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Resilience at its best

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By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Tue, 11, 19

As the world faces a critical need to act against climate change, women in Balochistan are playing a crucial role in ensuring the sustainability of rural households and communities, improving rural livelihoods and overall well-being. You! takes a look...

According to a study, around 71 per cent population in Balochistan is multi-dimensionally poor - with 85 per cent of rural population and 38 per cent of urban population. The province is prone to multiple hazards such as earthquakes, floods, and drought. Since 2016, drought and drought-like conditions have been prevailing in several districts of Balochistan, which has impacted the livelihoods and food security in those districts.

There are women and girls who fetch water from long distances in the absence of piped water facility, rear livestock and poultry to earn income for the families, cut on their own food intake to feed their families and become victims of diseases primarily due to malnutrition and exertion. They also indulge in agriculture and face a major challenge due to the depletion of water resources and other adverse effects of climate change.

Each year, the United Nations celebrates October 15 as the International Day for Rural Women. The day recognises the role of women who struggle against all odds and cope with adverse situations. This year the theme was ‘Rural Women and Girls Building Climate Resilience’. There is sufficient evidence to prove that the rural women have reacted prudently to the climate change in many cases and led from the front in the battle for survival.

Natural disasters kill more women than men and the effects of climate change on natural resources can aggravate the existing gender inequalities. Girls are kept out of school to fetch water, and droughts may drive them to walk farther and farther to find it. Some districts of Balochistan province are perfect examples of such locations where environmental and climate change challenges have badly affected the quality of people’s lives. Prolonged droughts and lack of rains have left them with little or no supplies of water and made them migrate from where they have spent their lifetimes. When there are no rains, there is no way water can be stored and used to recharge the aquifer - an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock, rock fractures or unconsolidated materials (gravel, sand, or silt). This leads to loss of agriculture, deaths of livestock or its distress sale at throw away prices.

Moreover, a major challenge in this context is that the populations are settled in patches in rural areas and distances are too long to be covered by people willing to approach them for assistance. The Balochistan government is trying to help the people out but the challenges are big and resources too little. For this very reason, few NGOs and INGOs can enter this territory.

A beneficiary of the project waters the herbs grown in her kitchen garden

Islamic Relief (IR) is one such organisation which has carried out different projects in selected districts of Balochistan to help communities cope with the challenges of climate change. For example, they have built dams to collect rain water, introduced drip irrigation methods, laid underground pipes to supply water to people’s houses, taught women how to do kitchen gardening, given vocational skills to women to diversify their sources of income especially when they are unable to rely on livestock and agriculture. IR was founded in the UK in 1984. It is working in over 30 countries worldwide and started working in Pakistan in 1992.

Women learn to grow vegetables at home, use water effectively & conserve it through the Kitchen Garden Project.

Last month, IR arranged an exposure trip of journalists to the Chagai district of Balochistan so that they could see the conditions in which people were living there. It was also an opportunity for the journalists to see how resilient the rural population of the area was and how bravely it was facing the challenges.

The Drought Resilient Agriculture Modelling (DRAM) Project of IR is a big success and the case studies prove how women are benefitting from it.

Rabia Bibi, 50, is a beneficiary of DRAM project and belongs to Killi Kochal, Union Council Chagai. She is a mother to three daughters and two sons. The area she belongs to is one of the worst hit by drought and is facing adverse effects of the prolonged dry weather. “Drought has destroyed our homes, livestock and fertile lands. We are left with nothing. We are struggling to build our lives but in a very slow way,” says Rabia with a glimmer of hope in her eyes.

Rabia’s is an inspirational story of a woman who became an embodiment of resilience and did not lose hope in such testing times. She chose to work as a home-based worker. She makes rallis (colourful bed spreads) and does embroidery work to help her husband manage resources to meet the basic needs of the family. Her husband works as a labourer in urban areas of the district because he can no more indulge in agriculture because of water scarcity. He and his ancestors had made their living from agriculture and livestock farming but this was no more possible because one needs sufficient water supplies for this.

Today, the situation on ground is that many male members of their families do manual labour in urban areas or go to Taftan border between Pakistan and Iran for loading and unloading work. Taking up this work is not easy because one has to travel long distances from remote villages to urban areas or the border on rugged terrains and roads unfit for travel by motorised vehicles. For this very reason, these men stay out for days and return home once or twice a week. This abrupt change in lifestyle has also affected them emotionally because they have had lived together for ages and worked together on fields till water supplies ran out.

Things changed for good for Rabia who got a chance to benefit from Kitchen Gardening training organised by Islamic Relief. This was such a new concept for her when she heard about vegetable cultivation at home level and with minimum inputs including water.

“I got myself enrolled for the training, learning about soil types, seeds, pesticides, water conservation etc. I grew several vegetables like spinach, okra, and eggplant,” she tells. After the training Rabia and other women were given tool kits and high quality seeds to establish kitchen garden. “Growing your own vegetable has triple benefits, first one does not need to spend money on buying vegetables for one’s own use, second this unspent money is saved and third surplus vegetables can be sold in the market,” shares Rabia.

Naz Bakht, 45, from Killi Syed Abad is another beneficiary of the same project. She has five children and lives with her family in Chagai district. The family was living a stressful life and striving to meet the basic necessities of life. Naz’s husband tried his best to increase his earning but there has been no breakthrough yet. “We were living in distress. We would not have enough food to eat and clean water to drink. My children used to have two regular meals a day which were reduced to one and that also deficient in essential nutrients,” narrates Naz with a heavy heart.

Being a housewife, she wanted to support her husband and contribute to the family income so that they could live quality life with dignity. Drought in the region had reduced the availability of food and compromised the quality of the agricultural produce well. Naz benefitted from the ‘Kitchen Gardening’ project and learned how to grow vegetables at home, conserve water, make effective use of water through recycling and include various vegetables in family’s diet to fulfil nutritional needs of human body. Naz put all her learning to practice and pursued her goals with dedication. She started growing spinach, radish and carrots on the small plot of land they owned. Within a short time, she saw vegetables growing all over this area and becoming part of their diet. Neighbouring women were also inspired after seeing her kitchen garden and willing to practice this technique of growing vegetable.

Apart from kitchen gardening, women from poor households have been trained in handicrafts, embroidery and woollen products so that they can add to the family incomes which have squeezed due to water scarcity.

“Every activity of ours is directly or indirectly supporting women. For example, the solar water drinking facility. Previously, women had to not only draw water from deep well by buckets but had to carry it from well to home. Now, women are getting water at their doorstep which is helping them to save time and contribute in livelihood activities. Furthermore, we have established kitchen gardens for women where they grow vegetables which not only fulfil their nutritional needs and make them healthy but can also bring money if sold in the market. Previously, there was no such concept of quality food in the access of children and women in such remote areas of Pakistan. IR has also provided layer birds to rural women for nutrition and livelihood purposes,” informs Muhammad Essa Tahir, Programme Manager Balochistan, Islamic Relief.

As the world faces a critical need to act against climate change, women in Balochistan are playing a crucial role in ensuring the sustainability of rural households and communities, improving rural livelihoods and overall well-being. This is resilience at its best.