Silent tragedy: ‘Badin has sunk and no one even knows on the outside world’

Picking had just begun for the bumper cotton crop a day before the rains.


Express August 17, 2011

KARACHI:


The biggest tragedy for Badin is not that it has completely disappeared under five feet of water but that no one outside has realised the magnitude of the disaster.


A shellshocked Kabool Mohammad Khatian, who has been a mid-scale farmer there for 10 years, returned to Karachi to recoup on Wednesday. “Five districts have disappeared,” he cried. “I’ve never seen so much water in my life.”

It rained for three days and three nights - more than people have ever seen. “People said the last time this happened was in the 1960s,” Khatian told The Express Tribune. Fortunately, unlike in the floods in upper Sindh last year, people had a little bit of a warning from nature. As the rain started to fall the animals and people started to move to higher ground.

The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) pointed out that problems with the Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) and Sim Nala have persisted for years and yet the government has not done anything to improve the management of the drain, which is the largest saline one in Asia. The controversial World Bank-funded LBOD has been criticised repeatedly for its faulty design that has caused immense destruction in the past. The 1999 cyclone, 2003 monsoon and 2006 rains led to overflows and breaches that displaced the population of Badin.

According to Piler, in addition to the rain, the breaks in the LBOD and flooding have destroyed millions of acres of ready-to-harvest cotton, rice, chillies, onions and tomatoes, worth Rs2 billion.

The prime minister came for a day or so. “But that was all drama,” said Khatian, who was in Golarchi where the PM visited. As he gave his speech promising Watan cards, people started crying out that this would not be enough.

The real tragedy is that Badin was expecting a bumper cotton crop this year. The BT cotton has been doing well there for the last three years or so and the picking had just begun two days before the rain fell. “As I drove in on August 6 I was amazed,” said Kabool. “Everywhere you looked there was cotton. My mind stopped working [Dimagh kaam nahi kar raha tha].”

Indeed, the yield was expected to be 13 million bales by conservative government estimates. But when the rain came, that dream vanished. “It was as if God had showed us a plate of food and then it was snatched away,” Kabool said. The stunned farmers, zamindars and their families cannot believe that they had just started picking the first harvest and now the entire crop, across the entire district, is soaking wet.

An initial investment of Rs30,000 goes into one acre of cotton. Once the harvest comes then people reinvest part of the money earned into the next crop, which was going to be wheat. But that is well nigh impossible now. Average farmers have suffered losses of up to Rs30 million this time around. Rice, which usually needs water, can take up to about 8 inches, but not four feet. In the very least, the government needs to assure farmers that they will get that Rs30,000 per acre to start growing again once the water goes down. An additional problem is that for the first year the government levied a 17% tax on farming materials such as seeds, fertilizer and pesticide. It broke people’s backs but they still managed to get the work going. Now the hari and the zamindar have both been rendered faqirs.

If there isn’t any more rain, then hopefully the waters will subside in about a week. In the meantime, many Badin residents have headed towards the nearby Mithi. Government response has been slow. Some relief camps are being set up, food is being distributed. But the non-profits, aid agencies and government machinery are largely absent. Minister Zulfiqar Mirza has been in Badin for the last few days and is reported to have acquired flour from ten chakkis. But as Khatian put it, “How much can one man do when an entire district has sunk?”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2011.

Watch a slideshow of pictures from Badin here.

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