“We’ve lost everything,” say Punjab farmers

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Tahir Mehmud is a 40-year-old farmer from a village in Sialkot district in Punjab province, Pakistan.

This year he was set to get bumper crop of paddy rice –then the rains came.

“I had sown 50 acres of paddy. The crop was in good shape. Then in the first week of September it started raining heavily. I was happy as rains are good for the paddy but it turned into a disaster within a few days,” he said.

By 5 September, his fields were completely flooded.

His village, which is situated 15 kilometres away from the Indian border, remained under flood water for two weeks.

“There was water everywhere. We were forced to take refuge on the roof of our house. Our village turned into a pond.”

Tahir says that three members of one family, including a child, were killed when their home collapsed. Dozens more homes in his village of 300 households were damaged.

“We have lost everything. Our crops, our cattle, our homes. I have never seen such a flood in my life. We will become paupers.”

But Tahir’s village is just one of over 3100 villages in Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, which has been devastated by the floods, which were induced by some of the heaviest monsoon rains in decades.

Over 500 people were killed in Punjab and in India’s Kashmir region, while thousands of people have been left homeless.

According to government estimates, more than three million people (an estimated 2.3 million in Pakistan) have been affected in both countries.

The floods hit some of Pakistan’s most industrialised cities including Lahore, Faisalabad and Sialkot, resulting in the closure of scores of small to medium-sized industrial units.


Farmers worst hit

But it’s the agricultural sector that’s been worst hit. Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) estimates damage to over 2.4 million acres of rice, cotton and sugarcane crops in Punjab province alone.

Citrus fruits and mangoes, which earn Pakistan considerable foreign exchange and create tens of thousands of seasonal jobs for those picking and packing the fruit, has also been adversely affected.

“Over 2000 cattle perished in the floods in Punjab while a huge number of cattle were affected because there was no proper fodder for several days – in some cases for two weeks,” says Ahmed Kamal, a senior spokesperson for NDMA.

“The loss to agriculture has been enormous. Thousands of people have lost their livelihoods. It will take them years to recover their losses.”

Kamal said that the government has announced plans to provide 25,000 rupees (US$250) to each flood-affected household in next two weeks.

“The rescue operation is almost completed. Now we are focusing on rehabilitation.” One example has been the vaccination of over 19 million cattle in a bid to prevent them from dying of disease.

But farmers’ bodies say the situation on the ground is much worse than official statistics suggest.

“At least 3.7 million acres of crops have been affected by the floods,” Khalid Mehmud Khokhar, President of the Pakistan Kisan Ittehad (farmers union) told Equal Times.

He said 3.5 million acres of crop had been affected to varying degrees and significant numbers of livestock had been lost, totalling financial losses of 100 billion rupees (US$1 billion) for crops alone.

“Seventy per cent of farmers in Pakistan are small farmers who own five or less acres and usually have no savings to cultivate their next crops. I fear many of them will not be able to cultivate their next crops if the government does not assist them in time.”

The last time Pakistan was hit by super floods was in 2010.

The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank had estimated US$9.7 billion losses to Pakistan’s economy in 2010 which reduced the GDP growth of the country to 2.6 per cent against a target of 4.5 per cent.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimated that 5.3 million jobs were lost or affected by the 2010 floods.

But the impact of this month’s flood may be worse as the industrial districts of Punjab have been so badly hit.

A Multi-Sector Initial Rapid Assessment is being carried out by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the provincial governments in affected areas.

A preliminary report should be unveiled in the coming week. And officials are bracing themselves for bad news.

“I fear damage to the economy could be over US$10 billion this time,” said a senior official with the federal ministry of food security.