Monsoon rains, snow melt, tidal waves and collapsed dams are some of the things that trigger floods that affect millions of people each year. The devastation is often widespread, from loss of life, property and infrastructure to food insecurity and disease. Floods are particularly disastrous for the world’s poor, the majority of whom live in rural areas and rely on agriculture for their food and income.
Many struggle to replace what was lost or damaged, such as seeds, tools, livestock, animal feed or fishing gear. Stagnant waters often render crop land useless, and make it difficult to maintain livestock, which, without proper shelter, veterinary care or adequate feed, easily fall prey to disease or starvation. Floodwaters also pose a threat to food safety and public health – through spoilt food stocks and contaminated water supplies.
In Pakistan, floods killed nearly 2 000 people in 2010, wiped out 1.6 million homes and destroyed 2.4 million hectares of soon-to-be-harvested crops. Estimated agriculture losses stood at USD 5.1 billion. For the average Pakistani farming family, the disaster meant huge personal loss and growing debt – and fewer opportunities to earn a living. FAO, along with its partners in the Agriculture Cluster, worked quickly to ensure that Pakistani farmers would not miss the next planting season, delivering quality wheat and vegetable seeds, helping to clean and repair on-farm irrigation channels and providing feed and veterinary care to keep over one million animals alive and healthy. Within six months, FAO and partners managed to reach some 1.4 million farming families – roughly ten million people – across the country, helping to prevent the situation from getting worse.
In addition to its emergency response work, FAO is actively involved in helping communities become better prepared for, prevent and mitigate the risk of floods. In Malawi, one of several countries in southern Africa affected by severe flooding in 2011, FAO and partners helped farmers construct dykes along the edges of their maize crops to prevent water logging and to collect water for irrigation later on.
In Bangladesh, farmers routinely experience seasonal storms and flooding, while crumbling embankments along the coast do little to protect fields from sea water. FAO is promoting the use of saline-tolerant seed varieties, improved agricultural practices and better water and embankment management to help Bangladeshi farmers get more from their land.
In Haiti, FAO is supporting efforts to improve the management of the country’s natural resources, including reforesting watersheds – an important water source for crops and a buffer against flooding.