August 21, 2010 / 10:13 AM / 7 years ago

Merchants of misery thrive in Pakistan flood crisis

By Junaid Khan

FIZAGHAT, Pakistan, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Fisherman Jamsheed Ali made about 200 rupees ($2) a day before floods ravaged Pakistan and left millions homeless and penniless.

Now one of the biggest catastrophes in Pakistan's history has given him, and a growing number of others, the chance to become an entrepreneur of desperation.

The Swat River, which offered a fish or two a day before the crisis, is now the source of big profits every time he charges people to transport them across it in his raft made of rubber tubes, rope and bamboo.

He takes home the equivalent of $35 a day transporting people, and there is also another source of income. Some families pay him a gratuity if he helps them find the body of a loved one who drowned in the flooding.

"I am doing this because I like to help people and for the blessing of the almighty Allah. I am also making money out of it," he said.

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For a graphic on Pakistan's floods, click

here

For a story on agricultural costs of floods [ID:nSGE67B050]

For an analysis of risks to watch in Pakistan, click

r.reuters.com/pyj83n

For a slide show, click link.reuters.com/sum54n

For more Pakistan stories, click [nAFPAK], or click

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The floods will inflict long-term economic pain on the Pakistani government, which will need to divert funds away from development projects to the relief effort.

Economic growth is not a worry for the flood pioneers.

More than 4 million Pakistanis are still homeless and 18 million have been affected by the calamity. The U.N. has issued an appeal for $459 million, of which about 60 percent had been pledged.

So there are plenty of people looking for help that aid groups, the military and the government have not been able to provide. Even if it comes at a price.

Chmni Khan, a skinny tall man wearing a traditional Pakistani tunic, used to be a chair-trolley mechanic.

After the floods he started a business ferrying stranded people across the Swat River, earning what he used to in a week in just one day. He says he is not exploiting misery. But he doesn't turn down money.

"I don't force people to pay. It's a service to the needy," he said.

FORCED TO SELL LIVESTOCK

The people in Swat have long craved stability. Two years ago Taliban militants took over the picturesque valley.

Fighting between militants and the government destroyed parts of the former tourist hub when the army pushed the Taliban out last year. Now the floods have brought unprecedented sorrow.

But the catastrophe has turned out to be a bonanza for some, such as manufacturers of plastic and tarpaulin tents, as millions are forced to rely on makeshift arrangements.

Others are see an opportunity in the plight of poor villagers.

Syed Sakhawat Ali, 45, in the Muzaffargarh district of Punjab, is profiting from those forced to sell livestock they managed to salvage from the floods to survive the disaster.

He buys animals at almost one-third their original price and sells them in the market.

"People need money and they are selling their animals. We are not forcing them to do so," said Sakhawat Ali. Even though his house was flooded, he had enough cash in hand to start a lucrative trade.

"In a sense, I am doing a favour for them. These animals would have died from starvation anyway," he said. (Writing by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Michael Georgy and Alex Richardson)






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