Four months after the epic Indus River floods, farmland in the southern Sindh province remains under water. Half a million Pakistanis will have to spend the winter in tent camps, according to official estimates, and it could be two or more years before the soil will be receptive crops.

Life is marginally better in northern areas of Pakistan's flood zone, where waters have receded. But even there it will be a long time before life returns to normal, if ever. The government has handed out small ($200) grants to displaced farmers, but a high-level official concedes there is no way it can make people whole. One reason is a severe shortfall in international aid, below the $10 billion requested—and far less than the $50 billion that Kamal Majidulla, a senior government adviser, says is really needed. He blames Pakistan's reputation as a haven for terrorists.

"You can't take specific little areas where a conflagration is taking place," he said. "There are 180 million other people living here."

Even when the money does flow, it does not always reach the people in need. In Khyber Pakthunwa province along the Afghan border, farmers complain that aid has been slow to arrive because aid workers are reluctant to come here out of fear for their safety. One local aid worker who has worked here agrees, even though he says extremists have not tried to hinder assistance.

Ironically, in the wake of so much flooding, Pakistan faces a water shortage, the result of inefficient use of groundwater on its farmland and accelerated melting of the Himalayan glaciers that feed its rivers. At stake is the supply of both fresh water and food in this complex nation of 180 million.

Fred de Sam Lazaro's picture
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Fred de Sam Lazaro is director of the Project for Under-Told Stories, a program that combines international journalism and teaching, and a Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Hendrickson Institute for...