Sindh Province is located in south eastern Pakistan. One of the most notable features of the province is the Indus River. The Indus River is primary source of economic potential in the province yet it is also the source of the province’s greatest hazard: flood. The second major hazard is drought which reflects the province’s dry climate and semi-arid environment. In the past 5 years, both flood and drought have affected Sindh Province, including the study area of Jamshoro, Umerkot and Tharparkar Districts. Three consecutive years of flood emergencies (2010-2013) were then followed by a severe, two-year drought (2013-2015). Tharparkar and Umerkot Districts were particularly affected by the drought due to their desert environment.
Agriculture is a key driver of the economy of Sindh Province. Farming is based principally on irrigation along the Indus River and its tributaries. Crops, such as winter wheat, chilli, cotton, onions, millet, beans and oil seeds, are grown during two seasons (kharif and rabi). Land is owned by a few large landowners who rent out land to many sharecroppers. The sharecroppers, together with the landless agricultural labourers, make up the poorest segment of the population. In this assessment, very poor and poor households accounted for 57-63% of households in the irrigated agriculture zones, and 61-68% of households in the rainfed agriculture zones. Notably, a relatively recent report from 2011-2012 puts the rate of under-nutrition in Jamshoro and Umerkot Districts at 44-54%, and in Tharparkar District at 37.5-44%. These rates are above the provincial average and underscore the HEA finding that chronic poverty and under nutrition are widespread in these three districts.
Chronic poverty and periods of acute food shortages are certainly typical of this region of Sindh Province and against this backdrop the Food Security Cluster decided to carry out a drought assessment. The objective of the field assessment was to assess the impact of the 2013-2015 drought on local livelihoods in some of the worst drought affected districts of Sindh Province. The inquiry addressed questions such as: what was the extent of production losses?
What effect did these losses have on household access to food and income, and on the things they need to support their families? How did families cope with these losses? Which households were worst affected and what was the extent of their food and income gaps? In turn, who was more resilient and why? In order for a sophisticated understanding of the effect in the 3 districts, the HEA inquiry analysed the data by livelihood zone – from irrigated agricultural zones to a rainfed agricultural zone to an agro-pastoral zone. Data collection was based on focus group interviews during which extensive data was collected from a small but representative sample of households who were divided into four wealth groups. Cross-checking was done with key informants at the village level. HEA itself is an analytical framework (not a data collection method per se) that begins with a baseline picture of food, income and expenditure then analyses how these “normal” patterns change in a bad year. This leads to an assessment of the gap in food and income that is secured in a bad year (or, alternatively, a current year). The gap is measured against basic survival and livelihood protection thresholds. HEA uses livelihood modelling in order to assess the resources available compared to the resources required. These modelling tools can be used each year for predictive needs assessments in emergency or development contexts.
The HEA assessment covered the Irrigated Wheat zone along the Indus River in Jamshoro District; the Irrigated Chilli zone in western Umerkot District; the Rainfed Crops and Livestock zone in Nagar Parkar Tehsil (Tharparkar District); and the Thar Desert Agro-pastoral and Labour zone in Tharparkar District and in eastern Umerkot District. In all of four zones, crops are the main source of food and income. In the Irrigated Wheat Livelihood Zone, wheat is the main food crop and is also an important crop for sale, together with chilli, onions and a variety of other vegetable and oil seed crops. Casual labour is mainly found on local farms and includes harvesting wheat and chilli peppers. In the Irrigated Chilli Livelihood Zone, wheat is grown as the staple food crop but the principal cash crops are chilli peppers and cotton. Casual labour is mainly found in the local agricultural sector. In the small Rainfed Crops & Livestock zone in southern Tharparkar District, as well as in the Thar Desert Agro-pastoral zone, millet and beans are the staple food crops. Cash from livestock sales and casual labour (both local and migratory) are the main income sources in the Thar Desert Agro-pastoral zone. In the Rainfed Crops & Livestock zone, sales of various types of beans as well as oil crops and vegetables provide the bulk of income for local farmers. Local agricultural labour is also an important source of income for the poor and very poor.
The differences between the zones meant that the drought had a different impact on households in each area. The economies in the irrigation zones did prove to be relatively resilient in face of drought and although there were some production and price swings in 2013, 2014 and 2015, the swings were not large enough to lead to emergency level food and income gaps. This meant that farmers were able to secure their food and income in a similar way in both the drought and nondrought years with some expenditure adjustments. Moreover, poor labourers were able to find work harvesting wheat and chilli. Access to irrigation thus clearly gives these farmers some stability during drought years (as long as water flow upstream is plentiful). However, chronic poverty is a concern. Even in an average production year, around 57% of households in the Irrigated Wheat zone had total resources falling below US $1 per person per day (pppd). Average food and cash income was US $0.70 pppd for these poor households. The impact of drought was much more severe in the Thar Desert Agro-pastoral and in the Nagar Parkar Rainfed Crops & Livestock Livelihood Zones. These zones are dependent on local rainfall for crop and livestock production. Lack of rainfall thus meant extremely low harvests and high livestock deaths. Households responded to the shock mainly by reducing their non-essential expenses and looking for additional casual work or seeking gifts or loans. These strategies helped reduce the initial food and income gap that they faced when their harvest failed but serious gaps remained. The result was that by May/June 2015, about 75% of the population in these two zones to differing degrees lacked the resources to cover basic survival and livelihood protection needs. In short, an estimated 1,101,623 people fell below emergency-level thresholds. To fill the gap, the total requirement was 17,792 MT (wheat flour) or PKR 667,200,000 in cash. Although some households were worse affected than others, in general terms, those who needed humanitarian assistance required PKR 4,542/household of 7-8 members (or 121 kg wheat flour/household) to ensure that their most basic needs were met.