Drought comes to Pakistan’s poorest province – again

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QUETTA: With the rainy season already here and no rains in sight, fears of drought loom again over Balochistan that has yet to recover from the last one that lasted nearly 11 years.

According to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), the drought of 1997 – 2002 was one of the worst in the history of Balochistan. It was the major cause behind the slowing of economic growth rate during that period: According to the figures released by the Ministry of Finance, the drought caused a loss of PKR 25 billion to the national exchequer in the year 2000-2002.

With the summer going without any rain and the winter rainy season yet to get any rains, environmentalists say there is a fresh spell of drought in the uplands of Balochistan.

“There have been no rain showers in this summer in Qila Abdullah, QilaSaifullah, Pishin, Chagai, Ziarat, Khuzdar, Loralai, Zhob, Musa Khail, Barkhan, KohluNaushki and adjoining areas,” says FaizKakar, Manager of the Balochistan chapter of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “There was migration to other parts of country and Afghanistan as people mostly rely on agriculture and livestock for their livelihood in these parts.”

The 1997-2002 drought in the province, according to PDMA, contributed to rising food prices in an already poor and food-scarce province, causing different diseases and malnutrition among the affected populations.

Fodder shortage affected livestock-rearing, which plays an important role in the rural economy. Almost 80 percent of farming and orchards were destroyed, causing migration of people from drought-affected areas.

The 1997-2002 drought, according to PDMA, incurred heavy costs in terms of relief work as 22 out of the 28 drought-affected districts sought assistance. The drought also contributed to the incidence of Crimean Congo Haemorrhagic Fever (CCHF). People succumbed to diseases triggered by the drought: Malnutrition, T.B and Hepatitis affected thousands of local communities especially women and children during the period. Almost 80% of livestock died in the severely affected areas.

The monthly average rain in the dry regions of Balochistan, according to PDMA, is between 2 and 25 mm, which is very low as compared to other parts of the country. However, environmentalists have attributed the recurring incident of drought to climate change in the region. Droughts are frequently hitting the province—which is 44 percent of the Pakistan in terms of landmass.

“Prior to 2010 average annual rainfall was 250 millimeters, but now it suddenly spikes at times, or there is no rain at all”, says Kakar. “There used to be light rains but there have been no rains for the past seven months in majority of the Balochistan. The month of September has never been so hot. Similarly, the weather remains cold until May, which used to be a hot month. These are definitely abnormalities.”

IrfanBaig, a Quetta-based author of the book “Natural Disasters in Pakistan,” says that climate change has badly impacted the production and quality of fruit and irrigated land. “The province witnessed prolonged drought from 1997 to 2002 and the government has done nothing to overcome the crisis. The people are still suffering.”

Winters in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan have become shorter. According to IrfanBaig, there used to be snowfall in November, but now it doesn’t come until the end of January

“It gets very cold but there are fewer overall days of cold.”

The Karez system in Balochistan – an indigenous method of irrigation in which groundwater is tapped using tunnels and underground water channels – has been slowly vanishing as the ground-water level keeps falling in the absence of rain. People rely on Karez to irrigate land and for the livestock.

“We have witnessed a migration from those areas which had been hit by recent drought,” said Kakar. “It has badly impacted the vegetation-cover in the province and people cannot grow fodder for their livestock.”

Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch, the Chief Minister of Balochistan, announced Rs 1 billion for the drought-hit districts in October this year and formed a committee to monitor the drought situation. The government has constituted two committees comprising provincial ministers SarfrazBugti and UbaidullahBabat to visit the drought areas and ensure that the allocated money is spent transparently.

However, environmentalists say the amount is too small for the drought-affected population. More importantly, they say, if there are no rains in January Balochistan’s poverty rate will further decline.

International donors have not been approached for help of the poor people as government says the drought is not too severe and the government could afford to cover it.

“We should not make the things controversial first, we need to see what we could do for our suffering people,” Chief Minister Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch told News Lens when asked whether government is planning to appeal to international donors.

FaizKakar says it is difficult for the government to cope with the situation or provide any relief to the people of drought-hit areas. “We need more rain or international help. And we are hoping that this drought would not be long because the province has yet to recover from the one that ended less than eight years.”

Kakar says if there is no contingency plan, the suffering of farming community will increase if there are no rains in coming months. “The government has so far not approached international donors which possibly mean no contingency plan for a prolonged drought.”

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