistan. Thus, the key is to enable Pakistan to help itself by building and strengthening its civil institutions.

Military and Militants – Winners of the Flood?

Both the military and militant groups have benefited from the present crisis, because they were able to confront the situation after the flood hit Pakistan. Militants spread out, providing assistance to the people not only in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but also in other parts of the country. Militants help was fast und unbureaucratic, winning them more support of the people. However, the great majority of flood victims is aware of their extremist ideology and terrorist activities and deny any kind of support to the militants. Relief activities of militant groups also bear huge social, political and cultural costs. Therefore, it is necessary to integrate liberal, non-religious civil society into stable, sustainable structures, in order to counter and replace militant activities in such situations.

The military too has benefited from the ongoing crisis with its capacity to assist the people, but also because of the government’s inability to handle the current situation. As supporting Pakistan is also a security issue, the question arose, whether the military is not an alternative to civil governance. Moreover, the military is actually part of the problem and not an alternative to the current political system. The military has its own strategic objectives and concerns, including the relationship with India, the presence of India in Afghanistan and the associated fear of an India friendly Afghan government after international troops leave the country. Therefore, the international community needs to support democratic civil forces of Pakistan.

Objections of the International Donor Community

Many international donors are sceptical, whether funds would be used properly. The degree of corruption in Pakistan is perceived differently. Although the existence of corruption was not denied, it was considered to be less within the government structures. Corruption within the government, the military, the bureaucracy, the media, the NGO sector etc is not a new phenomenon. Regarding the assistance of people, there are corruption issues in the handling of “Watan Cards”. Those were distributed in constituencies, which were hardly affected by the flood. So far, there is not a single sector which is completely corruption free, but at the same time it does not mean that all of them are corrupt. The perception abroad is, however, that the government of Pakistan is not able to deliver. However, the international community also gave support to previous military dictatorships for their own vested interest. In order to strengthen civilian institutions, which are capable to handle funds properly, it is most important that donors cooperate with a legitimate, elected government with strong monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.

Another issue, which is constantly raised by the international community, is the taxation system in Pakistan. Less than 10 percent of the population are paying taxes. At the same, time the government has increased military expenditures and cut development funds. Therefore, the international donor community asks Pakistan to fix this fiscal problem first, before issuing more funds. Because of widespread poverty, a huge number of citizens are just not able to pay taxes. Those who are financially capable to pay taxes are exempted or exempt themselves from their dues. For example, tax on agricultural income is excluded, although agriculture is the main source of income. Stock-exchange and the real estate sector are excluded, as well. There is also an informal taxation system called bribery. That means half of taxes are paid as bribes by businesses, private people as well as feudal lords. Therefore, the system needs improvements and monitoring mechanisms. This, in turn, requires awareness and education of the people who have only very little confidence in the government’s management of public funds and the provision of services. Many question the need of paying taxes, because they already pay for private schools, private health facilities, private transports and even private generators and security guards. Therefore, there is a need of democratic practices without interruptions by military dictatorships in order to build trust among the people and to establish a delivering government system including a functioning tax system.

The German Perspective: International Aid and Development Work in Pakistan

After the flood has hit Pakistan, the German government responded immediately to this catastrophe. In cooperation with the GTZ, KfW and other implementing organisations, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) provided 35 million Euros of emergency aid to Pakistan. Furthermore, ongoing development projects were restructured in order to meet the needs of the flood affected people in Pakistan, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In this regard, support was given for projects on destroyed infrastructure, such as education and health facilities. In the aftermath of the earthquake in October 2005, the BMZ has already initiated activities for catastrophe precautions. In regard to the present crisis, the ministry will start projects for the reforestation of areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The experience of aid cooperation with the Pakistan government was positive so far. Different organisations faced no hurdles regarding visa or customs formalities: visas were issued fast and relief items passed through customs easily. Furthermore, security was ensured by the Pakistan government as well the military, so that implementing organisations could deliver German aid without facing any problems.

Moreover, the German government attaches importance to the cooperation with the Pakistan government. It is convinced, that the Pakistan government is able and committed to support and assist its people, though it is not clear yet whether it uses own funds or whether it needs financial support of the international community. Additionally, the amount of financial support should be in line with security requirements and the ability of organisations to spend the funds properly. It is also important to choose partners for assistance measures carefully, to avoid any misuse of funds. According to the advice of Pakistani NGOs, German funds should not be sent to the Pakistan government, because of its inefficiency and corruption. However, for the reconstruction of infrastructure it is necessary to cooperate with the government.

Initially, many Germans, including politicians, were reluctant to pledge for the flood victims in Pakistan. This is closely connected to Pakistan’s extremely negative image portrayed in the media and the lack of knowledge about Pakistan. Visits of parliamentarians to Pakistan for example have helped to revise the image of a state only associated with terrorism. By now, the German public is aware of the necessity to support Pakistan and has donated about 160 million Euros to Pakistan.

Pakistan Development Forum

The forum, which was last held in November this year, provided an opportunity for Pakistan to have a comprehensive dialogue with its economic partners. It was criticised, that no countries from South Asia participated at this forum. As a result of the conference, it became clear that the Pakistan government is aware of the current disastrous situation in the country and that it needs to continue the dialog with the international community, as well with its population. Furthermore, members of the Pakistan civil society, including many women, asked their government not to beg for international financial aid, rather than to use own financial means and to initiate a rehabilitation process. These demands include participation of the rich elite of Pakistan to support those who are affected by the flood. A controversial aspect of international aid is to link funds to certain conditions to avoid any misuse. Also, Germany should remind Pakistan on its responsibility for the wellbeing of its people and the necessity for institutional improvements.

The Question of Land Reform

Another controversy was the role of land owners and the continuous need of a comprehensive land reform in a country which is characterized by feudal structures. In the course of the flood crisis, this issue was raised again by different stakeholders in and outside Pakistan. Many tenants have lost their crops and fields – their livelihood. Despite the catastrophe, they are compelled to pay their tenure to affluent land owners. There is a common understanding that these feudal structures will have a negative impact on reconstruction and rehabilitation measures, and that they are also one of the root causes of poverty. Therefore, land reforms are demanded, including redistribution of land to peasant families who are depended on the good will of land owners. Nevertheless, it should be considered that these deep rooted feudal structures cannot be changed overnight. It is a lengthy process that needs a careful approach.

Although the bilateral development cooperation between Germany and Pakistan does not include the agricultural sector, the issue of land reform is yet on the agenda and part of the dialogue.

Impact Monitoring of Projects

In regard to the security situation and access to certain areas in Pakistan, the evaluation and monitoring of projects is difficult. Many international organisations rely entirely on the monitoring abilities of their local partners. This is also the case for projects of the BMZ in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The ministry trains students from FATA in impact monitoring, in order to assure the efficiency of projects and the proper use of funds. This, in turn, is a contribution to training and qualification of local people.

Challenges for International Organisations in Pakistan

Development work or emergency aid is not an easy task in Pakistan, particularly in times of crisis. The response of aid does not match the scale of devastation, which in turn creates frustration among organisations working on the ground in Pakistan. Furthermore, government institutions lack coordination of emergency aid. There is also discrimination of minorities in terms of access to assistance. There is a selective distribution of relief goods by political actors and land lords mainly in the south of the country. For many organisations, it is difficult to find reliable partners to initiate projects. There is a general lack of basic information and data (population, meteorological data) for proper planning. Last but not least, general challenges include security issues and corruption.

The macroeconomic framework, including the fiscal situation, poses another challenge for international donors. Pakistan has committed itself to realize certain fiscal reforms (e.g. reducing subsidies), which were not implemented so far. Thus, donors have become impatient and unwilling to send more funds to Pakistan – also in the light of the flood crisis.

Until now, the government of Pakistan has not asked for support for infrastructure reconstruction, but for direct budget support instead. Furthermore, the administrative system of Pakistan is not efficiently responsive to people’s needs and to the demands of the environment. Therefore, it is most important to assess the needs of the people after the first emergency aid has been implemented.

Summary: Expectations, Needs and Challenges

Short term expectations:


  • Physical availability of food items – therefore convincing policy makers to open trade with India through Wagah Border (near Lahore)
  • Humanitarian relief items such as (warm) shelters, beds and blankets
  • Rehabilitation and reconstruction of houses and livelihoods
  • Ban of livestock export, since a huge number of people have lost their animals
  • Assistance in the coordination of aid

Midterm expectations:

  • Land tenure arrangements, including redistribution and re-demarcation of land. This bears problems of corruption and anger, since land tenure or land ownership is not computerized.
  • Distribution of seed and fertilizers
  • Soil analysis for proper use of agricultural land

Long term expectations:

  • An overall agricultural policy including land reform (because 80% of land is in the hands of only 20% of people), crop cultivation, size of land, access to water etc.
  • Resettlement programmes for people who live near the rivers
  • Anti-corruption programmes
  • Programmes for the social sector such as education and health facilities
  • Support in regard to the war on terror and its impact on the society
  • Adjustment of aid policy of the international donor community, because it is virtually an extension of the policy of the war on terror (For example, Germany has concentrated its help only on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa although other provinces are equally affected by the flood and problems of militancy)
  • Exchange of international donors, civil society and the government to address and reassess the needs of the people in order to implement aid programmes properly
  • Discontinuation of the sale of military equipment by supplier states (fighter jets from USA and China, Negotiations on buying Submarines from Germany and France). It is the responsibility of supplier states, which are at the same time donors of aid, to prevent Pakistan to spend millions of dollars for military equipment.
  • Exchange of regional experiences (India, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka) towards the establishment of institutional and social structures and how to meet natural disasters
  • Transparency in regard to the implementation of studies such as the post-disaster survey “Damage and Needs Assessment” of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (e.g. objections in terms of validity of data)