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Helping South Asia Flood Victims Cope

August 10, 2007

August 10, 2007— The World Bank is looking at ways to help South Asian countries recover from unusually heavy rains and flooding that have killed thousands and displaced some 30 million people in India, Nepal and Bangladesh since the monsoon season started in June.

Flood victims, most of them in rural areas, immediately need safe drinking water, shelter, and food, followed by the means, possibly through cash payments, to replenish livestock and reestablish their livelihoods, says Christine Wallich, Senior Adviser for the Bank’s South Asia region.

Farmers whose land was swamped also need seeds “as soon as possible” to replace crops washed away by rain, adds the region’s Chief Economist, Shantayanan Devarajan.

Devarajan says countries should try to forestall sharp rises in food prices and other commodities by increasing trade and importing more goods to replace the ones destroyed by flood waters, he adds.

While countries like Bangladesh have improved their response to flooding in recent years—saving more lives—the region, which shares several rivers, could benefit from greater coordination, such as instituting an early-warning system that would alert people downstream to rising flood waters.

“If that information could be transmitted downstream to one of the neighboring countries, then they can make cautionary adjustments to move people away from their homes before the flood strikes,” Devarajan says.

Bank’s Role

While the Bank has not yet received a request to respond to the 2007 South Asian flooding, it provided emergency assistance through supplementing existing loans or reconfiguring loans to provide cash for relief and reconstruction during the 2004 Bangladesh floods and Tsunami and 2005 earthquake in India and Pakistan.

In the case of the Pakistan earthquake, the Bank mobilized half a billion US dollars in about two weeks.

The Bank also led the damage and needs assessment after the Pakistan earthquake and Tsunami.

The typical assistance package includes “balance of payments” support to enable countries to import scarce commodities and address price issues; support for rebuilding or rehabilitating infrastructure, such as roads that have been washed away by flooding; and cash benefits to people who have lost their livestock and assets.

“Cash transfers are a way to allow these people to rebuild their lives and also helps to stimulate the markets which might have been depressed in the wake of a disaster,” says Devarajan.