(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Slow retreat of monsoon floods in Pakistan hinders recovery

A flood-affected family wash their clothes in rising floodwaters next to their temporary camp in Digri, Sindh province
UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Warrick Page

It is seven months since the monsoon rains fell on Mohammed Qayyum’s village in the Taib area of Shikarpur District in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh.

The third straight year of devastating monsoon flooding in Pakistan destroyed his home and flooded his fields. He knocked together a temporary shelter for his family and tried to wait patiently for the waters to disappear.

But months after September’s rains, the water was still there.

“I waited and waited, and then I ran out of money. The help from the government and the NGOs was not enough, and the water just won’t drain,” Qayyum, 42, told IRIN.

By December, Qayyum had used up all his savings, and left his wife and three children behind and travelled to nearby Sukkur, where he set up a small fruit stall with money he borrowed from a cousin.

“I couldn’t grow anything, and the land from where the water has drained is in really bad shape. [Selling fruit] is the only way I can buy some food for my family.”

Qayyum is among the 1.2 million people in Pakistan still affected by the 2012 monsoon floods, and unable to return to their homes. They are living either in makeshift shelters next to their damaged houses, or in temporary settlements.

Since the floods

Most of those affected by the floods in Sindh, the worst hit province, are farmers and the months the water took to dissipate meant they lost what would have been their main source of food and income in 2013, and diminished hopes of a quick recovery.

Some 485,000 hectares of cropland was affected by the 2012 floods across Pakistan, where agriculture is the backbone of the economy.

Savings can help them survive for a short time, but the length of time the floodwaters took to recede means such reserves often run-out - and when land does become available again, they lack the capital to invest in planting crops.

They were unable to plant crops for the winter season and with water still standing over swathes of cropland, the next season may be affected as well.

By January - four months after the flooding - 374sqkm of land remained under water in Sindh’s Jacobabad, Qambar Shadhad Kot and Dadu districts, according to analysis of satellite imagery by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The UN estimates that nearly 170,000 families need agricultural materials like seeds and fertilizer in the flood-affected areas of Pakistan, and over 100,000 need feed for livestock. Extensive damage to critical infrastructure, like roads and irrigation channels, compounds the crisis.

East of Shikarpur, in the village of Mir Sikander in Sindh’s Jacobabad District, 35-year-old rice farmer Mohammed Hayat leaves home soon after dawn to look for work as a labourer.

"The water has not drained and I don’t know what it will leave behind" Mohammed Hayat, rice farmer

His fields have been under water since September and without the agricultural income he had anticipated, he has little chance of rebuilding his life.

“The water has not drained and I don’t know what it will leave behind,” Hayat said. “It has been months now, and I don’t know when it will drain. I have to forget about the rice and find work elsewhere.”

Sindh is almost entirely flat - one reason why water from the last three monsoon floods drained very slowly.

“The gentle slope of the land in Sindh makes natural drainage more difficult,” said Saifullah Bullo, deputy director at the Sindh Provincial Disaster Management Authority.

“Other factors compound the problem too. The irrigation and man-made drainage systems are not in proper shape, not properly maintained. The soil in some areas is also the type that tends to hold water.”

It is not just the crops that have suffered because of standing water.

The pools of stagnant water are ideal breeding grounds for mosquitos, a constant threat to the health of the villagers.

“My kids are feverish very often, which really worries me,” Hayat said. “I try to make sure that they drink the cleanest water we can get, but there are so many mosquitos.”

Fearful

Having suffered from floods three years in a row, Pakistan’s authorities and humanitarian organizations are worried about the prospects of another flood, with the rainy season expected to begin in July.

Some preparations are under way, including training local officials to respond more quickly and better to a disaster situation.

In villages like Mir Sikander, where the water from the last rainy season is still standing, villagers are acutely aware of the fact that things will get far worse with another flood.

“We don’t talk about it all the time, but you can tell that everyone is thinking about July, when the rains will come,” said Shah Nawaz, 32, another rice farmer from Mir Sikander.

“Everyone is scared; old people, young people, little children.”

Pakistan’s government and aid workers consider the economic rehabilitation of the flood-hit areas to be a key medium-to-long-term priority, but any future development work will have to wait in areas like Jacobabad and Shikarpur where large tracts of farmland remain under water.

In Sukkur, farmer-turned-fruit seller Qayyum cannot stop thinking about the monsoon floods.

“They now come every year,” he said. “If there is another flood this year, I will not be able to grow anything for another year. The land will die.”

Reviving agriculture recovery in the flood-hit districts of northern Sindh will prove to be a significant challenge, with humanitarian organizations struggling to fund their recovery plan and key areas like food, health, sanitation and shelter still needing attention.

Only 32 percent of the US$169 million needed for the Monsoon Humanitarian Operation Plan has been funded.

rc/jj/cb

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