It is difficult to believe that yet another humanitarian disaster is making headlines. The several earthquakes that caused horrendous damage in Haiti, Chile and China earlier this year each spelt disaster for hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of people. Now the people of Pakistan are facing a similarly bleak outlook: at the time of writing, one fifth of the country is under water and some 20 million people have reportedly been driven from their homes. The flooding began in July, and so far the waters – in some places 5 or even 6 feet high – have not receded and show no signs of receding. In such conditions, many people are stranded on ‘dry islands’ – rooftops or higher ground – with no access to food or clean water, let alone rescue. Rumours of a cholera outbreak have not been confirmed by the government, but an epidemic seems almost inevitable. Infrastructure has, of course, been badly damaged, and it is estimated that some 17 000 acres of agricultural land are under water. Seeding time is in just a few weeks, but in many areas it is apparent that the land will not be in any condition to seed for a long time. Some suggest it may be years before the land will recover. Meanwhile, the food that was in storage has been washed away and hundreds of thousands of livestock have perished. This is bad news for those in and outside of the area affected by the flooding, as food shortages will likely spiral into exorbitant pricing, followed by violent clashes.
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Of course, the international call for aid has been heard and many countries and individuals are giving generously. However, the response has been slow compared to that after, say, the devastation in Haiti, and the amounts have been considerably less. By mid-August, the UN was calling for US$460 million and had received only a third of that. The US, however, has been quick to respond, offering the greatest support of any government at US$76 million – the same price, incidentally, that has been put on the cost of repairing damaged roads. The US hopes that this donation will help to repair its damaged reputation with the Pakistani people, and encourage the strategic partnership that the US views as essential to winning the war on terror being fought at least partially on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.
Hopefully, by the time you read this, more donations will have come forward, the rain will have stopped, and the waters will have receded. At that point, the country will be able to take stock of the damage and begin the reconstruction. Once again, as in all instances where infrastructure is in need of repair, cement demand will rise. As an export-based industry, Pakistan may well be able to meet its own needs – depending on how its cement plants have withstood the flooding – but, if not, overcapacity in the region will more than meet any national shortfall. An article from Pakistan’s The Vision Corp, beginning on page 111 of this issue, provides some insight into the country’s export potential and the status of the cement industry as of July 2010 (further information about the Pakistani cement industry is due in the October issue of WORLD CEMENT). Another article relevant to this discussion begins on page 41 and comes from the International Trade Association. It examines the role of US businesses in the reconstruction in Chile following the earthquake in February of this year.
This latter article forms part of our Latin American feature (beginning on page 26), prepared to coincide with the two conferences where this issue will receive special distribution: FICEM-APCAC Congress in Jamaica and Intercem Americas in Brazil. A number of economic analyses and case studies provide an interesting insight into this high-growth region. This issue also includes a report from BIMCO on global shipping trends, and a special feature on cutting costs and improving efficiency, which I’m sure will speak to you all. For editorial enquiries, comments and questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us either by email, on Twitter, or through our website at worldcement.com.