WITH beaming faces, men and women are busy in the wheat fields. The environment is quite serene, the calm shattered only by the noise of the wheat-threshing machine in the nagri of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, off the Indus Highway.
Male farm labourers separate the chaff from grain while their female counterparts carry wheat stacks for threshing. Wheat crop was cultivated on residual moisture — the outcome of the gushing flood and Manchhar Lake’s waters.
Floodwaters had inundated large swathes of land in almost all 10 union councils of Sehwan taluka last September.
Since most farmers were short of time after the belated receding of water around November, they didn’t prepare the land appropriately and capitalised on the available moisture.
“There is little grain in the crop”, says Shabbiran Khoso, holding wheat stems in her hand. She notes that the crop’s average productivity is seemingly lower, but can’t explain why.
A kilometre drive away, young Rehana Khoso says she can speak Urdu as I try and interact with her mother-in-law, the elderly Allah Bachaee Khoso, in Sindhi. “The temperature is rising. It is unbearable to stay in the tent without a fan,” Rehana complains. Nadir, her husband, had gone to harvest wheat as a labourer elsewhere to make some money to feed his family.
“While we used to cram into one tent in winter, things are entirely different in summer and it is just suffocating inside if you don’t have electricity,” Allah Bachae says, alluding to her predicament after the floods.
Rehana’s ordeal, like tens of thousands of others, began last September when Manchhar’s banks were breached for relief cuts. At the time, she ended up in a relief camp near Laal Bagh after floodwater inundated her village.
“We had to sell goats for cheaper rates to feed our children. Financial miseries took a heavy toll on us. Household items left in the house were stolen and my house collapsed,” she recalls, the smile disappearing from her face.
She is staying in the tent her family brought from the relief camp. Bricks, debris and such tents dot her village, Sahita Sainch in union council Jaffarabad, Sehwan. Floodwater receded from the village but Rehana’s life is yet to return to normal. A makeshift toilet structure built of pieces of wood and covered with worn-out cloth makes for a disturbing site as men and women lack access to basic sanitation facilities.
“Due to stagnant water remaining for a long time, other houses have weak foundations. They can collapse anytime. Who will build our house?” Rehana is shattered but hasn’t given up. She is poised to arrange some money and even collected Rs20,000. “Rs20,000 is needed to purchase bricks to build a shelter,” she remarks.
She and others like her await the government’s promised reimbursement of Rs300,000 for housing/shelter. Those having a small acreage also await the government’s promised Rs5,000 per acre subsidy towards seed provision.
The Sindh government’s estimates, compiled by the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), reveal that 2.1m houses were damaged in the 2022 rains. Last month, the provincial government launched the Sindh People’s Housing for Flood Affectees company (SPHF). A hundred beneficiaries have received financial assistance meant for the rebuilding of houses in the first phase to be followed by another 5,000 in the next two weeks.
The assistance amount is aimed at building climate-resilient houses that will have a veranda, kitchen, room and bathroom. The World Bank has committed $500m after the Sindh government allocated Rs50bn.
“Each flood-hit district is to get a share of disbursement as per proportion worked out after damage assessment”, says Sindh government’s chairperson Planning & Development Board Hassan Naqvi.
SPHF chief executive officer Khalid Mehmood Shaikh is pretty confident the programme would be a success. “Climate-resilient structure is to be built in rural areas as per specifications set by engineers. SPHF aims to touch the 25,000 mark in June while offering this support. The beauty of the idea is that flood-affected persons will get financial support directly [without] any involvement of a contractor. The IPs will only validate process and specifications decided at the government level with donors”, claims Shaikh.
However, the Khoso women, Rehana and Allah Bachaee, may have to still wait till the much-talked-about assistance starts landing in their bank accounts, which they apparently don’t have.
Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2023
Dear visitor, the comments section is undergoing an overhaul and will return soon.