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September 22, 2010 / Rehman Azhar

The Real Challenge

An ariel view of the town Kot Addu in South Punjab when it was hit by the floodwaters.

I recently traveled to Kot Addu, one of the worst areas affected by the floods in Pakistan. I couldn’t catch any flight, so traveled by car that in a way told me lots of things that I haven’t read in papers or seen on TV. Hitherto I just knew the facts and figures about the disaster that has occurred. The problem with the facts and figures is that they are emotionless. Sometimes in a far off land, one is not able to relate to the situation or what actually happened there. It is only when you see it with your own eyes, you realize the real side of the story. Seeing is believing and I could still see water on both sides of the road. Still and standing water! It looked peaceful and one can be skeptical of its capacity to devastate. But in it were rotten crops, fallen trees, bricks and rubble all along the way- immersed in water. In still and silent water! That had the stillness and silence of death.

One thing was satisfying for me. People are being taken care of. I saw trucks loaded of ration supplies and shelters on their way to different areas. There are camps already being run by different organizations mostly local and foreign NGOs and our government. It was an exhilarating feeling- just to know that how my own countrymen and foreigners have come forward to help these people. At the same time, I was afraid too.  When so much is being done, what need is there to be afraid?, I ask. I am afraid of the time when after few months has passed and all these cameras and campaigns would wither away. Foreign donors will have other calamities to look after. Media will have a different story for its papers and screens (even our own national media- after all Pakistan is such a happening country). What would happen then? Has anyone thought of the time?

A picture taken during my visit to Kot Addu. Floodwaters still hold ground in the inundated fields, making the land uncultivable for the coming crop season.

My contention here; agriculture has been the livelihood of areas especially n South Punjab. The land has been famous for growing cotton, sugarcane, wheat and corn. On both sides of the road that rips through these plains and towns of South Punjab, I could witness standing crops of corn and cotton rotting in standing water. Some fields have been completely washed away leaving just the dykes or saline soil as the water drains. An estimate tells that crops on 2,231,378 hectares have been completely destroyed in Pakistan that amounts to 1/3rd of the total cultivable land. South Punjab suffered the worst onslaught of the floods with standing crops washed away and water still holding ground. This standing water won’t go easily since nothing is being done for the drainage. Even when the water would go, there will be the problem of salinity for the vast swathes of land that might make it uncultivable for another crop season. In short, we are missing a whole food cycle and it might take us a year to see any crop standing in those plains. Anyone who has some understanding of how important any crop cycle is for a small farmer would know that it is a complete disaster for the household economy. One crop destroyed pushes a farmer to survive only on debt or borrowed money and seed from the market. Here we are talking about missing two or three crop seasons at least. Is anyone thinking about it? Has authorities decided on any policy to make that land cultivable as soon as possible so that the farmer could start working on the next crop possible? Who will be providing for the seeds to cultivate these crops? If nothing is being done then do we have the resources to feed 20 million of the population for the coming year and a half? What will happen to all those who relied on grains from these crops for their livelihood and bread for the house? A country that already faced sugar and flour crisis in recent years will be threatened again with a food crisis- a bigger one. The prices will go up obviously for the rest of the country as well because either we will have a shortage or we might have to import.

The car sped on that outworn road through the plains where water still held ground. I closed my eyes and perhaps didn’t want to think- just like my government.

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4 Comments

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  1. Sana / Sep 22 2010 5:06 am

    Rehman what you have mentioned here were m emotions exactly when i went there for the first time..
    the worst fact of all is that out of the 2,231,378 hectares of cultivated land (with standing crops) destroyed 11,700 hectares alone were in Uch Sharif, but unfortunately it has not been included in the worst flood hit regions by the government hence foriegn aid agencies can do nothing about the more than 4000 families which are still stranded there and whose homes have been washed away. Almost 45,000 people have been affected in the region. What more does it take to come on the ‘list’ of severely damaged/hit regions in need of assistance?

    • Rehman Azhar / Sep 23 2010 1:52 am

      I guess I’d agree to you on this. There are so many areas that have been hit and not included in the list of areas where Government is going to focus with rehabilitation of flood victims. The scale of devastation is much higher than the figures released.

  2. amrat / Sep 22 2010 5:12 am

    although i agree with the assessment of the situation, i do believe that the situation will not remain stagnant for long. keep in mind that the first step is always to minimize human tragedy, the physical and environmental will come second and this isn’t exactly something that can be ignored.

    the situation is more worrisome wrt water-borne diseases that such bodies of water might lead to…’rotten crops, fallen trees, bricks and rubble’ is a dangerous mix and the consequences can be horrendous..

    and finally…f you think the govt is in any way going to help drain this land, forget it!! they might help the big landlords…but it will be up to the farmers themselves to dig ditches and drain their land. as you said thier survival depends on it. this will probably start once people start returning to their lands…untill then the waters stay!!

    • Rehman Azhar / Sep 23 2010 1:54 am

      Things are not moving ahead. Like any other natural catastrophe hitherto our focus has been on feeding those people. That’s exactly that happened after the 2005 earthquake. We have not learnt anything from the natural disasters. At least we should have been prudent with out policies this time. WE still feel that the most important thing those people need is the food or the 20,000 rupees that government is going to give them.

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