Astounding damage to agriculture needs immediate response

In terms of agriculture alone, the damages could total between $1.7 and $2.9 billion for major agricultural products across the four provinces

Just when it could not have got any worse, it did. What was light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be a fast-moving train that has hit Pakistan, running over a country that was already down for the count. When the final assessments are done, the devastation caused by the 2022 floods in the country will be in the global record books. Based on a preliminary and evolving assessment conducted by myself and Ammar Khan – with a lot of input from people within and outside Pakistan – we estimate that the financial damages and reconstruction costs of these floods is already over $13 billion. This assessment does not include the full range of categories including education and healthcare, but it does include big-ticket categories such as housing, road infrastructure, and agriculture.

In terms of agriculture alone, the damages are astounding, totaling between $1.7 and $2.9 billion for major agricultural products across the four provinces. Sindh is the hardest hit, with widespread devastation in the province’s cotton and rice belt. Based on our analysis, which looks at the historical output of cotton, rice, onions, tomatoes, and potatoes produced across districts in Sindh, we estimate losses to range between $750 million and $1.2 billion. Within the province, Badin and Larkana are likely to be the worst-hit, nearing losses of between $75-100 million; over 30% of the total cropped area in the province is estimated to have been affected in the floods.

Balochistan is almost tied in terms of damages and may likely suffer more than Sindh when the final data comes out. This is likely because much of the road infrastructure connecting the province to the rest of Pakistan has not been operational, meaning that whatever product survives may rot in the coming days. The total damages across all districts are estimated to be between $600 million to over $1 billion; lack of district-level data on how much land has been affected makes this exercise more challenging in the province. In total, we estimate that nearly 70 % of the losses are in the fruits category, with the Killa Saifullah region suffering the brunt of losses, which we place at over $200 million.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is likely to lose between $300 to $500 million in agricultural output because of the flooding, with fruits being the vast majority of losses. At the time of writing this analysis, district-level data for the province was not available and as we get access to this data, we will be able to paint a more specific picture of losses across districts in the province.

Given the flow of floods southwards, it is no surprise that Punjab has been spared the brunt of the damages. Our estimates suggest that Punjab will lose between $65 to $150 million in output losses, primarily in the cotton and rice-growing regions of Rajanpur and DG Khan, who have been the hardest-hit in the province.

 

Recovering from this devastation will take time and resources. These resources must focus on kickstarting agricultural credit markets, providing seeds and fertiliser to farmers whose livelihoods have been destroyed, and funds to district governments to rehabilitate lands and roads across affected districts. By our estimation, a complete package for the agricultural sector across the country will cost almost $1 billion and will have to be equitably distributed to provinces and districts that have been hardest hit. Delays in getting these resources to the grassroots level will only increase losses, fuel food inflation, and undermine the overall economic recovery from these floods.

 

It is also important here to point out the limitation of the early exercise that we have carried out. Our estimates rely on publicly available information gleaned from reports provided by the NDMA and PDMAs across the province; we also relied on historical agricultural data published by various ministries and departments, which also include nominal value of output for various products, and the many local sources who were willing to answer our questions and share information.

 

As anyone who has worked in Pakistan can tell you, data quality is always a major hurdle, meaning that our model is only as good as the data we get access to. Over the coming weeks, more rigorous analysis will be required, and the state machinery is best placed to conduct it; open-source analysis like the one we have conducted can only offer a ballpark picture that can inform more rigorous analysis.

 

This exercise also reveals the significant limitations Pakistan has in terms of building the knowledge infrastructure to deal with calamities such as the ongoing floods. Given that climate change makes such catastrophes more, not less, likely, it is vital for the federal and provincial governments to improve and standardise their data collection and dissemination platforms. This can allow quicker, more robust analysis to be conducted, which will only make policymaking, disaster response, and reconstruction efforts more efficient.

 

Crises are an opportunity and while the scale of this disaster is unimaginable, Pakistanis should not lose hope. The reconstruction efforts to follow will require a whole of nation approach. It is also an opportunity to leapfrog various sectors, especially agriculture. The opportunity should not go to waste, because if it does, we will only have ourselves to blame.

Uzair Younus
Uzair Younus is Director of the Pakistan Initiative at the Atlantic Council, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, and host of the podcast Pakistonomy. He tweets @uzairyounus.

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