An uncertain future: How communities are preparing for further climate disasters after the Pakistan floods

Dr Iqbal teaches farmers new climate-smart farming techniques

Farmers who lost their livelihoods in the floods are taught how to use a soil moisture metre by Dr Iqbal Hussain (r) of REEDS Pakistan, the local partner of DEC charity Tearfund. Photo: Khaula Jamil/DEC

“There is a great change in climate all over the world but Pakistan is particularly vulnerable to those changes,” says Dr Iqbal Hussain, standing in a drought-and flood-ravaged field in Sindh province.

Dr Hussain, Head of Research at REEDS, a local partner of DEC charity Tearfund, is heading up a project to train farmers affected by last year’s devastating floods in new techniques to help them make their crops more resilient.

Pakistan is among the top ten countries in the world most affected by climate change. “The challenges they face here are many,” he says. “They have to face droughts, climate change-induced heatwaves, and flooding.”

Submerged fields of crops in Sindh. Photo: Insiya Syed/DEC

Submerged fields of crops in Sindh province in September 2022, after the historic floods that devastated the livelihoods of rural communities. Photo: Insiya Syed/DEC

As global temperatures continue to rise, weather patterns are becoming more unpredictable, increasing the risk of weather-related natural disasters. For some communities in the Indus River basin, flooding during the monsoon season is a fact of life, but not on the scale of last year’s historic floods which were made more likely by climate change, according to a major study.

The effects of the flooding were extreme and long-lasting. A third of the country’s 170 districts were affected, destroying or badly damaging more than two million homes and submerging vast tracts of agricultural land. In total 20 million people were left in need of humanitarian aid. Floodwaters in some areas stayed on the ground for months, devastating the livelihoods of people who depend on the land for their income, and disrupting their next planting season.

 A man wades through floodwater in Mitiyari Hyderabad, Sindh, Pakistan on 3rd September 2022

A man wades through floodwater in Sindh in September 2022, as areas that were once agricultural land begin to look like rivers and lakes. Photo: Akifullah Khan/DEC

Rebuilding livelihoods with climate-smart techniques

In the immediate aftermath of the floods, DEC charities provided emergency relief such as food parcels, clean water, emergency shelter and healthcare. Funds from the appeal are now also helping communities to rebuild their livelihoods and prepare to face future disasters.

Through Tearfund's training project, farmers are taught techniques like mulching, where crops are covered with bark and small wood chips to help keep the ground moist during droughts, which the region also suffers from at other times of the year.

“If they follow these practices, which are environmentally friendly, we will see a greater yield as well as better quality crops,” says Dr Hussain. “We focus on interventions that will not harm the environment and which can be easily adopted by farmers here.” 

Farmers are provided with equipment, such as soil testers, that can be inserted into land to give indications of water levels, giving a better understanding of when soil needs watering, saving water and preventing land from becoming over-saturated.

DEC charities are also giving farmers the tools they need to strengthen their livelihoods, through the distribution seeds, tools, cash grants to support livestock and other ways to generate an income.

Dr. Iqbal Hussain conducts a capacity building workshop on climate smart agriculture for farmers

Dr Iqbal Hussain conducts a workshop in April 2023, as part of Tearfund's work to build the resilience of farming communities in Sindh. Photo: Khaula Jamil/DEC

Maula Dinno, 42, has been farming this land in his village since he was 18. He has been taking part in a similar farming school project run by DEC charity Concern Worldwide, teaching local farmers new, climate-friendly farming techniques.

“We have seen great results from using these techniques” he says.

The new techniques help farmers get the very most out of their land, increasing levels of produce and making their yield healthier.

“We have to use less water as the moisture level is maintained and the crops do not dry up. [We learned] how to better plough the land and how water is released in the soil after ploughing. We had no idea about these techniques before.”

Mauala Dinno in his field

Maula Dinno works in his cotton field in Sindh, rebuilding his livelihood after having lost lost his food stocks, crops and animals in the 2022 floods. Photo: Zoral Khurram Naik/DEC

Learning from previous disasters

The DEC’s real-time response review showed there was a lack of resilience and preparedness for the disaster. Programmes had been implemented following flooding in 2010, but over time efficacy had reduced significantly. Many community groups established to encourage preparedness had disbanded over time, leaving people unprepared for the effects of more extreme flooding.

Alongside DEC-funded projects, DEC charities are also using other funding to help communities to be ready should disaster strike again. In a village in Sindh, Muhammad, a community mobiliser working with a local partner of DEC charity Action Against Hunger, has been running mock drill exercises designed to prepare locals for further flooding.

It is his team’s job to warn people of an emergency and advise them to go to a safe place, taking with them food, water, medicine and ID cards. He is now training others to do the same where they live.

He says it is important that the community knows what to do if another disaster happens. “The mock drill is needed because people were not aware of this. Now, with this activity, we announce to the people that if they are in a dangerous situation, get out of your house and move to a safe place.”

Over 50 participants were present during the mock drill activity including women, men, boys and girls.

Villagers take part in a disaster mock drill

Local residents take part in a disaster mock drill initiative by Action Against Hunger in Sindh, September 2022, to help them be better prepared for future emergencies. Photo: Khaula Jamil/DEC

Facing an uncertain future

Climate change makes weather-related disasters increasingly likely. But disaster risk reduction measures such as these can help reduce their impact, saving lives through better preparedness and making communities more resilient by sharing techniques and technologies to help them withstand changes in climate.

Farmer Maula Dinno recalls how far his community has come since the floods, when his family struggled to access one meal a day. "They supported us when we could not stand on our own. I feel they have given us new eyes with which to see. A new vision. I am so glad that I am ahead of the crises. Yesterday I carried mountains of troubles and trials on me, but now I am relieved. I feel hope that my life will improve."

DEC charities are continuing to support people affected by the floods in Pakistan, working directly and through local partners in Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. With so many people affected by the floods and at risk of future disasters, the needs remain vast. Find out more on how your donations are helping.