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September 27, 2020

Flood-displaced farmers count on communal spirit to survive


September 27, 2020

HYDERABAD: Having lost almost everything, nearly all the 92 families of village Gorsar, Umerkot, suffered sudden displacement after floodwaters claimed their land; however, they are striving to survive counting on communal spirit and traditional perseverance.

“We have lost crops and everything at our homes when the rainwater submerged the entire village,” said Soomri Bheel, a peasant woman from the village Gorsar.

“We could not sleep on the night of June 24, 2020 when the first spell of rain hit the area. Looking at the severity of the situation, we took our children and animals and waded our way through water towards a safe place,” she said, while standing in her courtyard, surrounded by flood water.

Now when the flood water has receded in some areas the people are coming back to visit their abodes to avoid any untoward situation, as the incidents of theft in some places have been reported.

“We were not sure where to go at night. The main road leading to nearby towns was flooded and rain was continuously pouring in,” Soomri said.

The village being situated near the major agriculture market of Kunri has the opportunity that the villagers can sell their products there and in return buy some essential items. But now the dwellers have lost their crops, including chilli and cotton, which are the major crops of the area.

The sharecropper families had cultivated cotton and chilli as usual, expecting to make some money, but the calamity pushed them to live out of their villages and they have no idea how to rehabilitate their families.

Mai Hawwa, another peasant woman, narrating the plight, said they had cultivated eight acres of cotton, which were now submerged under the floodwater.

Hawwa claims to have borrowed Rs 80,000 for cultivation. It may take more time to earn and rehabilitate the life, sooner or later.

Kunri, Pithoro, Samaro and Umerkot talukas are the worst affected areas of Umerkot district.

Around 80 percent cotton and chilli had been destroyed by the rains and flood, causing losses to the farmers and the people associated with jobs including picking, packing, and loading agriculture products, she said.

A large number of families have shifted to the famous Cheel Bund, where they were forced to live in makeshift tents.

Khanzadi Jatt, a traditional tribeswoman, living in the Cheel Bund village was seen active to extend a helping hand to the displaced families that have migrated from different parts to their area.

Sharing her family’s background, she said, “We keep small animals (goats and sheep) on fifty percent share. It is a generations-old practice. Presently, we have 100 sheep and 50 goats, which my sons rear for the whole year and get a share after the sale of the animals”.

Jatt said they had lost more than a dozen of animals to the rain-related diseases. “We feel uneasy how to save other animals, on which we depend for livelihood,” she said.

Cheel Bund is famous for its camel market, where herders used to bring their animals for sale and purchase.

She is one of the 19 local women, leading their groups under Village Organizations (VOs) for their development, especially motivating peasant women and brick kiln workers in the area for enter entrepreneurship at village level.

A large number of migrated women had lost their crops but saved their assets and were continuing with their business living in the makeshift abodes in different areas, including Cheel Bund, Jatt said.

She gave credit to the local major organisation, Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP), which has transferred valuable assets to the 145 households to end poverty through diversified interventions only in this locality, which hosts hundreds of families.

Among them, 15 women run their home grocery shops, while some sell cloth and readymade dresses, others rear livestock on their own, and few of them have got their jobless sons and husbands auto rickshaws.

Some women have motivated their sons to run roadside mobile repairing shops.

Before this intervention, these males were either working at brick kilns centers on meager wages of Rs300/day or work as sharecroppers, living an uncertain life.

Azra Qumbrani of TRDP, working with the community women to promote entrepreneurship among them, said, “We have motivated women farmers and brick kiln workers and provided them with assets to change their lives by launching their own businesses,” she said.

“You may see how flood-affected women shop-owners have saved their assets and are fighting for survival in this difficult time, despite being displaced in some villages,” Qumbrani said.

“When we first came to them one year back, we witnessed most of these women did not have any role in economic affairs of the family.”

In fact, they used to earn little working at brick kiln centers, picking cotton, chillis or harvesting wheat, she said adding that they did not have any ownership of the assets like livestock to sell and purchase independently. “Now these ordinary women entrepreneurs have access to all markets, where from they can buy products to sell from home. They can move to the cattle market to ease their families’ lives,” she said.

Qumbrani said these poor women had rescued their sons from brick kiln units and engaged them in diversified businesses to live with traditional dignity in the society.

“We are not only transferring assets for empowering the women-led households economically, but also sensitising them to take care of the neighbouring people,” she said.

Now these women were able to extend help to the displaced people near them in this difficult time, she said. “Besides this, many displaced women have continued their business there. They look happy to help other displaced people by providing them with access to essential items, at a time when everybody seems to be fighting for their own survival,” she said.

Somji Kolhi, a local resident, said he had lost crops of two acre chilli and three acre cotton. He was not sure how they would be able to recover the losses and restore their life again. He is living with hundreds of families at the sandy area with their animals.

A number of displaced families have led their livestock to Tharparkar district. Because, the rain and flood have put their animals at risk due to increasing mosquitoes, flies, lice, ticks, and mites. Stings and bites of these insects usually lead to allergies, which stress the animals and as a result they lose weight and milk productivity.

Farmers have noted that animals’ milk productivity was declining owing to swarms of mosquitoes. They believe that at least seven to eight months are required to rehabilitate milking animals in the flood-hit areas.

According to farmers, desert areas do not have mosquitoes and other insects, which make animals restless. Therefore, they prefer to take their animals to the desert areas for grazing, because deserts in their native areas have now turned into grazing pastures. Since their entire area is flooded, they are unable to go back to their homes.