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Between June and September 2022, Pakistan saw the worst monsoon rains in its history.
In just a few months, the heavy rains caused several deaths and damaged or wrecked public infrastructures. Some 2.3 million homes were destroyed, mainly in the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan.
In Balochistan, a province in the southwest of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan, the food insecurity rate was already high, with 41% of the population at crisis or emergency level (IPC). This was down to several factors, including the heat waves in the first half of 2022, but then came heavy monsoon rains and flooding from July onwards, leading to a disastrous season of agricultural production and significant livestock losses. This catastrophe exacerbated food security concerns, as the impact of the flooding on agriculture was particularly severe (OCHA).
On top of that, since December, locals have been living in tough winter conditions, some without shelter and with the bare minimum in terms of clothing and food. The country, where 64% of the population reside in rural areas and live off agricultural production, needs to redress its economic balance. Rebuilding for the long term is crucial, but the populations affected by the flooding also need immediate aid in order to survive and establish alternative, sustainable livelihoods. This process will involve strengthening existing irrigation and drainage infrastructures, building new flood-resistant housing and helping small-scale farmers to develop innovative practices that are less sensitive to climate events, so that their yields improve.
Balochistan is known as Pakistan’s ‘fruit basket’, as it produces 90% of the country’s grapes, cherries, almonds, apples, apricots and pomegranates. More than half the country’s population is involved in agriculture: an activity that is highly dependent on changing weather conditions, so climate change is making this population particularly vulnerable. Food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty are widespread. The Action contre la Faim teams launched an emergency response to assist victims, giving out warm clothes and hygiene kits for women, installing water supply points and latrines, and providing households with monetary support to cover their immediate needs.
Adil Jabbar is one of the survivors of the floods. This is how he recalls that dark day: ‘The water was getting closer and closer. I rushed to my house and told everyone to get out immediately. My poor old mum couldn’t walk. The flood caught us off guard in the middle of the night’. Around 35 years ago, Adil left Afghanistan, his country of birth, because of the extreme droughts that had dried out the land and made it difficult to grow crops. Since then, he has been living in Balochistan, where he works as a farmer, with his siblings and six children.
For more than thirty years, the province has been home to a significant number of Afghan refugees, who have been actively participating in the region’s economic and social life. ‘[In Afghanistan] we grew almonds and grapes. We had a ten-room manor. But what’s the point in having a manor when you have nothing to eat? So we left the farm and the manor and came here’. The family spent several days on the streets relying on help from locals, who brought them food and water. After staying in various forms of temporary accommodation, Adil finally found a place to settle down: ‘The house we lived in collapsed. We tried to live somewhere else, but the walls were getting more and more fragile and the rooms were flooded. In the end, we came here’.
The night of the floods, Adil gathered his children, a suitcase and a blanket. The life they had taken years to build in Pakistan was washed away by the rain.
Action contre la Faim’s teams arrived in the district in October to give out warm clothes, mattresses, tarpaulins to protect homes from the rain and essential items for cooking, washing and ensuring access to clean drinking water.
Gul Bashra, a resident of Baragzo Surkhar in the Pishin district, heard the worst of the weather arrive hours before the rain took hold of her home. She took shelter in her brother-in-law’s house, along with her husband and eight children. In their haste, the family left all their personal belongings at home.
"I had no kitchen utensils, not even any cups, just a plate we all shared for eating."
Gul’s anguish is constant, as she faces the loss of her only property and her children’s uncertain future. ‘It’s extremely hard to cover all my family’s needs on my own. I sew clothes for people day and night, but I never make more than 8,000–8,500 rupees [32 euros]. I wanted to raise my children right and to give them an education’.
Needs vary from one family to another: some lack food, others, drinking water, while others still have been left homeless. The psychological consequences – trauma, fear, insomnia and anxiety – are often invisible, but they are just as important to address for the survivors to get their lives back on track. Our teams respond to the most urgent needs through targeted operations in the fields of health and nutrition, food security, livelihoods, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), mental health and psychosocial support.
In Quetta, the capital of the Balochistan province, life soon carried on despite the still-visible destruction caused by the flooding. The market square at Meezan Chowk is bustling and brings together both traders and local residents almost every day. Among the goods sold there are fruit, vegetables, meat and even clothes. Jannat Gul has been selling vegetables at Meezan Chowk Market for over twenty years and laments the state of local agricultural production, which, as well as being affected by the floods, had already been hindered for years by increased soil salinity due to climate change. A lack of local production means that basic goods need to be imported from abroad, leading to a price hike.
The removal of import taxes is a temporary measure designed to keep prices at affordable levels: ‘The tax has been removed and tomatoes cost 60 rupees [25 cents in euros] for 1 kilo. A month ago, when the tax was high, the price varied between 250 and 300 rupees [1 euro]’. The situation is worse for butchers, who have seen prices double since the floods. ‘We’re not making any sales; people are worried. People accuse me of fixing prices, but I buy at very high prices too. It’s not my fault’, explains Mushtaq, who sells poultry. ‘Consumers buy the most necessary products, like rice or flour. Before, we could buy a box of apples for 2,000 rupees [8 euros]. Now, a box costs 3,000 [12 euros], and tomorrow it will be 3,200 [13 euros]’, says Saifullah, a fruit seller.
As well as homes, the flooding destroyed vegetable gardens, orchards and livestock: a significant source of food for rural populations. Monetary support for affected households is therefore crucial, so that they can buy essential goods.
Since the devastating floods of June 2022, more than 1,700 people have died and 200,000 have been displaced in the provinces of Balochistan and Sindh. According to the IFPRI, the link between these calamitous floods and climate change is becoming increasingly clear. Calls for the most polluting countries to take accountability for climate change are getting louder and louder.
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