SDG 2: Floods and food insecurity

September 11, 2022

The precarious situation following the floods and climate change is a precursor to an impending famine

SDG 2: Floods and food insecurity


akistan is obligated to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 but the SDG 2 (zero hunger) has become a flashpoint due to the floods and climate related devastation across the country. The food insecurity in the country is reflected by a current $10 billion import of essential commodities, including wheat. While we export rice, potato and corn, the food security remains defined by the access to aata (wheat flour), ghee (oil) and cheeni (sugar). Zero hunger can only be achieved once a balanced diet is available to the masses.

The world, now more than ever, is having to contend with the reality of climate change. There is an imbalance between emissions and impacts. The impacts of high global emissions are more pronounced in some of the countries with low levels of emissions – such as Pakistan. This has become evident in this year’s super floods.

Attaining self-sufficiency in wheat production is a key objective for Pakistan. The erratic changes in weather (temperature spikes in early spring) have led to a persistent lag in our wheat production and consumption. For two consecutive years, Pakistan has had to import wheat to meet its needs. Demand for 2022-23 is projected at 30 million metric tonnes (MMT) and production around 26 MMT. Sindh accounts for roughly 13 percent of the wheat cultivation and the areas of the Punjab currently affected by the floods for roughly a fourth of the province’s share in wheat production. Wheat is cultivated on 22 million acres and requires 1.14 million metric tonnes (MMT) of seed. With a third of the country under water, the home-saved wheat (for consumption and seed) is no longer available. The official supply of certified seed is around 0.5 MMT. There is a fear that much of the land could remain too wet for sowing this season. Beyond wheat, swathes of land are submerged along with crops like rice, cotton, sugarcane, chillies, onion, fodders, dates and vegetables. The displaced livestock is highly vulnerable to disease and morbidity with consequences for milk and meat production.

SDG 2: Floods and food insecurity

Fewer than 20 percent of Pakistani children meet minimum dietary diversity needs, leaving more than 45 percent of children under the age of 5 chronically malnourished.

The precarious situation is a precursor to an impending famine, putting Pakistan at risk of failing to attain SDG 2, zero hunger. Zero hunger necessitates that the entire population have affordable access to safe, healthy and nutritious food. We have already lost a huge volume of essential food crops. The areas affected by the floods may take several years to recover, meaning a lot of the land may not be cultivated for the coming Rabi season. This will have a significant impact on food supplies. A shortfall in wheat production could be met with the help of imports. Global prices have already soared as a consequence of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Pakistan will also have lower vegetables and oilseed production next year, adding further pressure to the import bill. Import of essential food commodities will make those inaccessible to an inflation-ridden populace.

Pakistan is among the 55 countries most vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition listed by the Global Food Report of the World Food Programme. A staggering 51 percent of the people in the drought/ flood affected areas of Sindh and Balochistan are considered food insecure. Fewer than 20 percent of Pakistani children meet minimum dietary diversity needs, leaving more than 45 percent of children under the age of five chronically malnourished. The problem is likely to be aggravated now, further jeopardising the realisation of SDG 2. Targets 2.4, 2.6, 2.7 and 2.8 are about resilient agriculture, rural infrastructure, agricultural research and technology, trade restrictions and stable markets, respectively. The floods have literally endangered the prospects of all these in the coming years.

To off-set the impending hunger crisis, immediate action must be taken to address the food vulnerabilities. Pressure on wheat supplies could be reduced by building buffer stocks of imported wheat, halting rice, potato and corn exports and mandating flour mills to blend maize with wheat. This could contribute to dietary diversity and help stabilise the prices of wheat and reduce uncertainty. The import of powder milk should be facilitated as should be the import of essential vegetables (onion, tomato, chillies) from within the region.

A Marshal Plan of sorts is needed to rehabilitate the damaged farmland. This will involve drainage of flood waters, removing debris and quicksands and rebuilding the lost agricultural infrastructure. The land tenure demarcations stand obliterated. The provincial revenue department (patwaar) should be out with proper records. Use of technology and satellite images could make the job of demarcation easier. Heavy earth moving machinery and ordinary farm implements are equally wanting. Better irrigation and drainage systems and markets can be designed. Subsidised farm input supplies, services and credit delivery will be required at the doorstep of the disadvantaged tillers. There is an opportunity to build back better, with more resilient and effective solutions for sustainable development.

Above all, a HOPE campaign for bringing life back to normal will be needed for the next several months, possibly years.

The writer is the vice   chancellor of the   University of Agriculture,  Faisalabad

SDG 2: Floods and food insecurity