Aug 21, 2010

Basic instinct

Nearly 700000 hectares of standing crops are under water or destroyed and in many cases
surviving animals are without feed

By Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri

It is difficult to avoid natural calamities, but one can definitely stop turning these calamities into human disasters by putting in place the right set of policies. Current floods in Pakistan proved that despite facing repeated human disasters and despite establishing institutions like disaster management agencies, and flood commission, etc., we still lack the right set of policies that may reduce the frequency of human disasters hitting the people of Pakistan.

We are facing one of the worst floods in our history. These floods are being considered as the greatest humanitarian crisis in recent history by the United Nations. The magnitude of crisis is believed to be more than the Indian Ocean tsunami (2004) and the recent earthquakes in Pakistan (2005) and Haiti (2010) combined. The 1,600 death toll due to these floods is considerably low than the estimated death toll of 610,000 in the three previous events. However, according to preliminary estimates almost 2.2 million more people — 14.0 million — have suffered losses and require long or short-term help. The number would increase if the number of people who would be indirectly affected by these floods due to food price hike is taken into consideration.

It seems that the whole country is a disaster zone. All five provinces have been badly affected. The devastation left by flood waters in the north and centre of the country is worsening as water continues to head southward.

The government of Pakistan, in collaboration with Asian Development Bank and the World Bank is planning to carryout a rapid assessment of losses incurred by the floods. It is estimated that these losses are equal to 2-3 percent of GDP (Rs350 to 510 billion). Government is also planning to seek a relaxation from IMF on fiscal deficit targets owing to the losses incurred by floods. On top of it, plans are being made to levy a special tax (as the earlier taxes were not enough) for flood relief.

One aspect that seems to be ignored is how this flood has affected the food security and livelihood security situation. We are talking of flood in the context where 48.6 percent population was already not able to secure nutritious food, for all times for everyone. Sixty one percent districts of our country were already devoid of prerequisites for food security, i.e., physical availability of food, socio-economic access to food, and food absorption.

In Pakhtoonkhwa, barring Haripur and Abbotabad, the rest of 22 districts of KP were categorised as food insecure by Sustainable Development Policy Institute, World Food Programme, and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s recent report "Food Insecurity in Pakistan 2009 (FIP 2009)".

Northern districts of Pakhtoonkhwa are most affected by floods. Upper Dir, Kohistan, Lower Dir, Malakand, and Shangla were the five worst food insecure districts of KPK in 2009 home to 75.6 percent, 73.5 percent, 64.5 percent, 61 percent, and 60.9 percent food insecure population respectively. This was pre-flood situation. After the devastating floods all three components of food security have turned even worst in Pakhtoonkhwa.

The loss of livelihood opportunities directly affects the socio-economic access to food, loss to physical infrastructure, stored food commodities, and livestock affect the physical availability of food, and prevalence of diseases during floods negatively affects food absorption in human body. It should not be an exaggeration to say that after the floods more than 90 percent of population in above mentioned districts would have gone food insecure. We are talking of a region where most parts got disconnected from land routes and helicopter is the only reliable means to provide relief to them.

Even Swat, Charsada and Nowshera where 54.2, 54.7 and 47.5 percent population was food insecure in 2009 might lose their resilience turning almost three quarter of their population food insecure.

According to FIP 2009, Rajanpur, D.G. Khan, and Muzaffargarh are the worst food-insecure districts of Punjab where nearly half of the population in each district is food insecure.

Things went from bad to worse in South Punjab where so far 8 million people are affected by floods. South Punjab, despite being the wheat basket of Pakistan is food insecure as people don’t have socio-economic access to food. Neither they have access to improved drinking water nor can they absorb food properly owing to their health conditions. In The post flood scenario, loss of standing crops, loss of livestock, loss of stored grains, lack of clean drinking water, prevalence of diseases and loss to physical infrastructure would further deteriorate the situation and at least three quarter of population in Southern Punjab has become food insecure now.

Coming to Sindh, that is still facing the rage of mighty Indus, flood may wash away Rs40 billion worth of paddy (IRRI variety of rice) in Upper Sindh. Not only standing paddy crop would be affected, but also sowing of wheat in the next season as land would not be ready for sowing after the floods. Kashmore, Jaccobabad, Sukkur, Shikarpur, and in the west up to Dadu would be affected from Indus deluge depriving people from their means of livelihoods, livestock, standing crops, stored grains, and drinking water. All of this would not only increase the existing food insecure districts like Kashmore, Jacobabad, and Dadu but would also negatively affect the food secure districts like Sukkur, Shikarpur, and Kambur.

Balochistan is the second worst food-insecure province after FATA, according to FIP 2009, FATA houses 67.7 percent food insecure population whereas Balochistan houses 61.2 percent food insecure population. The Indus water is also hitting some of the IRRI growing parts of Balochistan. Naseerabad, Jaffarabad and Jhal Maghsi are already coping with flood water and it is believed that flood flow would continue at least for next 20 days.

In a nutshell, one hundred percent crop losses have been recorded in many areas and tens of thousands of animals have been killed. According to FAO, nearly 700000 hectares of standing crops are under water or destroyed and in many cases surviving animals are without feed. The upcoming fall season’s wheat crop is now at risk in a region that is the bread basket of the country.

The direct flood survivors are facing an acute food insecurity problem, while the areas that were not hit hard by floods would also have to face food shortage (due to production as well as price hike) problem next year. A vast majority of the affected population depends on agriculture for their livelihoods, they could not save their stored grains or standing crops but some of them do have their surviving livestock.

The government as well as UN humanitarian agencies should ensure that while human lives are being saved, efforts should also be made to save the livestock from dying due to hunger and diseases. Urgent supply of feed and essential veterinary supplies should be provided as part of international humanitarian relief activities. Livestock’s importance in the local economy is huge not only because of their role as a source of food and draught power, but also because they often represent a family’s entire savings. Socio-economic access of flood survivors would be badly affected without their livestock.

Humanitarian agencies like World Food Programme, local NGOs, and International NGOs have already started their relief operations. However, it is a daunting task to cater for the needs of 14 million people out of which at least six million would require sustained food supply for weeks and months to come. Life would move on, but one wonders how many more human disasters our policy makers require to learn disaster preparedness.

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