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Crops and livestock hard hit by drought in Pakistan

Prolonged drought in parts of Pakistan has decimated livestock and severely affected fruit and rainfed cereal production, according to a recent report issued by FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP). Hardest hit are Balochistan, and parts of Sindh and Punjab provinces, already in their third consecutive year of drought.

Rainfall during the last winter cropping season (January-March) was between 50 and 80 percent below average in most parts of the country. In addition, last year's monsoon rainfall was more than 40 percent below normal.

Livestock numbers in some districts have been reduced by up to 60 percent of their 1999 levels. Fruit farmers in parts of Balochistan province face financial ruin as large numbers of fruit trees have dried up and the rest have been rendered unproductive by severe water shortages. Rainfed wheat production is about 70 percent below the average of the previous five years and 62 percent below last year's reduced crop. Total wheat production, at about 18.7 million tonnes, is down 11 percent from the 2000 total. Rice production is forecast at 3.9 million tonnes, about 24 percent below last year, according to the report, a result of a joint FAO/WFP mission to the country from 23 May to 18 June 2001.

While cereal stocks should be sufficient to cover this year's shortfall in production, wheat imports may be necessary to replenish stocks. So far, government intervention to lessen the drought's impact has been effective in averting large-scale human suffering. Still, the report estimates that 349 000 drought-affected people -- including farmers who lost the bulk of their fruit trees, pastoralists and landless rural households -- will require emergency assistance until the next harvest in April 2002. Urgent assistance is also required to mitigate serious water shortages in the hardest-hit areas and to provide feed and vaccines for livestock and seeds for the next cropping season.

The livestock sector plays an extremely important role in the country's economy, providing the main source of household income for many. In addition, animals play a crucial role in household food security, providing essential nutritional needs through meat and milk, particularly in remote pastoral areas with little or no access to alternative food sources. Large livestock losses, therefore, have a profound impact on household food security.

The drought's impact on fruit farms has also been severe, with irreversible damage to large tracts of land, particularly in northern parts of Balochistan province. With groundwater levels already very low and receding at an alarming rate, the recovery of fruit farms in these areas may have been compromised. According to the report, medium- to long-term strategies to adjust to these emerging circumstances may be warranted.

17 July 2001

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©FAO, 2001