Published On: Thu, Aug 14th, 2014

Monsoon and vulnerability of food-insecure Balochistan

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By Safiullah Shahwani

QUETTA, BALOCHISTAN:

Natural disasters have caused more damage to mankind in the 21st century than ever before, triggering unimaginable crisis of food security worldwide. Monsoon Contingency Planning Report 2012 generated by National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) quotes as many as 400 disasters globally on average from 2000-2007 in the wake of climate change that affected 230 million people and caused an average 80 billion dollars of economic loss across the world. These floods mostly caused havoc in low and medium human development countries, worsening the food crisis as a result of mayhem unleashed upon agricultural land, livestock and other means of sustenance.

Balochistan is one of the most food insecure areas in Pakistan. Beaten by various political crisis and man-made disasters, which include military operations, sectarian violence, issues of missing persons, lack of federal government’s care and plunder of resources in broad daylight. Balochistan’s miseries are more compounded by the natural disasters and the consecutive floods over the years, which even dampened the hope of livelihood from the people of this hapless but mineral rich province.

The frequent flash floods in the province are, undoubtedly, a result of climate change. District Naseerabad and Jafferabad of Balochistan abound with the crops of rice and agriculture is the major source of livelihood for the people of not only these districts but of most parts of Balochistan. The catastrophic floods, unfortunately, washed away everything that belonged to the people of these areas be it livestock, crops, property or any other valuables and rendered thousands of people homeless. Despite major relief operations and food supply by Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), countless people in these areas are still living their lives like environmental refugees. The NDMA’s mentioned report confesses that 20 million people around Pakistan were affected by the floods in 2010 alone. Having no economic resources at hand, the people of these areas can definitely not meet their caloric needs. As a matter of fact, the series of floods did not end with the unfortunate year of 2010 but it repeatedly haunted the people of these areas during the subsequent years, multiplying the food crisis.

The damage caused by floods in 2012-13 are reported by Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), reveal horrifying figures. District Naseerabad stands worst affected with 104 deaths out of the total 156 deaths reported from Balochistan. Out of total 787,780 persons affected in the entire province 298,149 belonged to Naseerabad and 335, 597 to Jafferabad. Similarly, out of 183,513 houses damaged, 54,334 belonged to Naseerabad, 6,500 to Jhal Magsi, 99,666 to Jafferabad and 9,582 to Dera Bugti. In the same way, a total of 452,588 acres of crops were damaged in the entire Balochistan where most affected districts were Naseerabad, Kaachi, Jafferabad, Killa Saifullah, Barkan and Zhob.

Ghulam Rabbani, a local resident of Landhi Sharie, an area of Naseerabad Division, narrated the miserable tales of the aftermath of flood and subsequent food crisis in the area, saying that people lost everything which would sustain their lives, including livestock, agriculture, and standing crops of rice.

“The administration only distributed food packets among the people, that too among the very few, but no long terms measures were taken to compensate the economic loss of the people and bolster their economy so that they could meet the shortage of food,” Rabbani added.

The government and other non-governmental organisations were seen engaging in relief activities for some time but these activities are short-term policies. In long term, no considerable measures can be noted. Given the unpredictable situation in the face of changed climate, floods can wreak havoc in these areas once again ahead of monsoon spill. Nonetheless, the rehabilitation of the homeless, compensation for agricultural losses, arrangements of health, education and other basic needs for the people of these areas should be a top-priority of the new government in the province. If the foregoing issues are not prioritised, the area can face a bulk of heath issues due to insecurity of food.

Needless to say that the nation is already suffering a shortage of nutritious food, balanced diet ingredients and many cannot even fulfil the required calories for proper functioning of their bodies due to rampant poverty.

A report by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) titled Food Insecurity in Pakistan further reinforces the fears of malnutrition issues in these areas, which shockingly states that 48.6 per cent of the people in Pakistan are malnourished. As a matter of fact, the issues of food security and malnourishment are much more beyond the statistical figures on ground in Balochistan. United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in its report Status of Millennium Development Goals in Balochistan 2011 quoted District Dera Bugti the poorest districts in Pakistan where caloric poverty stands at 73.0 percent. Similarly, the mentioned organisation’s report mentions 20 districts of Pakistan as severely suffering from malnourishment, out of these 10 are in Balochistan, including Naseerabad, Dera Bugti, Musakhel, Sherani, Panjgoor and others.

Therefore, having lost everything and still having to grapple with dangerous situation ahead, the people of Naseerabad, Jafferabad and adjacent districts in Balochistan are highly prone to crises of food security which is likely to ignite break of epidemic diseases including waterborne and airborne, and low expectancy of life, high women and infant mortality rates and chronic poverty in the offing.

It may be mentioned here that the waterborne diseases in these districts are already at peak and Naseerabad division has been declared as the red-zone for hepatitis B by the Balochistan health department. The spread of this fatal disease can claim further lives.

The airborne diseases have reportedly affected the eyes of the people of this area and many are suffering due to unavailability of ophthalmologic facilities.

The news of rising level of waters is already in headlines due to melt down of glaciers as a result of constant rise in the temperature. Already grappling with deep food insecurity issues, population in Balochistan can further plunge into malnutrition maladies if a proper and practicable plan is not chalked out to tame down the causes of food insecurity and to address the issues of food insecurity in Balochistan. The ten districts already suffering malnourishment should serve as a wake-up call for the authorities concerned before it is too late.

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