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Floods set Pakistan back years (if not decades)

Floods set Pakistan back years (if not decades)

The climate disaster of epic proportions that has hit Pakistan plunges the country even further into the economic crisis and risks fueling political tensions. The New York Times article

Violent floods have swept away roads, homes, schools and hospitals across much of Pakistan. Millions of people have been chased from their homes, struggling in the fetid, waist-deep water to reach safe islands. Nearly all of the country's crops, along with thousands of livestock and grain and fertilizer stocks, have been damaged, setting off the alarm of a looming food crisis. NYT writes .

Since a deluge of monsoon rains hit Pakistan last week, adding more water to more than two months of record flooding that killed hundreds of people and displaced tens of millions of people, the Pakistani government and international relief organizations have they are busy saving vital people and infrastructure in what officials have called a climate disaster of epic proportions. Flood waters now cover about a third of the country, including its agricultural belt, and further rains are expected in the coming weeks. According to the country's planning minister, Ahsan Iqbal, the damage from the flood will likely be "much greater" than initial estimates of around $ 10 billion.

The flood paralyzed a country that was already suffering from an economic crisis and double-digit inflation that caused the prices of basic necessities to soar. Now the floods threaten to set Pakistan back for years or even decades, officials warned, and to fuel the political tensions that have engulfed the country since former Prime Minister Imran Khan was ousted last spring.

The damage to the country's agricultural sector could be felt around the world, according to experts. Pakistan is one of the world's leading producers and exporters of cotton and rice, crops that have been devastated by the floods. Officials said roughly half of the country's cotton crop was destroyed, a blow to global cotton production in a year when prices skyrocketed, while other large producers, from the United States to China, were been affected by extreme weather conditions.

The floods also threaten to derail the wheat planting season in Pakistan this fall, raising the possibility of continued food shortages and soaring prices until next year. This is an alarming prospect for a country that depends on its grain production to feed itself, at a time when global grain supplies are precarious. "We are in a truly dire situation," said Rathi Palakrishnan, Deputy National Director of the World Food Program in Pakistan. "There are no grain stocks, there are no seeds because the farmers have lost them."

"If flood levels don't recede before planting season in October, we will be in big trouble," he added. The government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, together with the United Nations, has launched an appeal for $ 160 million in emergency funding to reach the 5.2 million most vulnerable people in the country.

The extent of the devastation in Pakistan also stands out in a year characterized by extreme weather conditions, including heat waves in Europe and the United States, heavy rains that have flooded parts of Asia and the worst drought to hit East Africa for decades.

Since the start of the monsoon season in Pakistan this summer, more than 1,300 people have died from the floods – nearly half of whom are children – and more than 6,000 have been injured, according to the United Nations. About 33 million people have been displaced. Flood waters now cover around 100,000 square miles – an area larger than Britain – and more floods are expected in the coming weeks.

Sindh province, which produces about a third of the country's food supplies, was among the hardest hit by the rains. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the province received nearly six times its 30-year rainfall average this monsoon season, damaging about 50 percent of crops.
In Sanghar, one of Sindh's largest cotton-producing districts, Imdad Hingorja, a 45-year-old farmer, owns a small plot of land and was growing cotton. He said the rains and floods came just as the crops in his fields were ready for harvest.

“Now I have lost everything. In my fields there is one and a half meters of water and I don't know how long it will take for the water to dry, ”said Hingorja, whose only source of income to feed his family of five is agriculture. .

Recently, Hingorja took out a loan from a relative to buy new seeds and fertilizer after his supplies were washed away by the floods. But if the water doesn't subside by the time he has to plant, he doesn't know what he will do.

“Floods are the wrath of God and we cannot escape them. But who will tell the creditor who will now ask me to pay back his money? ”He said. "Not only will I have lost my crops, but I will also have wasted the entire agricultural year." In the Tank district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, a vast province in the northwest, the flood wiped out 35 acres of land cultivated by 47-year-old Rahimullah Khan, destroying the entire crop of rice, corn and sugarcane. Khan said he has invested his annual savings in crops and has borrowed about 135,000 Pakistani rupees – nearly $ 1,700 – for fertilizer.

“I have nothing left but a couple of cows,” he said. "Cow's milk is the only thing that keeps my children from starving."

But if the water runs out, he added, he will have to sell the cows to pay off the loans and raise the resources needed to plant fall wheat.

Even before this year's monsoon rains, many farmers in the country had barely made do, as the economic crisis pushed the price of the basic commodities needed for cultivation beyond their reach and extreme weather one season after another – from heat waves to heavy monsoon rains – it lashed their fields.

"Farmers have been pushed into poverty, as most of them are in debt due to high interest rates on loans to purchase agricultural inputs such as seeds, pesticides and fertilizers," said Akram Khaskheli, leader of the Hari Welfare Association, a non-governmental organization for farmers based in Hyderabad.

Now, the destruction of their crops has caused losses of millions of rupees to farmers and has driven up the prices of vegetables such as onions and tomatoes, whose crops had already been destroyed. While large landowners are likely to survive the floods, the damage has been devastating to the tens of thousands of smallholders and farmers who form the backbone of Pakistan's agricultural sector, Khaskheli added.

Land ownership remains an extremely feudal system in Pakistan, consisting largely of vast estates cultivated by peasants working as forced laborers, mainly in the form of debt slavery.

Officials have warned that economic damage and losses will be felt across the country for months and years to come. The loss of cotton for the Pakistani textile industry, which contributes nearly 10% of the country's GDP, could hamper hopes for economic recovery.

Aid officials have warned that even after the floods have subsided, rural communities will face a possible second wave of deaths from food shortages and waterborne diseases and contaminated animals. Furthermore, severe inflation and a shortage of fresh produce are likely to affect urban centers unaffected by the floods.

To respond to the immediate needs of the millions of people affected by the flood, relief groups and the Pakistani government have launched rescue operations and the distribution of emergency aid.

"The Pakistani people are facing a monsoon on steroids – the relentless impact of epochal levels of rain and floods," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a message calling for international assistance to the Pakistan. But the scale of the crisis has complicated relief efforts, Pakistani officials say. And as conditions worsen, anger over the government's response has grown throughout Pakistan.

“We were left to fend for ourselves,” said Mushtaq Jamali, 84, a farmer from Sindh province. "There was not a single government official or elected representative in our village to help us evacuate."

Jamali emigrated from the outskirts of Jacobabad, a Sindh city, late last month after floods destroyed his small farm.

This year's floods were the latest extreme weather calamity to uproot his family. The 2010 floods that hit Sindh also forced him, along with his extended family of 18, to migrate to Karachi after their home was damaged. For five years he saved up to rebuild their house. But in recent years, it has become almost impossible to survive. Jacobabad is one of the Pakistani districts most affected by climate change and is considered to be one of the hottest places on the planet.

In May, temperatures reached 124 degrees Fahrenheit (51 degrees Celsius), making it one of the hottest cities in the world. Then the August flood destroyed his home once again. Now, he says, he and his family plan to stay in Karachi permanently.

“Due to excessive rains, floods and heat, it is now difficult to survive in Jacobabad and build the house again,” he said. “Our area was completely flooded. Everything was underwater. There was not enough dry land even to bury the people who died due to the collapse of the roofs and walls of their houses ”.

(Extract from the foreign press review by eprcomunicazione )

This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Start Magazine at the URL https://www.startmag.it/mondo/le-alluvioni-fanno-tornare-indietro-di-anni-se-non-decenni-il-pakistan/ on Sat, 17 Sep 2022 05:43:30 +0000.