Agriculture in pakistan hit hard by floods

Agriculture in Pakistan hit hard by floods

By Tahir Ali

The prevailing catastrophic floods have caused colossal damage to the agriculture sector of the country and the government will have to come to the rescue of the badly-hit poor farmers.

The floods, besides killing over 1,500 people and destroying innumerable houses and valuable assets, have also killed thousands of domestic animals and swept away standing crops on a mass scale. Furthermore, the gushing waters have eroded fields and irrigation networks, aside from water and mud accumulating in fields, thereby making the conditions unsuitable for farming.

According to careful estimates, the losses to public and private agricultural infrastructure and assets are severe, most of which occurred in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). United Nations (UN) estimates that around 1.1 million acre of agriculture land has been destroyed by floods in Punjab alone. Though the National Disaster Management Authority’s initial assessment found that the infrastructure loss caused to the country was $1.8 billion, the actual loss, according to an expert, could be around $4 to $5 billion given the magnitude of the loss.

About 70 per cent population in the country is directly or indirectly dependent upon agriculture for their subsistence. Farmers usually take two to three crops from their fields alternatively and earn their livelihood. Water-logging and soil erosion caused by these floods have deprived them of this income for the current year.

“We would take a minimum of three crops from our fields but there would be no crops in the field for the time being,” said a farmer.

Thousands of animals and poultry in several farms and multitude of feed and seed-stocks in research farms were also lost to floods. According to the UN World Food Programme, 80 per cent of food reserves have been destroyed in the flooding. Irrigation infrastructure has also suffered and officials say that its repair and rehabilitation would take not less than a year provided the adequate funds are made available.

The unprecedented losses to infrastructure such as roads, bridges, electricity transmission lines and telecommunication network have made relief efforts sluggish leaving much to be desired.

What is now clear is that with the losses so huge and the international response to the calamity hugely short of the needs, compensation to and rehabilitation of the farmers could take years. Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, has appealed to the international community to come to the aid of Pakistan. China, US, Saudi Arabia and other countries have announced considerable aid for relief efforts but international response to the tragedy is much less than warranted.

The rehabilitation of the people and rebuilding of the state infrastructure would require hundreds of billions of rupees and the daunting task could take years to complete.

To cope with the upheaval, Punjab has asked for Rs10 billion for the time being from the federal government while the KP government has suspended its annual developmental programme (ADP) to divert the development funds for the relief and rehabilitation of flood affectees and asked for immediate assistance from the international community.

But quite understandably, neither federal nor provincial governments have the knowhow and finances to cope with the devastation.

KP had already incurred $692 million or Rs58 billion losses to the agriculture sector in the five districts of the Malakand Division and two tribal areas due to militancy and military operations and the recent floods gave another huge setback.

Due to the foul smell of the dead animals, the outbreak of hemorrhagic septicemia and cholera diseases are feared among the living cattle. The dead animals should be burnt/ buried immediately. Special vaccination campaign for the people and their remaining animals must be arranged so that diseases are averted.

Ironically, it was only a few months ago that the farmers were complaining of an intensifying water shortage but now there is a problem of excessiveness. The calamity, therefore, underlines the need to build new water reservoirs to store flood waters for dry years as well as to reduce chances of flooding at such huge scales. Though it would have some serious repercussions for the cash-strapped government, it is high time the affected areas are declared as calamity-hit with immediate effect.

The KP government has exempted the flood-hit areas from taxes and asked the federal government to do the same.

The international donors and relief organizations should come forward, assess the damage and provide aid to the flood victims. As a long-term measure, the policymakers should try to mitigate the effects of natural disasters. Not only contingency and coordinated response plans should be prepared but issues such as wide-scale deforestation and construction of small dams to absorb high river flows and rainwater also need attention.

Agriculture loans of all farmers, especially the small ones, should be written off. If the economic managers do not want to do that, at least interest thereon should be remitted. Farmers should be exempted from abiana and malia in the flood-hit areas for at least a couple of years. The livestock farmers should be provided offsprings of healthy animals free of cost or on offspring return basis.


About Tahir Ali Khan (Official)
I am an academic, columnist, and a social worker.

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