It’s been almost one year since massive floods struck Pakistan, causing widespread displacement and destruction. This was another blow to an already impoverished nation.
It is less well known today the struggle many Pakistanis are facing to reclaim their livelihoods after this disaster. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is helping Pakistanis do just that.
Two CRS reps, Arielle Moinester and Carolyn Fanelli, recently took time to give an update on what is happening on the ground in Pakistan.
Can you describe some of the tremendous damage to agriculture that took place in Pakistan as a result of the massive floods from last August?
The summer 2010 flood impacted more than 20 million people. Most families in Pakistan rely on crops for food and money, so when the floods destroyed their rice, cotton, and sugar cane fields, they were left with nothing. There was standing water for weeks, and sometimes months, in the farmers’ fields. We would look around and just see acres of, say, cotton halfway under water. Or the stalks would be lying flat on the ground, soggy.
What is CRS doing to help bring back farming and restore people’s livelihoods?
CRS worked quickly to get high-quality wheat and vegetable seeds to over 11,000 thousand farming households. We had only a short time between when the floodwaters receded and the next planting season began, so we gave farmers vouchers they could use to buy seeds. We also gave small cash grants to farmers so they could, say, rent a tractor for a few hours to plow their land, or pay for diesel fuel to pump water from wells to irrigate their fields.
In Pakistan, a man carries a bag of seeds. Catholic Relief Services worked quickly to provide farmers with seeds and tools in time to replant their fields for the growing season that followed massive floods. Photo by Arielle Moinester/CRS
A lot of the farmers in the south of Pakistan are tenant farmers and are in debt to their landlords. They’re sharecroppers — whatever they grow, the landlord gets a percentage of it. So when their crops were wiped out, they were more in debt than ever.
One secondary success for this program was reducing that debt substantially. Because they got seeds from CRS and not their landlords, they didn’t owe the landlord as much, and they didn’t have to give him as great a percentage of their crop when they harvested it in spring 2011.
The farmers were especially happy because the seed was a better quality than they normally get and their yields were good.
What other programs is CRS running to help flood recovery?
CRS has built more than 21,000 houses called “transitional shelters” for families who lost their homes. In northern Pakistan, where it’s mountainous and the floodwaters raced quickly, people’s homes were simply swept away — for miles and miles — and totally destroyed. There, we built houses; they were insulated and had strong siding, because it gets cold in the mountains.
In flood-ravaged Pakistan, Catholic Relief Services has built over 21,000 homes for families who lost everything. Photo by Arielle Moinester/CRS
In southern Pakistan, the water rose slowly, but there ended up being standing water for weeks. There, people’s mud homes basically melted away.
Again, in the south, these were mostly tenant farmers. They moved miles away, living on higher ground — but these were bare, empty plains — for weeks as the waters receded in their villages. You would drive for miles and see all these ragged tent camps on the open, dusty plains with the sun burning down. People made the tents out of scraps of cloth.
When they returned to their villages, there was simply nowhere to live. CRS built reed-and-thatch houses that can be moved if there is another disaster. It’s really hot in the south and the building materials were more appropriate for that climate.
The tenant-farmer families in the south were overjoyed because they’ve never really had anything of their own before. These houses belong to them, not the landlord.
How can someone learn more or get involved with CRS in Pakistan?
People interested in our work can go to our website to learn more about the projects or to donate. The Pakistan flood was one of the most massive disasters to strike anywhere on the planet recently, so we will continue to help families in need.
Special thanks to CRS Asia information officer Laura Sheahen for helping to coordinate the interview.