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Economic outlook dire for Pakistan flood victims

By the CNN Wire Staff
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A nation's economy under water
  • Former U.S. ambassador: Recovery will cost "billions and billions of dollars"
  • 500,000 tons of stored wheat are reportedly ruined
  • Much of Pakistan's economy comes from agriculture

Multan, Pakistan (CNN) -- After weeks of massive flooding that killed at least 1,539 people, water is finally receding in parts of the country. But for the millions of survivors, another nightmare looms.

Much of Pakistan's economy and infrastructure has been washed away by the record floods. More than half of the population made a living off the land. But about 500,000 tons of stored wheat has reportedly been ruined, and as much as 2 million bales of cotton have also been destroyed.

Outdoor markets where vendors sold colorful harvests are now seas of mud and filthy floodwater.

"The amount of investment that will need to go in just to bring Pakistan back up to status quo -- a status quo that was not sufficient -- is going to cost billions and billions of dollars," said Wendy Chamberlin, president of the Middle East Institute and a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan.

Video: Pakistan flooding in perspective
  • Pakistan

The flooding has driven up food prices across the country. And Pakistan's long-standing electricity shortage has been amplified because power plants have been shut down or damaged.

The Asian Development Bank said it is ready to offer at least $2 billion in emergency loans. But Pakistan's ability to sell exports has been drastically reduced.

"What the floods have done is virtually wipe out an infrastructure -- an agricultural infrastructure -- that it depended upon for its wheat exports," Chamberlin said.

The economy isn't the only long-term problem for Pakistanis surviving the floods. As families continue to stomp through chest-high brown water, millions of Pakistanis are at risk for waterborne, airborne and vector-borne diseases such as acute watery diarrhea and malaria.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 200 health facilities have been damaged or destroyed.

CNN's Jonathan Mann and Sara Sidner contributed to this report.

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