Pakistan’s natural disaster to become a ‘nutrition disaster’


 SEP 30, 2022 – DAILY SABAH

Flood victims gather to receive food handout in a camp, following rains and floods during the monsoon season in Sehwan, Pakistan, Sept. 14, 2022. (Reuters Photo)

Flood victims gather to receive food handout in a camp, following rains and floods during the monsoon season in Sehwan, Pakistan, Sept. 14, 2022. (Reuters Photo)

‘Global aid is trickling in, however, the domestic food insecurity will have international reverberations’

The specter of a food crisis looms in Pakistan, which detrimentally writhes from cataclysmic flooding. While close to one-third of the nation is underwater, most of the 33 million citizens adversely affected by the disaster are yet to receive assistance.

Nearly 2 million homes have been damaged and the total wreaked damage is estimated at over $30 billion. Yet the crisis could further aggravate as extreme rainfall and a wall of Manchar Lake, Pakistan’s largest, precipitated mounting water levels, jeopardizing communities downstream.

Torrential rains and heavy flooding have killed more than 1,550 distraught citizens and displaced millions. More torrential and monsoon rains with heavy flooding are expected in October 2022.

Global aid is trickling into Pakistan, and recently established humanitarian air corridors help the arrival of emergency relief. The United Arab Emirates Defense Ministry and Joint Operations Command commenced operating an air bridge to transport humanitarian aid provided by the UAE to Pakistan. A dozen countries, from Türkiye to China, have also guaranteed more backing and support.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres alarmingly (yet realistically) dubbed the floods a “monsoon on steroids” upon his visit to Pakistan earlier in September to assess the damage. The urgent emphasis is on offering food, potable water, and shelter.

Pakistani officials, in tandem with global donors, are working around the clock to mitigate related public health challenges. An example is flood-borne diseases which surge and two-thirds of the country’s food basket is destroyed. Even in urban centers, dengue fever has killed hundreds.

Another catastrophe looms

Another catastrophe with overt international impact hovers – a massive food crisis – 3 million livestock ( and 700,000 cattle have drowned, imperiling the livelihood of millions). The International Rescue Committee (IRC) estimates that crops over 3.6 million acres have been damaged, including 65% of the nation’s major food crops. In addition, 45% of agricultural land is lost.

Pakistan, by and large, remains an agrarian economy and such fertile land remains sacrosanct. Out of Pakistan’s total land mass, less than 40% is arable and land erosion inflicts steep impairment on agricultural terrain. Impoverished families struggle to secure food at a moment when the country is cash-strapped and world food prices soar ever higher amid the war in Ukraine.

People, displaced because of the floods, gather to receive food handout in a camp, following rains and floods during the monsoon season in Sehwan, Pakistan, Sept. 20, 2022. (Reuters Photo)
People, displaced because of the floods, gather to receive food handout in a camp, following rains and floods during the monsoon season in Sehwan, Pakistan, Sept. 20, 2022. (Reuters Photo)

Pakistan will scuffle to nourish itself along with the nations that depend on its food exports. These risks intensify the international food market crunch catalyzed by COVID-19’s ongoing waves and mutations, supply chain disruptions, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Close to 15% of Pakistan’s rice crop and 40% of its cotton crop were destroyed as the waters wiped out the grain stores that farming families rely on for food yearlong.

Wheat remains the country’s main crop, and the annual planting season commences in October. In Pakistan, sowing wheat takes place from October to December and harvests from March to May. Over 92% of Pakistani homes consume wheat. However, with so much land decimated, the wheat yield can now be imperiled. Many farmers are concerned that their terrain will not be usable over the next couple of months.

Pakistan will therefore have to import more food which heightens costs and jeopardizes the nation’s balance of payments crisis just as a nerve-wreaking hard-won deal with the IMF was reached. Prior to the floods, Pakistan’s food inflation stood at 26% and in September 2022, vegetable prices surged by 500%.

Such soaring costs will be shouldered by the urban masses too, as urban cities remain home to huge lower-income and working classes. If politics and history serve as a road map, urban revolts could ensue. Protests would be distinct in rural sections, home to two-thirds of Pakistan’s population. Rural land ownership is egregiously unequal, in a still largely feudal society, with most residents owning scant tracts of land, exacerbating food insecurity. Over the long haul, all this could catalyze a public health crisis, including waterborne diseases as well as stunting growth in children due to malnourishment or undernourishment.

UNICEF confirmed that at least 3.4 million children require urgent humanitarian assistance and are at a heightened risk of waterborne diseases, drowning and malnutrition.

Global repercussions

A food catastrophe in Pakistan will bear global repercussions. The country is the fourth-largest international rice exporter, importing from China to the Middle East to Africa. A drastic fall in Pakistani exports augments international food insecurity, further triggered by uncertain wheat exports from Ukraine. However, higher rice stocks may cushion the blow.

If the flood waters ebb over the near term, Pakistan can mitigate a worst-case scenario, saving precious agricultural terrain. Most of Pakistan’s wheat and rice crops are sown and harvested in Punjab province, which has (luckily) not been struck fiercely by the monsoon rains and flash floods.

However, in lieu of the sheer scale of the flooding, the most significant damage is already done. Global donors are already wrestling with severe humanitarian crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine, and donor fatigue has kicked in, which augurs poorly for Pakistan. The international ramifications of the flood crisis highlight the urgency for global support to avert yet another catastrophe.

* Freelance writer and international advisor, @OzerKhalid on Twitter


Freelance writer and international advisor, @OzerKhalid on Twitter


1 reply

  1. Paralytic Pakistan government & army has failed to deal with the floods. Instead of working proactively, they saw complete disaster & destruction unfolding sitting in comfort, which’s never been witnessed before.

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