Debt, disease and hunger follow flood in Pakistan

NOS Newsyesterday, 20:00

  • Aletta Andre

    Correspondent India

  • Aletta Andre

    Correspondent India

Ramesh Kumar and his pregnant wife are two of the hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis who have lost everything to the floods in recent months. Their house, made of wood and thatch, has collapsed. Their cotton crop near Nawabshah nearby is largely lost. “I asked the landowner to cancel our debt, but he refused. He said you have to pay me back,” Ramesh said.

He does not receive a salary, but shares in the profit that the landowner makes on the harvest. When there is no profit, as there is now, but loss, Ramesh has to pay half of the costs incurred. This is very common in rural Sindh, Pakistan’s worst affected province.

For example, countless farm workers are deeply in debt, says activist Akram Khaskheli. “And the only way they can repay the landowners is by working. That’s a form of forced labor, which we’re seeing increased again due to the flooding.”

Poor people have already had a hard time in Pakistan due to the pandemic and an ongoing economic crisis, which has made food more and more expensive. “The floods are likely to exacerbate food insecurity and malnutrition for millions of Pakistanis,” the World Food Organization warned this week.


Ramesh Kumar and his brother pick cotton in a flooded field

So says Parveen Eijaz, a doctor who supervises pregnant women in a relief camp with more than 4,000 people in the city of Hyderabad. “There are 88 pregnant women in this camp alone,” she says. “We give them food supplements and advise them to eat healthy. But as soon as the water recedes a bit, they go back to their village, and there are all kinds of risks. People don’t have access to clean drinking water and there is still a lot of standing water in the fields , which means there are a lot of mosquitoes.”

Not all homeless people are in organized camps with medical care. Throughout Sindh, people sit in tents by the side of the road, meters away from standing water, in temperatures of up to 40 degrees. In the province alone, 134,000 cases of diarrhea and 44,000 cases of malaria were reported this week. Hundreds of people are hospitalized with dengue fever in the regional capital Karachi every day. More than 300 people in the province died from diseases related to the floods, in addition to the more than 1,500 killed in the flood.

House of mud

Within the camp, Fazal, his pregnant wife Suraiya and their one-and-a-half-year-old son sleep in a room of a new school building, which was not yet in use. 5000 schools are used as emergency shelters throughout Pakistan. Nearly 24,000 schools have also become unusable due to water damage. Many children miss out on education because of this.

Fazal and his family do not have a mosquito net to protect themselves against malaria and dengue fever. He also does not know how to follow the advice of doctor Eijaz. “It gives me a headache, I keep thinking: we don’t have money for this child that comes into the world,” he says. “How can I feed them?” He takes hold of his son’s thin arm. “He was fat before, but now his health is very bad.”

The family had a house made of mud, which is probably no longer standing. Fazal has no money for the bus to go and see. “The water rose to our necks, and there were holes in the roof. Then we fled with only the clothes we were wearing. Our goat drowned.”


The pregnant Suraiya, Fazal and their son in a relief camp

“The biggest problem in the coming months will be malnutrition,” says Dr. Ejiaz. “And if pregnant women and mothers don’t eat well, they won’t have enough milk for their babies either. I’m concerned that all the aid that comes into the country won’t reach the very poorest people in remote villages.”

Activist Akram is also concerned about malnutrition. He points to the water in the cotton field that farm worker Ramesh Kumar is working on. “Normally, wheat is sown from October 15. But if the water is not gone yet, then that is not possible. And then there will be no wheat harvest next year. While most people here cannot survive without wheat.”

For now, there is plenty of stock in the granaries of Pakistan. But it is not clear what that will be if there is considerably less harvest next year. And while the water is draining in many parts of the country, it could be months before it completely disappears in Sindh, an important grain production province.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Debt disease hunger follow flood Pakistan

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