Ruined tomatoes and shattered dreams

Erratic weather patterns have impacted local communities and their livelihoods in some districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Ruined tomatoes and shattered dreams


hanging weather patterns have affected several communities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Raising temperatures pose a constant threat. Local communities have become ever more vulnerable to moonsoon flooding, droughts and water scarcity, especially in southern districts.

Jattater, situated near Tank, is one of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s southern districts. During the massive floods last year, Tank reported the most losses. The provincial government had declared it a calamity-hit district. Jattater is a Seraiki majority area. The residents are mostly poor. These communities suffer from a lack of safe drinking water. A water tanker costs Rs 3,500, making it out of reach for a majority of the community. Humans are, as a result, forced to drink water from the same pond as domestic animals.

Lodhi Baloch, 31, says that a majority of the people are migrating to Bhakkar in western Punjab and other parts of the KP due to a lack of basic needs like drinking water. “We purchase water tankers to fulfil our needs. The whole family drinks tanker water,” Lodhi says. During Friday prayers, prayer leaders in most mosques discuss water issues in the district. The tanker water is not suitable for drinking, but the local community have limited options.

In Lakki Marwat’s Betanni sub-division, the community has been facing water scarcity for many years. There are a few natural water sources. Women and children walk several miles a day to fetch water. Some families have dug wells at their homes. But the locals are now worried because due to droughts the ponds have dried.

Abid Khan, 45, a driver, is a resident of Chanda, a village on the main Mohmand Bajaur Road in Mohmand district’s Haleemzai sub-division. A decade ago, he migrated to Shabqadar, a sub-division of Charsadda, due to water scarcity. For Khan, migrating from his ancestors’ land was a tough decision but he had no option. He spent many years in Saudi Arabia and when he earned enough money to buy a piece of land, he built a house. “We are happy in our new place, but we miss our village because some of our relatives still live there,” says Khan. He says although the water shortage issue has been partially resolved through the establishment of a special water scheme (Ekka Ghund to Ghallani water scheme) by the government, other surrounding villages in Haleemzai tehsil are still facing a shortage.

According to an Islamic Relief research paper on Climate-Induced Migration in Pakistan 2021, the KP is experiencing the worst impacts of climate change. It is triggering household-level displacements along the networks of Kabul and Indus rivers every single year. In the past years, Swat, Panjkora, Kunhar, Indus, Kurram and Tochi rivers and their tributaries have seen devastating outcomes as a result of torrential rains. In the coming years, there will be a massive episode of climate-induced migration from these areas, says the paper. The researchers conclude that flash floods, GLOFs, droughts and water scarcity are the main factors driving migration in the KP.

The southern KP districts are water stressed. On the other hand, changing weather patterns have affected various crops in Charsadda. Ghaffar Ali, 37, is a graduate. He is a progressive farmer in Charsadda, known for quick adoption of modern farming in the neighbourhood. He says changing weather patterns have severe consequences for tobacco and tomato crops.

In December 2022, Ghaffar Ali cultivated tomatoes in a tunnel, a costly modern form of farming in which farmers cover the plants to protect them from winter frost. Later, a two-metre-long popular wood, and a net of strings for the plant to grow straight and produce more yield are installed. In late April, when it was time to harvest, extreme moisture and weather conditions hit his crop.

He says extreme weather conditions are lethal for tomato crops. “From April to June, the sudden change in weather patterns affected our crop. Due to moisture in May, early blight attacked our tomato field. It reduced our yield, affected the plant and shortened the life of the crop to four weeks,” says Ghaffar Ali. In favourable weather conditions, the farmers in Charsadda can expect yield till August, but due to erratic weather conditions, Ghaffar Ali’s tomato crop stopped producing in the last week of June, costing him substantial financial losses. To control early blight, he spent Rs 60,000 on spray medicine but the rising temperatures destroyed the crop nonetheless.

Dr Fazle Wahed, director of research at the Agriculture Research Centre, in the newly merged districts, says that the sudden change in weather patterns had affected the tomato crop. “We hardly got half a million rupees, the same as our actual cost despite working tirelessly for six months on eight kanals of tomato fields,” Ghaffar Ali says.

The changing weather between April and June ruined his dream of earning a million rupees.

The writer is a multimedia journalist. He tweets @daudpasaney

Ruined tomatoes and shattered dreams