Pakistan faces year of crisis

A massive, immediate programme is needed to revive farming communities in flood-stricken areas of Pakistan, UN agencies and NGOs said yesterday.

ISLAMABAD // A massive, immediate programme is needed to revive farming communities in flood-stricken areas of Pakistan, a group of 36 United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations said yesterday. The groups, speaking under the aegis of the Agriculture Cluster in Pakistan, said yesterday that 80 per cent of the 18 million people the UN says have been affected by the floods depend on farming for their livelihoods.

"The devastating monsoon floods have caused damages of unprecedented scale to agriculture and families that rely on the sector as a primary or sole source of food and/or income," said the report, which was based on surveys conducted from August 9 to August 27 in 39 of the 79 flood-affected districts. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned on Friday that failure to address the disaster afflicting Pakistan's agricultural sector could lead to a year of food shortages with severe repercussions across areas of the country not affected by the floods.

The Pakistani government has said 20 per cent of the country's arable land has been damaged by the floods. The floods finally flowed out of the Indus River into the Arabian Sea at the weekend and the Indus's flow is now back to normal. About 1.31 million hectares of crops have been destroyed, about half of that in central Punjab province, according to the report. Most of the affected area is subsistence farms on five hectares or less.

The floods inflicted a double whammy on already impoverished villagers by killing 274,000 heads of livestock and 459,000 poultry - key sources of income for subsistence farmers and the only source for peasants who live on rented accommodation and graze their animals on non-arable land, such as hillsides and semi-desert plains A further 14.33 million head of livestock, more than half of them in southern Sindh province, are under threat and need supplies of feed, vaccines and veterinary care and shelters, the report said.

The loss of the cotton and maize crops has also deprived farmers of animal fodder. The leaves and stems from cotton and maize plants are fed to the animals, and cottonseed is used to make feedcakes for milking buffaloes and cows. "The floods struck at a devastating time for farmers - just prior to the harvest of key standing crops, and to the onset of Rabi wheat planting season [which falls between mid-September and November]," the report said.

The inundated farmland has included about 416,000 hectares of cotton, Pakistan's biggest crop after wheat. The cotton has been destroyed while at the critical boll formation stage of growth. Cotton is key to Pakistan's textile industry, which accounts for about 60 per cent of all manufacturing in Pakistan and is its largest source of foreign exchange earnings. The group predicted further losses to the cotton crop, ironically because of water shortages caused by flood damage to irrigation infrastructure.

Canals diverted from the Indus and its tributary rivers irrigate most Pakistani farmland, particularly where cotton, sugarcane and rice are grown. The floodwater and the silt it has left behind have damaged about 19,400 irrigation systems, ranging from the largest canals to farm-specific tube wells, the report said. The irrigation infrastructure of northern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and central Punjab provinces, home to the Indus River and its tributaries, has suffered particularly badly. The floods have also washed away about 500,000 tonnes of wheat seed, and fertiliser and pesticide stocks and destroyed much of the farm machinery and equipment needed to prepare land for planting, the report said. Over the next 30 days, fertilisers are needed for crops that have survived the floods, while vegetable and winter fodder seeds, with fertilisers, are needed to prevent critical food shortages, it said. During October and November, farmers would need to be provided with hand tools and wheat seed with fertilisers, it said. They would also need equipment to prepare and till farmlands. Between December and August 2011, farmers will need vegetable seed and fertilisers and help to restore orchards, the report said. Farmers would then need supplies for the 2011 planting of cotton, maize, sugarcane and rice between April and June. The FAO on Friday warned that wheat seed stocks were being used in areas of Pakistan not affected by the floods to feed families and the displaced people they were sheltering. The planting of the wheat crop is essential to avoid a substantial rise in the number of Pakistanis who do not know where their next meal would come from, it said. "Unless people get seeds over the next few weeks, they will not be able to plant wheat for a year. Food aid alone will not be enough; if the next wheat crop is not salvaged, the food security of millions will be at risk," said Daniele Donati, the chief of FAO emergency operations in Asia. Failure to act could lead to a year of food shortages with severe repercussions across areas of Pakistan not affected by the floods, the FAO warned in a statement on Friday. Yesterday, Pakistani authorities were trying to protect another town from floodwaters in Sindh province, where 19 of 23 districts have been deluged and more than one million people displaced. "We are trying our best to protect Johi town, [which is] threatened by ravaging floodwaters," the district administration chief, Iqbal Memon, told Agence France-Presse. The town, 315km north of Karachi, has a population of 60,000, and officials fear that floodwaters will breach embankments surrounding the town unless they are quickly strengthened. "The floodwaters are fast heading towards Johi town after inundating most parts of Khairpur Nathan Shah town and Mehar town and several surrounding villages in Dadu district," Mr Memon said.