Jampur: Farmers are salvaging stacks of wheat from a submerged field on Wednesday.
Jampur: Farmers are salvaging stacks of wheat from a submerged field on Wednesday.

MULTAN: At least 14 districts across Southern Punjab — the wheat and cotton belt of the country — have seen large scale damage to standing crops due to hailstorms and gale force winds seen recently.

The district authorities are still in the process of assessing the scale of the damage, and surveys are still ongoing, but reports from farmers and officials suggest that crops including wheat, maize, mango and vegetables have either been severely affected, or in some cases even completely destroyed.

District administration officials tell Dawn that damage asse­ssment surveys have only just begun, and whatever results they have at the moment are preliminary at best. Anecdotal and word of mouth reports from across the region speak of widespread damage.

The major cause of damage to the crops is from hailstorms in some parts, flash floods caused by hill torrents in others, and enduring low temperatures that are unseasonal, which is particularly bad for fruits in flowering stage including mangoes.

Official assessment of losses yet to begin

Deputy District Officer Agricu­lture of Khanewal, Sardar Jamil said that crops, vegetables and mango have been badly damaged in about 40,000 acres of the district. “At many places the damage is up to 100 per cent,” he tells Dawn. He said that raining is still ongoing which will further damage crops, particularly wheat in the district which is in harvesting phase.

He said that initial survey has been conducted, however complete survey is yet to be conducted. He said that he has attached the patwaris of other areas with the patwaris of affected areas to assist them. “Survey will be conducted and the provincial board of revenue and Punjab Disaster Management Authority will be recommended for the compensation to the affectees,” he said.

The affected districts include Mianwali, Bhakkar, Layyah, Rajanpur, Dera Ghazi Khan, Muzaffargarh, Multan, Lodhran, Bahawalnagar, Bahawalpur, Vehari, Rahim Yar Khan Khanewal and Sahiwal. Rajanpur district has seen damage due to a flood caused by a hill torrent after heavy rains in catchment areas of Balochistan.

The wheat and maize crops were particularly vulnerable because they were close to harvest time, says Muhammad Ilyas, a progressive farmer from Chak No. 5 in Multan district. He said in his area, maize crop had been completely destroyed while 90pc of the wheat crop had also been damaged. Fields of vegetables, particularly lady finger and chili “now look like plain fields” he tells Dawn, estimating that 80pc of those crops are also heavily damaged. Loss to cattle, trees and properties is on top.

Fayyaz ul Hasan Bhutta, another progressive farmer and General Secretary Livestock Breeders Association Pakistan based out of Multan, said, “Hailstorms have caused some damage across the region, but the scale of the damage is uneven. In Multan district we have less damage, perhaps other areas have seen more.” He said Multan did not see any hailstorm, though further north on the Khanewal side and Sahiwal where hailstorms took place, the damage would undoubtedly be greater. Mr Bhutta grows wheat on his own field, and says his crop is intact.

About a four hour drive southeast of Multan, across the Indus river, is Rajanpur district, also an important crop growing area that may not have seen hail but was inundated due to a hill torrent, according to Abrar Khan Dreshak, a political figure from Fazalpur in the district.

He said that a vast area of the district came under water after Kaha Sultan hill torrent flood breached Noorpur Drain from eight points. He said that the flood entered in the area at 4am and devastated the wheat crop which was near harvest time or under harvesting.

A key drain that was supposed to control such hill torrents by diverting their waters into the Indus River could not perform its task because it is still only partially constructed as the funds were not released, he tells Dawn. He listed at least five villages that he claimed were “badly affected” from the flood water.

Due to continuous rains a couple of days prior to flood the people were expecting the flood he tells Dawn, “But the weather did not allow them to harvest their crops.”

Due north of Rajanpur is Jampur, another crop growing tehsil on the right bank of the Indus river that saw a flash flood. Assistant Commissioner Jampur, Saifur Rehman Bilwani said the estimated affected area from the flood is 10,591 acres with one reported dead.

Progressive mango farmer Major Tariq Khan from Multan said that the mango crop is badly damaged due to excessive rains, hailstorm and thunder storm in all the mango growing districts of south Punjab. Though estimates of crop damage are still under preparation, he tells Dawn that he has heard of an estimated loss up to 20 percent to mango crop from one group carrying out this exercise.

“This year the mango crop was already less as compared to previous years due to fluctuating weather. Flowering and fruiting on the major variety of Chaunsa was already less by 40pc as compared to previous year while hailstorm, thunder storm and rains have further devastated the crop,” President Mango Growers Association Zahid Hussain Gardezi said.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2019