After experiencing unprecedented flash flooding in 2022 and the devastation that followed, Pakistan is now grappling with a monumental food crisis. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres referred to the 2022 flash floods as “the climate carnage” as they distressed 33 million people, killed over 1,600, and injured another 12,800. Moreover, the unprecedented floods destroyed millions of acres of agricultural land and crops in Pakistan and caused immense damage to livestock, the basic source of income for most of Pakistan’s population. This has led to a scarcity of basic food items, with their prices skyrocketing, triggering widespread food insecurity, hunger, and malnutrition in the country. To ensure food for the country, Pakistan must take proactive policy steps to enhance the quality and quantity of crops and achieve its Zero Hunger goal.
An Outlook of the Post Flood Food Crisis in Pakistan
The 2022 Global Hunger Index ranks Pakistan 99th out of 121 countries in food insecurity. According to the ranking, Pakistan faces a serious level of hunger. The 2022 flash floods plunged an additional 2.5 million people in Pakistan into extreme hunger, reaching an all-time high of 8.6 million Pakistanis. Food insecurity especially plagues the flood-hit areas of Balochistan and Sindh province.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the massive flash floods in Pakistan destroyed 1.7 million hectares of agrarian land and major agricultural products such as rice, tomatoes, onions, wheat, and other vegetables and have cost 800,000 heads of livestock. The floods ravaged more than 3,728 miles of roads and bridges, giving a huge blow to the transportation system and making the conveyance of extant food impossible. FAO estimates that approximately 14.6 million people in Pakistan need food security and agricultural assistance in flood-hit areas, and nearly half a million people are on the brink of severe food insecurity.
Before the floods, Pakistan faced a looming food crisis. As an agrarian economy, Pakistan relies heavily on its agricultural sector, which contributes 24 percent to the country’s GDP and is the largest source of foreign exchange earnings for Pakistan. The country is expected to face food shortages in the future because a significant portion of its food storage has been destroyed, and staple crops have been severely damaged due to the floods. According to the International Rescue Committee, the floods in Pakistan destroyed 65 percent of the country’s main food crops, including a staggering 70 percent of its rice. The shortage of agricultural crops, particularly wheat, which is a staple food for a large population in the country, has resulted in importing food, increasing costs, and reducing the purchasing power of people, especially in flood-hit areas.
Exacerbating Effects of the Ukraine War on Pakistan’s Food Security
Due to disruptions in wheat supply from Ukraine caused by Russia’s invasion, Pakistan has increased its imports of wheat from Russia by more than eight times in the first eight months of the 2022-23 fiscal year, adding a huge burden to its already crippled economy. As a result, Pakistan has become the fifth-largest importer of Russian wheat. In the previous fiscal year of 2021-22, Ukraine was the primary supplier of wheat to Pakistan, with exports reaching 1.3 million metric tons. Now, Russia has become the top wheat exporter to Pakistan, providing almost 1.5 million metric tons in the current fiscal year. Other shocks in early 2022 exacerbated Pakistan’s food crisis, including the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, food and fuel prices, water scarcity, and supply chain disruptions.
The road to recovery will be expensive. The Pakistani Government’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessment Report estimates damages to Pakistan’s agriculture sector at USD $3.7 billion. Already facing an economic crisis, the wreckage of crops, orchards, livestock, and agro-based infrastructure has depreciated livelihoods and agriculture-related income in Pakistan, which requires years to reconstruct. The devastating effects of the flood and the current food crisis will remain for years to come.
In May 2022, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif established a task force to address the impacts of extreme weather patterns. In August 2022, a meeting was held to discuss the expeditious implementation of climate adaptation policies, with Prime Minister Sharif recognizing the pressing nature of the situation through a tweet. While these actions indicate inklings of change at the top level, much more effort is needed to reverse trends built over decades.
The Way Forward
Agriculture plays a vital role in Pakistan’s social, economic, and cultural fabric. Approximately 25 million people in Pakistan are employed in agriculture, and for 34 percent of economically active men and 74 percent of women, it is their primary source of income. Since climate change poses a significant risk to the livelihoods of millions of farming families in Pakistan who depend on agriculture, adopting Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) presents promising opportunities to enhance the sector’s resilience.
In order to enhance both the quality and quantity of crops, farmers must receive training that adheres to global standards. Training farmers will enable them to acquire knowledge of innovative farming methodologies and abandon traditional practices. Implementing this practice is expected to promote consistent and sufficient food production while enabling farmers to optimize their financial gains by exporting excess produce to international markets. These pragmatic measures by the government can be achieved if Pakistan can get the money pledged by developed states in COP27 and Geneva Conference 2023. Proper usage of that money can guarantee sustainability in our agricultural sector, resulting in increased job opportunities, a robust economy, and a surplus for our populace.
Pakistan has already taken several initiatives, i.e., the National Food Security Policy, Vision 2025, and collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP) to address SDG 2 (Zero Hunger). These initiatives aim to enhance the agricultural sector’s productivity, modernity, and climate resilience to augment food availability, accessibility, and sustainability. However, Pakistan faces many institutional challenges in the implementation of these policies. These challenges include historical tensions between federal and provincial governments, limited government capacity to implement initiatives, insufficient financing, and a lack of integration of these principles into broader agricultural development strategies. Sectarian and religious conflicts have resulted in political tension, causing a lack of implementation and governance at both federal and provincial levels. This has impeded progress and development in the proper implementation of this goal.
To mitigate the ongoing food crisis and achieve Pakistan’s Zero Hunger goal, the country must better adhere to and execute these policies. There is a requirement for concentrated endeavors to establish provincial proficiency and institutional growth, which necessitates assistance from the federal and global INGOs and benefactors. These policies require the federal government to enhance its focus on Climate Crises and develop a sense of confidence and communication with all provinces. All parties’ conferences should be held regularly on this specific issue.
The federal government should ensure the division of funds, which it hopes to get from the developed world, with complete justice. The provincial governments should receive support from the federal in utilizing their technological superiority and resources to transform unproductive lands, such as Tharparkar, Thal, and Cholistan, into arable regions. This can be done by arranging national-level expos conducted by experts from across the world. Farmers should be given loans in convenient installments to bolster agricultural activities in Pakistan. Federal and provincial governments should promote advanced ways of farming like kitchen gardening, providing high-quality seeds to farmers, and regulating traditional farming methods to enhance food availability, reducing the yield gap.
It is incumbent upon the civilian policymakers, or bureaucrats, to prioritize addressing food insecurity as a socio-economic crisis that is at the risk of escalating rather than solely focusing their efforts on satisfying the demands of the ruling elite. So, to achieve progress in SDG 2 and mitigate food insecurity in the country, it is imperative to address the impact of climatic hazards and enhance Pakistan’s capacity to withstand unforeseen events. Failure to promptly address food insecurity and Hunger may result in law-and-order complications as the two interrelated challenges can potentially cause significant societal disruptions.
Image 1: Food Distribution in Sukkur via Flickr
Image 2: Child Vendors Selling Food via Flickr