The toll of extreme flooding on Pakistan’s food security is becoming apparent: large swathes of farmland under water, crops and food stocks washed away, homes and livelihoods wiped out.
Warnings from the government indicated that there is an imminent food safety crisis. The government warned that rains and floods had caused damage to rice, cotton and vegetables such as tomatoes and onions. The storms could also impact wheat planting, which is a problem at a moment when there’s no way to ensure another disruption in grain supplies.
Global prices of kitchen staples soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, driving food inflation to a record. The catastrophic flood, which is estimated to cost the economy $10 billion, is another hit to Pakistan that’s already battling an economic crisis. The damage to food supplies could boost Pakistan’s need for imports and increase the pressure on global agricultural markets.
“The agricultural sector is in turmoil. The cotton crop and vegetables are completely wiped out in many key areas,” said Ahmad Jawad, vice president of Pakistan Businesses Forum, who grows wheat, maize, citrus and sugarcane. “Wild weather just can’t give us a break. First the heat wave, now floods.”
The United Nations lists Pakistan as one of the most at-risk countries to climate change. However, Pakistan has had the worst rainfall levels in over three decades. The government claims that about one-third of Pakistan is now under flood control, while more than 1100 people have been killed.
As much as half of Pakistan’s cotton crop has been damaged by torrential rains, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said on Tuesday, citing preliminary estimates. Pakistan accounts for 5.5% of the world’s cotton production and is therefore fifth in size. The damage could further shrink the world’s cotton supply.
Pakistan has seen food prices rise five times since the last month, with tomato sales increasing by 5x and onions increasing threefold. The government is taking steps to permit importation of produce from Iran, Afghanistan and other goods. Pakistan also considers a temporary land route that would allow for duty-free shipment from India arch-rival.
“The two neighboring countries have issues but a humanitarian crisis comes first,” Jawad said. “India has a surplus of vegetables so it’s a win-win.”
A group of farmers gathers around the rice fields that were damaged in flood waters at Shikarpur, Sindh province, on August 30, 2022.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP via Getty Images
Pakistan receives food aid
The international aid continues to trickle in. The World Food Programme works to increase food aid to Pakistan. It aims to reach approximately half a million people living in Pakistan’s worst-hit areas of Sindh and Balochistan. But distributions are being hampered by floodwaters that have restricted access to the entire country.
According to United Nations, more than 100 bridges were destroyed or damaged, nearly 800,000 farm animals died, and over two million acres have suffered damage or destruction.
“The floods have broken multiple bridges so supplies from Iran will not reach Pakistan’s main population center in Punjab province. Indian imports are needed to help bring prices down,” Jawad said.
Already, Pakistan has the highest inflation rate in the region. Consumer price increases reached a high of nearly 25% in July. September 1 will see the August print.
Sowing next year’s wheat crop, which starts in October, will be another challenge. Last month, Shehbaz Sharif stated that Pakistan was already engaged in negotiations with Russia to import wheat. Before the floods, Pakistan was already facing an estimated shortage of around 2.6 millions tons.
—Ruchi Bhatia, Kevin Dharmawan provided assistance
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