Floods & insecurity

Published October 17, 2022
The writer is a lawyer.
The writer is a lawyer.

IN 2018, Pakistan introduced its first ever National Food Security Policy. Its goal is to increase food availability, accessibility, and sustainability by making the agriculture sector more productive, modern and climate-resilient. After the passage of the 18th Amendment, providing food security is the obligation of the Pakistani government. But agriculture, livestock and dairy remain under the provinces that must now take the lead.

The flood devastation has affected over 33 million citizens and caused losses in billions of dollars. The magnitude of devastation is so colossal that during an aerial survey UN Secretary General António Guterres said “Unimaginable”. The rains and the ensuing floods have crippled the country’s agriculture-based economy, triggering food insecurity and inflicting huge losses on millions of farmers and agricultural labourers in 23 out of Sindh’s 29 districts.

In Pakistan, 23 per cent of GDP is created by the agricultural sector. Extreme climate patterns had already started posing serious threats to agriculture and livelihoods. Alarm bells were ringing as 40pc of the population faced chronic food insecurity even before the monsoons. Now, more than 660,000 people are living in makeshift camps across the country.

Currently, Pakistan ranks 92nd out of 116 countries on the Global Hunger Index. Even before the floods, 38m people were facing moderate to severe food insecurity, most of them — especially women and children — going to bed hungry. According to the WHO, 18pc of children in Pakistan are clinically malnourished (not simply undernourished). The most affected sections of the population are elderly women and children. They will bear the brunt of this calamity.

There are millions of heartbreaking stories.

The UN has warned that 5.7m flood survivors in Pakistan will face a food crisis within the next three months. Even before the floods, the country was facing a wheat shortage. Before the floods, food inflation was 26pc; in recent days, this has surged to 500pc.

Initial official estimates over 6m acres of standing Kharif crops have been affected, largely in Sindh. There are severe losses to rice, sugarcane, cotton, vegetables and orchards.

Farmers organisations in Sindh such as the Hari Welfare Association and the Sindh Aba­dgar Board are deeply disturbed at the loss of agricultural land and crop damage. They claim that more than 15m people, including farmers, share-croppers, agricultural labourers and other daily wage earners have been adversely affected by the floods.

According to farmers’ organisations, the monsoon rains and flash floods have destroyed almost 70pc of the Kharif crop which was ready to be harvested, with over 90pc of cotton, date, tomato and other vegetable crop washed away.

For farmers and especially women farmers and agricultural labourers, livestock is a profitable investment for future savings and expenditure, and an asset to be sold in times of extreme financial need. But now, this asset has also perished in the floods, and the surviving livestock is suffering due to the unavailability of fodder and the outbreak of disease.

There are millions of heartbreaking stories of small and landless farmers including women whose crops were completely damaged in the rain and floodwater. A local NGO, NGO’s Development Society Shahdadkot, shared the story of Zar Bakht a widow with five acres of land in Shahdadkot. She lost her crops and house and is left with debts. She no longer has the means to pay off her debt or to reclaim her land. Receiving compensation is a far cry.

The World Bank has pledged aid of $323m to farmers in the flood-hit areas to help alleviate their hardship, and reclaim their lands ahead of the Rabi season. The aid will provide subsidies for fertilisers and certified seeds. A transparent mechanism and needs-based criteria should be developed for fair distribution. Aid to women farmers must be ensured, otherwise they may be left out because of their gender and lengthy official processes and requirements.

Unfortunately, in our society, women’s role and contribution are neither counted nor given priority in policymaking. Since the floods have destroyed women farm workers’ sources of income and livelihood, they should be provided with sufficient assistance for alternative means of sustenance.

In the wake of the floods, there are some short-term actions urgently demanded by farmers — among them the immediate closing of breaches in different canals, plugging of broken dykes and de-silting of canals.

The government should make the process easy for farmers to get interest-free loans in the flood-hit areas and facilitate them in obtaining machinery and input. They should be provided financial assistance on the BISP pattern to prepare the fields. Dewatering and drainage of water from agricultural lands should be done on a war footing, so that the fields can be prepared for crop cultivation. Livestock farmers should be compensated.

The writer is a lawyer.

Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2022

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