Pakistan’s Female Agriculture Workers Suffering Since 2022 Floods

Fri Mar 31 2023
icon-facebook icon-twitter icon-whatsapp

DADU: On a cloudy spring afternoon at Dital Khan Chandio village in Pakistan’s Sindh province, female agricultural employees are busy stitching traditional handicraft items outside their makeshift tents beside stagnant floodwaters.

The village in Dadu district, about 380km from Pakistan’s huge city Karachi, was one of the worst affected by the previous year’s catastrophic floods, caused by melting glaciers and record monsoons induced by climate change, Al Jazeera reported on Friday.

The floods affected 33 million citizens, destroyed 2.2 million houses, and killed more than 1,700 citizens.

Floodwaters brought distress and misery

For Haleema Aslam, the floodwaters brought distress and misery as they washed away her mature crops and livestock “along with her dreams”.

Indebted to the local landlord for years, the 45-year-old lost her livelihood in the disaster.

Aslam told Al Jazeera, “Before massive floods, I worked in the agricultural fields from dawn to dusk to raise my five children and my livestock to make ends meet. There is no land for cultivation, and all my livestock over a dozen goats, three cows and four buffaloes – drowned,”

Seven months after the flood, Aslam still feels the shock of the August night, followed by days of walking after she was compelled to leave her home.

She is among 7.2 million female agricultural employees in Pakistan now exposed to extreme weather events, according to a 2018 report by the United Nations.

Aslam said, “Living in the tents was difficult for my family and me. There were attacks by snakes and other reptiles, especially at night. So we moved back to our homes after two months even though our homes was submerged. But when we returned, it rained again and drowned our homes, forcing us to migrate again,”

Females forced to stay in open-air tents for extended periods due to natural disasters have faced challenges related to privacy and societal norms, with Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman calling the unprecedented floods “the massive humanitarian disaster of this decade”.

Despite donors pledging $9bn of flood fun to Pakistan, Aslam hasn’t received a cent to rebuild her house.

Job losses and debt

The International Labour Organization (ILO) said disruptions and job losses due to floods affected about 4.3 million employees in Pakistan.

According to the International Labour Organization data, the percentage of female employment in the agriculture sector is 65%, making it the country’s biggest employer, contributing 23% to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).

But females are often denied labour rights and protections, employed without written contracts, and paid less than men.

Moreover, with Pakistan being one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change, the agriculture sector remains particularly exposed to extreme weather conditions and their aftermath.

Seema Chandio is another resident of Dital Khan Chandio village whose house and 15 acres of land owned by her family were submerged for three months.

She told Al Jazeera, “Water stood up to seven feet in our home. It took three months to recede, and we lived like nomads,”

When Chandio returned to her village, her home had completely vanished.

“We had bought seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides from the market. All our cotton and rice crops were destroyed, resulting in a massive loss. We purchased the seeds, fertilisers and pesticides again for the next wheat crop, but we’re unable to sow on time due to the presence of water that hadn’t receded until January,” she said as she worked on rebuilding her house.

She added, “Since the floods, my family is under a debt of 300,000 rupees. This amount does not account for the potential profits that could have been earned from the two crop seasons we lost,”

Although the floodwaters have receded in several of the affected places, 1.8 million citizens still live near grubby and stagnant water, according to the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, leading to a loss of agricultural livelihoods for females for two consecutive crops seasons.

Chandio said, “My family’s bread and butter revolves around farming in which every member takes part. After completely losing the paddy crop, we could cultivate wheat as the water was still standing. It will hurt us the whole year as we wouldn’t be able to feed our family without any relief from the government,”

Labour and gender rights activists said last year’s floods that damaged two consecutive crops resulted in significant debt for peasants, including females. When monsoons arrived, the standing rice and cotton crops were washed away. Water didn’t recede in subsequent months, so the upcoming wheat season was severely affected.

“The circumstance has led to losses instead of profits from these back-to-back crop losses. Consequently, female farmers who were unable to work on their farms for six months or more are now burdened with debts,” Akram Khaskheli, the farmer, human rights activist, and president of a charity group, told Al Jazeera.

Still, Azra Ameer lives in the tent. She lost her cattle in the floods, leaving her with no means of income to support her family. she faces an uncertain future and the uphill battle to rebuild her life.

“The flood-related trauma we’ve faced in multiple forms will haunt us for a lifetime. It has shattered our lives,” the 30-year-old livestock worker told Al Jazeera.

Experts said that while developed nations set up a loss and damage fund at the 2022 COP27 climate change conference, it doesn’t account for the losses suffered by vulnerable nations such as Pakistan

“Any climate aid needs to be proportional to the harm that the biggest emitters have caused, and it should be obligatory for the biggest polluters to pledge a portion of their budget towards paying reparations and there should be a mechanism to enforce these payments,” Osama Malik, the environmental lawyer, told Al Jazeera.

Malik added that in Pakistan, where financial transparency is dismal, “there should be a mechanism to ensure that money from the loss and harm fund should be utilized properly on flood victims such as women labourers and shouldn’t be wasted inefficiently and embezzled”.

“In the past, we’ve seen that whenever the disaster has struck Pakistan, whether, in the form of earthquake, floods or even covid pandemic, much of the funds and aid that came from abroad were utilized by the military without much oversight, resulting in further weakening of civilian institutions. It is hoped any climate reparation funds will not be utilised similarly,” Malik said.

icon-facebook icon-twitter icon-whatsapp