(Part II) Sind: floods and rural economy

In addition to adverse global and national developments in a post-pandemic world, Sindh and Balochistan have been badly affected by extraordinary torrential rains in a short span of time.

During this period, the average precipitation received was 1100 mm, five times the normal. According to the Chief Minister of Sindh, the floods in Baluchistan amounted to 120 maf of flood water equivalent to the capacity of several Tarbela dams. The dysfunctional or non-existent drainage system has contributed to the miseries of the people as large tracts of land on both the left bank and the right bank are still flooded. The next wheat crop looks difficult in these areas.

The floods devastated and displaced more than 33 million people, submerged their homes, destroyed their livestock and crops, damaged infrastructure and the irrigation network, killed more than 1100 people and caused a loss of 30 billion dollars or 10 % of GDP. The infrastructure through which produce is marketed has been badly damaged and seeds for the next crop have been washed away. These losses were relatively more widespread in right bank neighborhoods. This is ample proof that global warming has already begun to produce its pernicious impact.

The latest World Bank assessment (PDNA) estimates total damage at over $14.9 billion and total economic losses at around $15.2 billion. Estimated needs for resilient rehabilitation and reconstruction are at least $16.3 billion, not including much-needed new investments beyond affected assets, to support Pakistan’s climate change adaptation and resilience of the country to future climatic shocks. Lodging; Agriculture and Livestock; and the transport and communications sectors suffered the most damage, with $5.6 billion, $3.7 billion and $3.3 billion respectively. Sindh is the most affected province with almost 70% of the total damage and losses, followed by Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab.

Floodwaters are stagnating in many areas, causing the spread of waterborne and vector-borne diseases, and more than eight million displaced people now face a health crisis. The PDNA Human Impact Assessment points out that the poverty rate in Sindh could increase by 8.7 to 9.7 percentage points, potentially pushing between four and five million more people below the poverty line. Multidimensional poverty in Sindh has the potential to increase by 10.2 percentage points, implying that an additional 1.2 million households are at risk of being pushed into nonmonetary poverty.

The loss of GDP as a direct impact of the floods is expected to be around 2.2% of FY22 GDP. The agricultural sector is expected to contract the most, at 0.9% of GDP. Damage and losses in agriculture will have repercussions on the industry, foreign trade and service sectors. The affected districts have a higher proportion of employment in agriculture compared to the national average. Job losses would therefore be relatively high. About 8.2 million people in Sindh are food insecure and this number is likely to increase by another two to three million as access to food becomes constrained if wheat harvest targets for planting are not reached.

The report shows that the burden falls disproportionately on the rural population of Sindh. Damages and losses for Sindh are estimated at $20.4 billion out of a national estimate of $30.1 billion. Rehabilitation and reconstruction needs for Sind (excluding interprovincial) amount to 7.9 billion dollars. The poverty rate and multidimensional poverty rates – which were quite high before the pandemic and the floods – have worsened and losses in provincial revenue generation, especially in agriculture and related activities, are expected to be much greater. than the national average, registering a negative growth rate. Thus, the need for emergency cash assistance has also increased significantly.

The crisis is therefore likely to have a profound and lasting impact on lives and livelihoods. The impact on household welfare will pass through at least four channels: (i) loss of household income and jobs/livelihoods due to crop destruction, livestock killing or inactivity of companies; (ii) loss of assets, including homes, livestock, production equipment and durable household goods; (iii) rising food prices due to food shortages resulting from loss of food stocks and poor harvests; and (iv) loss of human capital, given the significant threat of disease outbreaks and food shortages, and prolonged school closures, with consequent learning losses.

Loss of household income and assets, rising food prices and epidemics affect the most vulnerable groups. Rural women in Sindh, already severely economically and socially disadvantaged compared to urban men, have suffered notable losses in their livelihoods, especially those associated with agriculture and herding. Forty-nine percent of those affected by the floods were women who worked in agriculture, tending livestock, harvesting and collecting firewood. When destructive events occur, women’s employment and incomes are severely affected as they do not receive enough support to find alternative livelihoods. Inflation in rural areas – which has already increased from 4.8% in January 2022 to 38% in July – will hit women as their subsistence food has been destroyed and they have to buy food from the market.

A latest satellite assessment conducted by researchers at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Division (ICIMOD) predicts that floodwaters would likely reduce Sindh’s cotton crop by 88%, rice by 80% and sugar cane by 61%. Two million bales of cotton were destroyed in Sindh province, losses of $3 billion across the cotton value chain. Minor and major crops covering over one million acres were affected in addition to inflicting huge losses on livestock. Infectious diseases are spreading and food shortages are looming amid vast swaths of still-flooded farmland.

Pakistan will have a population of 350 million people by 2050 who will need to be fed, clothed, housed and remunerated in an environment where staple food production, crops, electricity generation and water availability water are likely to decline. The overall food demand of the increased population will increase by 50%. This implies that 56% more calories must be grown than what was produced in 2010. The challenge is how to meet future land and water needs without deforestation while increasing the reforested area and adapting and mitigating climate risks. , providing livelihoods and reducing poverty. Water availability is likely to decline to extremely stressful levels while demand for meat, milk and poultry would increase by 50% due to rising incomes and increasing population. Urbanization is already pushing people out of agriculture and land is being used for residential, commercial and industrial purposes.

These external shocks have precipitated a dire situation, especially for the marginalized rural population of Sindh – and a future recurrence cannot be ruled out. This is why some rethinking is needed on the part of federal and provincial governments, local communities and donor agencies to deal with future contingencies. Of course, macroeconomic stabilization should be the top priority, but policy interventions should be targeted at the most vulnerable and poorest segments of the population in the affected districts.

Political economy considerations that ultimately benefit powerful and influential elites must be set aside and the welfare of the suffering people must be maximized. This is easier said than done, but the scale of the problem this time around is huge and future developments due to climate change risks do not bode well. The local interests of the few powerful and influential elites must be taken care of by themselves rather than diverting scarce public resources to their benefit.

To be continued

The writer is the author of ‘Governing the ungovernable’.

About Keneth T. Graves

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