ALTHOUGH half the country is submerged in the raging floodwaters that have taken hundreds of lives and caused widespread destruction of crops, livestock and infrastructure, the true impact will only be felt after a few months. Realisation is already sinking in that the present relief efforts and disaster response are inadequate and unable to address acute hunger, disease outbreak and the loss of livelihoods.
To develop a coherent and effective disaster-response strategy, the authorities need to acknowledge the inherent relationship between climate change, natural disaster and nutrition. The extreme precipitation that is currently being witnessed in the country is a symptom of the larger phenomenon of global warming. Such cycles of drought and floods have upset the natural agricultural — and hence nutritional — systems already in place.
In the present case, where livestock and crops are damaged across the length and breadth of the country, the continuing floods will only aggravate existing food insecurity and dietary challenges, thus worsening the already bleak conditions of malnutrition, undernutrition and disease outbreak.
Even before the floods hit, Balochistan and Sindh were already facing “high food insecurity”, according to the IPC Acute Food Insecurity Analysis, 2021-2022, due to the increasing intensity and length of recurring heatwaves in the region, high food and fuel prices, disease outbreak and pandemic shocks. The report described both the provinces as having a “high prevalence of food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty”, while calling for “urgent action” by the relevant stakeholders.
Now that transportation networks and food markets have been destroyed in Balochistan and badly disrupted in the other provinces, the situation is about to go from bad to worse. In the aftermath of the flood disaster, there will be a drastic increase in disease, and food insecurity.
Editorial: Looming shortages
Moreover, the floods (reports are already suggesting that their scale and scope and the devastation they have wreaked have surpassed the effects of the 2010 super floods) might for a considerable period of time diminish opportunities for agriculture — a source of livelihood and sustenance for millions who have been displaced from their homes. This has serious repercussions for the physical framework of farming and food security, which includes long-term economic stability, besides accessibility and stability of food and agricultural markets.
A sustained nutritional strategy is needed in the flood-hit areas.
Against this background, while the government provides immediate food and medical aid to the affected populations, with some help from national and international donors, a long-term nutritional response is needed in the affected and flood-prone areas.
Moreover, urgent attention is also required for ensuring the well-being of children, especially those below the age of five years, as well as pregnant and lactating women and the elderly. This, however, cannot be accomplished without carrying out a thorough assessment of the nutritional status of the affected groups.
Meanwhile, the authorities also need to urgently address the spread of common waterborne and infectious diseases such as diarrhoea, dengue and malaria, which aggravate undernutrition in the affected communities. In this regard, the crucial aspect of ensuring an adequate supply of clean potable water and awareness about proper handwashing would considerably reduce the prevalence of diseases. Similarly, other measures that help people maintain personal hygiene, such as setting up temporary mobile toilets would also be helpful.
The government’s response to the flood emergency in the country cannot be a one-size-fits-all, short-lived scheme, as a multi-sectoral strategy is required for effective public health and welfare interventions. This includes the provision of timely relief and emergency measures and supplies — such as medicines, water-purifying tablets, tents, food, and infant formula — and an improved early warning weather system. Other aspects should include the assessment of climatic, disaster and nutritional vulnerabilities and an overhaul of the agricultural sector which largely remains dependent on rainfall and inefficient cropping patterns.
It’s about time our policymakers and government departments shed their outdated and failed notions of economic, agricultural, and social development and find ways to incorporate innovative ideas that connect local climate realities to developmental needs. Moreover, while adjusting to the new climatic realities and building resilience through environment-friendly development, there is also a need to focus on developing frameworks for recovering from current climatic impact challenges.
The writer is editor of Scientific Investigation and Global Network of Scientists.
Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2022