13.09.2022

Pakistan’s devastating floods are a call for climate action

An interview with FES partner Khadim Hussain Mirani about relief efforts, the climate crisis, and the challenges for workers and local economies in the aftermath of the floods in the Sindh province of Pakistan.

The recent floods in Pakistan are the worst in recent memory. More than 1,300 people have died including 244 women, 526 men and 416 children, and more than 12,700 have been injured. More than 1.6 million houses have now been damaged or destroyed and more than 660,000 people are living in camps. In total, more than 33 million people across the country are affected by floods in the provinces of Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Punjab.

As the devastation continues, Abdullah Dayo of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Pakistan Office spoke with our partner Khadim Hussain Mirani, executive director of community development group Bhittai Social Watch and Advocacy (BSWA) who is currently working on relief activities in the northern part of Sindh province, and himself affected by the floods.

What is the current situation of the humanitarian crisis in the particularly hard-hit province Sindh after the floods?

According to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) Sindh, the floods have caused 594 deaths including 256 children in the past few months in Sindh province. Many people have lost their basic source of income in the rural economy which is mainly livestock. More than 150,000 heads of livestock have perished in the floods, and at least 3.4 million acres of agricultural land are damaged. Additionally, almost half a million houses are destroyed and 1 million are damaged. The official figures show that 10.5 million people are affected in Sindh. The number of climate-displaced persons has reached 6.7 million, most of them living in tents in makeshift camps on the outskirts of cities and towns. More than half a million children, women, and men are currently living in relief camps established by the Government of Sindh.

Vital infrastructure like small bridges have been destroyed and roads turned into mud, cutting off access to many people in distress. Besides, there is a shortage or unavailability of electricity in flood-affected areas. The floods are also having a catastrophic impact on the health situation. People are facing diseases like diarrhoea, respiratory infections, skin diseases, eye infections, and gastrointestinal diseases. There is an acute shortage of food items including vegetables in the local markets, and daily commodities are being sold at high prices.

Many areas of cities and villages in Sindh are still underwater, and we are awaiting adequate arrangements for dewatering areas that are causing waterborne diseases. While malaria is spreading fast in Sindh, mainly in villages and semi-urban centres, no fumigation campaign has been launched yet except in Karachi to tackle the booming population of mosquitoes, which spread the disease. There is also a significant shortage of food and safe drinking water.

 

In Sindh, the floods have caused devastation in a large area that was already struggling with climate change-induced labour migration. What are the main challenges for workers and local economies in the aftermath of the floods?

We are witnessing increased unemployment as many people have lost their source of income especially daily-wage labourers and private-sector employees who were already earning meagre incomes and are now helpless. The agricultural sector is in turmoil. The deadly floods also swamped farms in the province, flushing away cotton and vegetable crops in many key areas. According to some reports, there has been a 45 percent loss in cotton, 85 percent loss in dates and 31 percent loss in rice, along with vegetables like onions and tomatoes, which has caused prices to soar. The current situation has also threatened the wheat harvest, which indicates that a food security crisis is looming in Sindh and the rest of Pakistan. Small growers, farm workers and poor farmers are in financial crisis as there is no chance of cultivating wheat, fruits, vegetables, or other seasonal crops this year. The workers of agricultural farms and cattle farms are becoming jobless as the agricultural land is under water and many cattle have either died or suffer from many diseases. Many people will be forced to leave the destroyed areas and search for employment, food, and water for their families and livestock elsewhere. This will result in demographic changes that may cause socio-economic and political challenges in future. Currently, there is no reliable data regarding labour migration. This lack of data itself is a big issue.

What impact have the floods had on women, especially domestic and home-based workers?

Women bear the greater burden because of their traditional roles as caretakers and providers of food, water, and family welfare within the households on top of their work responsibilities. Currently, we see that a significant number of pregnant women and girls lack access to the healthcare facilities and support they need to deliver their children safely. In Sindh, most births happen at home, and with almost 1.5 million homes damaged or destroyed, many women do not know where they will deliver their babies. A few days ago, a flood survivor woman gave birth to a baby next to the rubble of her house in the small district of Sindh, without any amenities or medical help.

Women working in the agriculture sector have lost their employment and are left without the resources or assistance to find alternative means of livelihood. And millions of domestic workers, home-based women workers, low-income small business owners, and self-employed workers are struggling to repair damage and recover lost earnings. This has led to an increase in household borrowings. People are seeking informal loans from their relatives and friends to face the catastrophe. The home-based women workers in the artisan industry are highly affected as well as they had to leave their homes.

Additionally, there is an increased likelihood of gender-based violence, sexual abuse, and harassment of many women and young girls even in relief camps and shelter homes set up for flood victims as we witnessed many cases during the floods of 2010.

 

Once Pakistan enters into the rehabilitation and rebuilding phase after dealing with rescue and relief work, what should be the way forward in order to avoid such humanitarian disasters in the future?

Pakistan is among the top 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change in the Global Climate Risk Index 2021 but still, we have not worked effectively on climate resilience to face the multiple challenges in adapting to climate change. The humanitarian situation is likely to deteriorate further as heavy rains continue over areas already inundated by more than two months of storms.

The federal and provincial governments should work with national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and make sure that local communities are involved in decision-making regarding the mitigation of disasters in the future. There is a dire need for capacity building of local administration and the District Disaster Management Authority at the district level. Institutions of local government should be strengthened and shall be made part of contingency planning. Currently, there is no effective coordination mechanism among the government departments, civil society organizations, and media. This needs to be remedied before moving into the second phase of rehabilitation.

In order to carry out an effective rehabilitation phase, participatory committees should be formed in each village and Union Council in which teachers, doctors, political parties’ representatives, religious leaders, NGO representatives, and media professionals should be included to ensure the accountability of the whole phase. The government needs to raise awareness of climate adaptation policies and also arrange tree plantation at all levels especially roadsides, banks of the Indus river, canal sides, and also all government schools at the village level.  

Early warning systems and data-collection mechanisms should be improved, a fumigation campaign against malaria should be launched, and de-watering pumps should be installed in each union council so that waterborne diseases can be avoided. There is no mechanism to create a force of volunteers or train them for such difficult times; the provincial government needs to conduct training of volunteers on first aid at each village level and the infrastructure of Basic Health Units at each union council should be improved and mobile clinics should be deployed at village level to provide prompt medical care to children, women and elderly persons.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of FES.

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