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Pakistani patients suffering from dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease, are treated in an isolation ward, at a hospital in Lahore. Image Credit: AP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is facing a health emergency with diseases rising after flooding inundated a third of the country’s land, the nation’s climate change minister said.

“We are still in the life saving phase after 17 hard weeks,” Sherry Rehman said in an interview to Bloomberg TV. Malaria and other water-based diseases is the next crisis, while women are giving birth in unhygienic conditions, she said. About 21 million are still in acute need of help.

Pakistan received rainfall three times higher than usual in monsoon season causing flash floods across the south Asian country that killed about 1,700 people and affected 33 million, which is more than the population of Australia. The government estimates damages of over $30 billion to the cash-strapped economy. The water has started dropping but thousands of people still live in tents or seek refuge on the highways that are not underwater.

Pakistan has already warned about possible food shortage as millions head back home in the next few months. Floods may push as many as nine million people into poverty, according to World Bank. The United Nations and Pakistan government have jointly appealed for $816 million in aid.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari are scheduled to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference next month to highlight the crisis, said Rehman.

The government is struggling to get doctors into crisis-prone areas, she said. There is a real worry how the government will finish relief for 33 million people, let alone rehabilitate and reconstruct, Rehman added.

The World Bank has also cut its growth forecast for the nation by half to 2 per cent in year started July.

Pakistan contests ratings downgrade by Moody’s

Meanwhile, Pakistan on Friday contested a downgrading of its rating by Moody’s Investors Service, insisting it has adequate reserves and financing to pay back foreign debt despite the worst flooding in its history.

Such downgrades tend to shake the confidence of investors because the action is seen as a warning that Pakistan is more likely to default on its foreign debts.

Pakistan’s angry reaction comes a day after Moody’s revised Pakistan’s sovereign credit rating by one notch to the still-high credit risk status of Caa1 from B3, citing the impoverished nation’s decreasing foreign exchange reserves facing Pakistan’s economy in the bruising aftermath of the deadly floods. The deluge killed 1,700 people, left half a million homeless and cost some $30 billion.

The Finance Ministry in a strongly-worded statement said the “rating action by Moody’s is strongly contested” as it was carried out without consultations with the ministry or the country’s central bank.

The ministry said it was sharing information with Moody’s and is urging the service to reverse the downgrade.

Multiple medical and other risks facing a half-million flood survivors prompted the United Nations to raise it’s demand for humanitarian aid for Pakistan to $816 million from $160 million. The Finance Ministry said it expects more funding from “multilateral and friendly countries’’ during a conference in November.

“Consequently,’’ it said, “we expect the external sector to improve further in line with the increase in liquidity’’.

The ministry said that Pakistan is currently under the IMF Programme in an arrangement based on the confirmation and confidence in Pakistan’s ability to maintain fiscal discipline, debt sustainability and the wherewithal to discharge all its domestic and external liabilities.

Pakistan and the IMF signed the $6 billion accord in 2019 and despite receiving a crucial tranche of $1.112 billion weeks ago the country’s economy has badly been hit because of flood-related damages.

However, the statement said Moody’s “worsening near- and medium-term economic outlook’’ did not accurately describe the state of Pakistan’s economy.

Pakistani officials, including the country’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, in recent weeks have said the record-breaking flooding caused $30 billion in damages to the country. But the ministry said a final assessment of the damages is yet to be finalized in collaboration with World Bank and other partners.