JACOBABAD: “Neither the floods spared us nor did the landlords. They are telling us to pay for the expenses incurred on crop cultivation without realising the fact that the entire harvest has been destroyed in the floods. It wasn’t our fault but God’s will,” protested a farmer waiting for his turn to receive a free ration bag in Khukharani Lara village of Jacobabad district.
There were hundreds of people standing in the long queue, waiting for handouts for past many hours. Most of them had come from different villages of the Ahmed Pur union council. The relief distribution was organised by a non-governmental organisation. Seven union councils of Jacobabad district are still flooded and at least 5,000 people are living in relief camps while many have set up makeshift tents on elevated grounds closer to their homes. The government has yet to initiate efforts to drain water as relief distribution is largely being done by non-governmental organisations.
“Water is still standing in our villages where we had grown rice and with government machinery yet to move to drain the water, the hope that we can grow crops even in coming months seems to be fading away,” lamented Dur Mohammad of Ghulam Nabi Jakhrani village.
He said farmers of the flood-hit areas of the district were compelled to look for work that could help them earn between Rs100 and Rs400 a day. “But there are days when we can’t find work and have to borrow money,” he said, adding that the situation had become harsher than the past when they had to bear with exploitation by landlords.
“This is so because earlier we somehow sustained our lives on the agricultural produce and cattle heads despite being caught in the vicious cycle of debt. But the floods left us completely devastated, reducing us to begging,” added another.
The locals said that there was widespread disease in their villages where people were consuming brackish water. Among them, there were some who had not received the first instalment through the Watan Card because they had lost their national identity cards in the 2010 floods.
Basit Ali Shah of Save the Children told Dawn that it was the fourth day of the second cycle of relief distribution initiated this month while more than 6,000 families had benefited from the first round of free ration distribution.
“We are giving away wheat flour, oil, biscuits, lentils and salt. We’ve planned to distribute the food among more than 2,000 people this time in the union council in four days,” Mr Shah said.
Sardar Muqeem Khan Khoso, a former member of the provincial assembly, who was visiting the relief distribution camp, told journalists that the entire district of Jacobabad had been badly affected by the floods and only two to three union councils could be saved.
While responding to a question, he said: “There are no disputes between Sindh and Balochistan over how to drain the rainwater and efforts are under way in this regard.”
Asked about a timeframe for the drainage of rainwater, he said that he was not a technical person but he couldn’t see that happen before April next year, considering the large size of the area in the district inundated by floodwaters.
“All people, the big landlords and the farmers, are equally affected by the catastrophe. We must not forget the importance of Jacobabad, which has been the biggest rice growing district in the province,” he said.
Regarding complaints that widows have failed to receive the Watan Card, he said that it was because women were largely illiterate and didn’t understand the importance of having an NIC. “But this thinking is changing now and they are getting their NICs,” he added.
Mr Khoso said: “The main problem is abject poverty. The government needs to support the poor by providing them with interest-free agricultural loans on easy conditions, seed and fertilizer.”
According to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority data, this year’s monsoon floods killed over 283 people and rendered more than three million homeless in Sindh, making it the worst-affected province in terms of losses.
In Sindh, floods injured 2,421 people, damaged or destroyed 0.5 million houses and swamped 171 union councils in 12,005 villages.
Jacobabad was the worst-hit district in terms of human loss, injuries, agricultural and house damages. Fifty-seven people died while 939,500 were affected. Forty five people were reportedly injured and 144,558 houses were damaged, whereas crop spread over 138,173 hectares perished. The disaster also claimed lives of more than 300 cattle heads.