Pakistani finance minister sees gradual recovery from floods

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pakistan’s new finance minister estimated that it could take “close to three years’’ for the south Asian country to recover from devastating floods that killed more than 1,700 people and displaced another 7.9 million.

Ishaq Dar, who last month took the finance post for the fourth time in his career, told The Associated Press Friday that losses from the floods were estimated to surpass $32 billion and that the cost of rebuilding damaged infrastructure will exceed $16 billion.

Monsoon rains, likely made worse by climate change, hammered Pakistan for months starting in mid-June, damaging or washing away 2 million homes.

Rebuilding, Dar said, “can’t be done overnight” and will take “ maybe close to three years’’ though he acknowledged that he was “not an engineer.” The World Bank last month pledged $2 billion in flood aid.

Dar is returning to the finance ministry at a difficult time for Pakistan. Moody’s Investors Service, citing Pakistan’s decreased foreign currency reserves, this month downgraded the country’s government debt. With inflation running at more than 20% year-over-year, Pakistan’s currency, the rupee, has fallen 19% against the U.S. dollar this year.

But Dar, who earned a reputation for supporting a strong rupee during his earlier tenure as finance minister, noted that the currency rallied upon his return to the job; it’s up nearly 10% against the dollar since late September.

Dar was in Washington this week for the fall meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

The visit got off to a rocky start.

He was heckled and called “a thief’’ by an unidentified individual upon arrival Thursday at Dulles International Airport.

On Friday, he shrugged off the incident, which was captured on video and shared online, as the act of a political opponent of the government of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif. “Obviously, this is domestic politics which has gone cross border,’’ Dar said. “That shouldn’t be.’’

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