Friday, October 27, 2023

“Pakistan’s Female Ag Workers Struggle After 2022 Floods”


In Dital Khan Chandio village in Pakistan’s Sindh province, a group of female agricultural workers are busy stitching traditional handicraft items outside their makeshift tents next to stagnant floodwaters. The village, located in Dadu district, was one of the worst affected by last year’s catastrophic floods, caused by melting glaciers and record monsoons – both induced by climate change. The floods affected 33 million people, destroyed 2.2 million homes and killed more than 1,700 people. For Haleema Aslam, the floodwaters brought distress and misery as they washed away her mature crops and livestock “along with her dreams”. Indebted to a local landlord for years, the 45-year-old lost her livelihood in the disaster. Seven months after the deluge, Aslam still feels the trauma of the August night, followed by days of walking after she was compelled to leave her house. She is among 7.2 million female agricultural workers in Pakistan now exposed to extreme weather events, according to a 2018 report by the United Nations. Despite donors pledging $9bn of flood aid to Pakistan, Aslam has not received a cent to rebuild her house.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) says disruptions and job losses due to floods affected about 4.3 million workers in Pakistan. According to the ILO data, the percentage of female employment in the agriculture sector is 65 percent, making it the country’s biggest employer which contributes 23 percent to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). But women are often denied labour rights and protections, employed without written contracts, and mostly get lower wages than men. Moreover, with Pakistan being one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, the agriculture sector remains particularly exposed to extreme weather conditions and their aftermath.

Although the floodwaters have receded in most of the affected areas, 1.8 million people still live near dirty and stagnant water, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), leading to a loss of agricultural livelihoods for women for two consecutive crop seasons. Labour and gender rights activists say last year’s floods that destroyed two consecutive crops resulted in a significant amount of debt for peasants, including women. When monsoons arrived, the standing crops of cotton and rice were washed away. As water did not recede in subsequent months, the upcoming wheat season was also severely affected.

Experts say that while developed countries set up a loss and damage fund at the 2022 COP27 climate change conference, it does not account for the losses suffered by vulnerable countries such as Pakistan. “Any climate fund needs to be proportional to the damage that has been caused by the biggest emitters, and it should be mandatory for the biggest polluters to pledge a portion of their annual budget towards paying reparations and there should be a mechanism to enforce these payments,” Osama Malik, an environmental lawyer, told Al Jazeera. However, Malik added that in Pakistan, where financial transparency is dismal, “there should also be a mechanism to ensure that money from the loss and damage fund should be utilised properly on flood victims such as female labourers and should not wasted inefficiently or embezzled”.

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