Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif made an urgent appeal for debt relief from rich nations as catastrophic floods exacerbated by climate change displaced millions of people in the South Asian nation.
Pakistan has debt obligations in the next two months, he said in an interview in New York, adding that his government just signed an agreement with the IMF with “very tough conditionalities” that include taxes on petroleum and electricity.
The floods have submerged a third of the country and killed more than 1,500 people. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on the international community to help Pakistan financially as damages caused by the floods exceed US$30 billion.
“We have spoken to European leaders and other leaders to help us in the Paris Club to get us moratorium,” Sharif said, referring to a group of rich creditor nations.
“Unless we get substantial relief how can the world expect from us to stand on our own feet? It is simply impossible,” he added.
Sharif said there is a “yawning gap” between what Pakistan is asking for and what is available, saying that the nation is facing an imminent threat of epidemics and other dangers.
“God forbid this happens, all hell will break,” Sharif said.
Pakistan in August secured a US$1.1 billion loan from the IMF to avert default as political turmoil and the deadly flooding threatened the country’s economy. The IMF also increased the nation’s bailout package to US$6.5 billion.
Sharif said he had spoken to the World Bank about immediate debt relief and would begin talks with China, to whom it owes US$30 billion, about a third of its external debt.
The disaster in Pakistan — already reeling from depleted currency reserves and the highest inflation in decades — has affected 33 million people.
Sharif took power in April after former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan was ousted in parliament following a high-profile clash with the military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its history and retains significant power.
Now in opposition, the ex-cricket star has gained momentum while holding protest rallies to demand snap elections.
The rupee is on the cusp of a record low, as billions of US dollars of promised aid from the Middle East to bolster Pakistan’s hard-hit finances have yet to arrive.
The economy is forecast to slow amid floods, policy tightening and efforts to tackle fiscal and external imbalances, according to the Asian Development Bank.
The country would “absolutely not” default on debt obligations, Pakistani Minister of Finance Miftah Ismail said earlier this week.
“Things will not come back to normal,” Sharif said. “I need to put our millions of people back in the rooms, busy again with the ordinary life in agriculture, in industry and getting jobs back.”
“Time is running, and we’re racing against time,” he added. “Please help us avoiding this disaster.”
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