Aug 30 - Sep 05, 20

The worst flood in Pakistan's history has virtually destroyed the rural economy. While it is true that the concerned authorities grossly failed in anticipating the quantum of deluge, they also failed in undertaking timely rescue job. The fear of farmers that if they leave their lands, they will never get them back added to their miseries.

Due to persistent lowering of water levels in rivers and canals people had gone too close to the river bed without realising that their crops could be washed out if there were floods at lower levels. The destruction was enormous mainly because most of the areas endured higher level floods. It is yet to be seen whether the stakeholders learn any lesson to face the same eventualities in the years to come.

Standing crop of cotton got the worst hit and estimated loss ranges from two to four million bales. However, experts say that gushing water has destroyed only one-fourth crop, whereas the remaining lands would be affected from pest and virus attacks. Some of the experts go to the extent of saying that pest and virus had attacked the crop much earlier than rains and floods. Much talked about cultivation of BT cotton proved a fallacy because certified seeds were not provided. It is being said openly that imported seed suffered from some serious genetic disorder and had very low resistance against some of the tropical diseases/pets.

Livestock population is highly documented in the country but most of the rural population rear cows, buffalos, sheep, goats and even camels to supplement their income. At this time, the holding of animals for slaughter is relatively high because of Eid-ul-Adha falling after a few months. Since evacuation was in emergency most of the animals were left back. Farmers have been deprived of these either because of drowning of the animals or others grabbing them.

Dwellings units built in rural areas mostly fall in the category of huts constructed with the help of clay bricks and clay devoid of proper plinth, pillars, beams and concrete blocks. These are easily washed away by torrential rains. This time land erosion was intense due to fast gushing water and devastation was also enormous and dwellers virtually lost everything they accumulated over the years.

Stored grain kept as seed and also for daily consumption has been lost. While the official statement quantifies wheat loss around half a million tons, people familiar with Pakistan's rural population believe actual losses may exceed one million tons.

Tube wells are used as a substitute to irrigate land in most parts of the country. It is feared that hundred and thousands of machines submerged in water and mud have been left useless or require extensive overhauling.

Water courses have been filled by slit and locating the actual route would be very difficult. It is believed that most of the water course will have to be rebuilt and the fear is that these would be constructed to facilitate the feudal lords and deprive the small farmers of their legitimate share of water.

Repayment of outstanding loans is likely to become a nightmare for the farmers mainly because they borrow from informal sources. However, the situation is very grim in general. The State Bank of Pakistan had made credit insurance mandatory for banks but sector experts fear less than 30 per cent of total credit was insured. It is estimated that outstanding agriculture loans of financial institutions exceed Rs200 billion. Therefore, bulk of the loans has to be written off to save the small borrowers. This translates into a small percentage when compared with total deposits of the banks exceeding Rs4 trillion.

Loss of land records, though partially, posses a serious threat for the small farmers and it is feared that feudal lord would try to grab as much land as possible by greasing the palms of lower staff of the land revenue department. Re-demarcation of lands will be mammoth task, particularly in the absence of land record and spread of slit.

It is also feared that the second best option, passbooks issued by the financial institutions to farmers will also be tempered by the feudal lord with the connivance of corrupt staff and many may never get a chance to re-posses their land.

Though the scenario looks too gloomy, only concerted and sincere effort by the government can help in the rehabilitation of internally displaced persons. More than ample rains have created opportunities for cultivation of certain crops in arid zones. Cultivation of corn, canola, sunflower and gram can help the farmers to earn but the real opportunity is bringing additional area under wheat cultivation.