• Farmers advised to secure harvests, citizens asked to avoid unnecessary travel
• Rain, falling prices put wheat crop in Punjab at risk

ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) issued a nationwide alert on Friday, cautioning against severe weather conditions expec­ted to persist until April 29.

The forecast predicts rain, storms, and hail, potentially leading to flash floods and landslides across the country.

“Hailstorms can damage crops and infrastructure. People should avoid unnecessary travel and crossing rivers and canals. Repair mud houses and ensure water drainage,” the NDMA said, urging citizens to stay away from electric poles and trees in case of lightning. It advised farmers to plan their harvest, especially wheat, according to the weather.

The warning comes at a time when crops are ready to be harvested, especially the wheat crop.

Prolonged spells of rain have already delayed wheat harvest in the Potohar region. Farmers in the area have complained about an unprecedented rise in the cost of harvest, saying it has doubled compared to last year due to an increase in fuel prices.

Though the harvest has begun in some parts of the plateau, farmers were worried that the untimely rains would affect the yield. They also fret about the rise in electricity, labour and agricultural machinery costs.

Meanwhile, the Pakis­tan Meteorological Depar­t­ment (PMD) has also flagged the onset of a westerly wave that could exacerbate conditions through April 30. This system is expected to bring widespread rain and thunderstorms, particularly impacting Khyber Pakh­tun­khwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, Galiyat, Murree, and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

The PMD said the anticipated heavy rainfall and thunderstorms posed risks of road disruptions, particularly affecting travellers and tourists. Authorities have urged individuals to monitor weather updates before embarking on journeys. Disruptions in electricity and other utility services were also anticipated. In addition to the risks posed by heavy rainfall, flash flooding in local streams and river tributaries, as well as landslides and mudslides, were potential hazards in upper KP, Galiyat, Murree, GB and AJK. Farmers have been advised to take extra precautions and adjust agricultural activities accordingly.

The PMD also warned that Balochistan would continue to experience adverse weather conditions, including heavy rainfall, leading to flash flooding in local nullahs and hill torrents in the Sulaiman and the Kirthar mountain ranges.

The new spell of heavy rains with thunderstorms that started in Balochistan on Thursday continued on Friday, triggering flash floods.

In the border town of Taftan, a man was swept away in the flash flood while a woman and her daughter were injured in a lightning strike on their house.

The death toll from rain-related incidents in Balochistan reached 19 while around 250 houses were washed away and about 1,850 partially damaged.

Officials said that 14 highways and link roads were badly affected in the flash floods that suspended traffic between Balochistan and other provinces.

Punjab rains

Meanwhile, Punjab, including the city of Lahore, experienced light showers and sporadic hailstorms on Friday afternoon, as predicted by the Met Office.

While it was a mild shower, with the rainfall measuring a maximum of 10mm at one of Lahore’s 16 Water and Sanitation Agency monitoring stations, it has heightened concerns among farmers already facing declining market rates for wheat and potential crop damage.

Meteorological officials said the rain system, originating from India, is expected to intensify, bringing widespread showers to central and northern Punjab on Saturday. “Today, it rained only in Lahore, with Sargodha and Bhakkar areas receiving traces. But in the next 24 hours, all areas of central and northern Punjab may get heavy rains, with thunder, hail and windstorms. In climatic terms, there is nothing to bother. But in an agricultural context, it poses significant risks,” a Met Office employee said.

Farmers, hoping for a slight recovery in wheat prices, had postponed harvesting. However, the recent weather conditions have only exacerbated their plight, soaking and potentially ruining the crops.

“The April weather has always been unpredictable, but with climatic change taking effect, it has turned nasty this year,” said Amanullah, a wheat farmer from Okara.

Persistent strong winds have been damaging the standing crop since the start of the month. This varying degree of damage took place because, in April, the crop’s stems lose contact with soil, and even mild wind can lead to uprooting.

The situation is further complicated by the economic backdrop. Despite a potentially record yield, wheat prices have plummeted, with rates ranging from Rs3,000 to Rs3,200 per maund, representing a loss of Rs700 to Rs900 for farmers.

The delay in harvesting was a strategy to mitigate a market glut and hope for price stabilisation, contingent on an aggressive procurement strategy by the Punjab government — a move that has not materialised.

As Punjab has harvested only about 10 per cent of its wheat so far, the remainder of the crop is vulnerable to ongoing adverse weather conditions.

“It’s a grim scenario for us,” Amanullah lamented. “Caught between a crashing market, an unsympathetic government, and now the fury of Mother Nature, we are bracing for the impact and hoping for the best.”

Saleem Shahid in Quetta also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2024

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