In the Belly of the River: Flooding the Landless

Nov 2014

The village of Kanwan Wali, a government sponsored tent community on an embankment vulnerable to flooding.

The village of Kanwan Wali, a government sponsored tent community on an embankment vulnerable to flooding. | Photography: Kasim Tirmizey

Kachchhi – sone di pachchhi.
Riverine land is a basket of gold.
– Punjabi proverb in the Shahpur District of Punjab1

Under a burning sun, the Khana Padosh tribe of the Moza Vehlan village in Multan tehsil make do with tattered and colorful patches of cloth and wooden sticks to construct their tents. After massive flooding inundated their village, constructed on katchi (riverine) lands, they have been forced to temporarily reside on a nearby band (embankment).

While the katchi lands are prone to flooding, the Khana Padosh say they have little choice but to live there. They would hardly describe the land they live on as a “basket of gold” as the old Punjabi proverb goes. The katchi was considered bountiful in the 19th century, when farming in western Punjab was done through inundated agriculture. It was a system that thrived on regular floodwaters making riverine lands fertile for agriculture. At that time, farmers would organize agrarian life according to the rhythms of floods. Other communities, such as the Khana Padosh, in this part of Punjab were nomadic pastoralists.

Western Punjab underwent massive transformation under British rule through the introduction of canal irrigation. This signalled the demise of inundated agriculture and nomadic pastoralism. The British were interested in increasing the agrarian frontier in order to provide cheap food2 in England and to gain greater land revenue through rent. In the new political economy, katchi lands were marginal and vulnerable territory.

The Khana Padosh tribe living on the embankment.

The Khana Padosh living on the embankment.

The Khana Padosh were historically a nomadic tribe that tended to livestock. The introduction of canal colonies interrupted that mode of life, however. The British considered many nomadic communities to be ‘criminal tribes’. That term, ‘criminal’, had less to do with the law, and more with the British government’s attempt to criminalize the entire nomadic pastoral way of life, seeing as it stood in opposition to their canal systems. The British demand to assimilate to a settler-farmer mode of life was, however, unconceivable for many nomadic tribes.

Today’s Khana Padosh tribe, like their forefathers, are technically landless. A local landowner has allowed the tribe to squat on a portion of the katchi land that he owns near the Chenab River for the sole purposes of temporary settlement.

Bashir Ahmed, of the Kanwan Wali village, is living temporarily on an embankment in a government sponsored tent community in Multan tehsil. Unlike the Khana Padosh, he and his fellow villagers work as sharecroppers on katchi land for a landowner. He explains why he and others live on the katchi: “Us, the poor, we don’t have any money or assets that [allow us to] live in the pakka [settled] areas. That is why we live in the center of the river. That is why we live in the katchi. We have to produce what we can so we can eat.”

Others from Bashir’s village commented that they live on the katchi because land there is cheaper to lease.

Azra Talat Sayeed, the director of the NGO Roots for Equity, which focuses on the political mobilization of peasant and labour communities, argues that the fundamental issue behind the impact of the floods is landlessness:

“Many thousands of these people live on the banks of various [rivers] which run the length and breadth of the country, only because Pakistan has failed to implement even the most rudimentary of land reforms, let alone a policy that would allow for a just equitable distribution of land. Feudal lords, who are fast changing into ‘corporate land lords,’ rule the country and millions of farmers are forced to eke out a very meagre earning by working as sharecroppers, agricultural workers or contract farmers. Others are forced to endanger their lives and livelihood by living in what could be called a ‘seasonal red zone’; no doubt global warming and ensuing climate change have exacerbated the situation.”3

Landless people and smallholders represent 92 percent of the population in present day Pakistan. For the rural poor, katchilands are the last resort for survival. While some nomadic tribes opted to settle in one area, have received small portions of land to practice agriculture on, the Khana Padosh tribe opted not to do so. The Khana Padosh do not have a history of agrarian life, nor do they engage in farming today. Farming has been a mode of life that requires an intense amount of apprenticeship and practice, and, most of all, access to land that is not vulnerable to severe inundation. The Khana Padosh say that they mostly continue to act as pastoralists, tending to livestock under contract with wealthy farmers. Others seek daily wages as labourers in the nearby city of Multan.

Communities across the katchi had a few days warning of the oncoming floods. These communities packed whatever houseware they could take with them, a few days worth of food, and headed towards the embankment.

Muhammad Ghulam with a basket that he made from wooden sticks to be sold in the market. This production continues in the embankment as means of livelihood.

Muhammad Ghulam with a basket that he made from wooden sticks to be sold in the market. This production continues in the embankment as means of livelihood.

“Our villages in the katchi have been totally inundated. Our homes have been destroyed,” Ghulam Muhammad of the Khana Padosh tribe told Tanqeed. “When we return to our village we will have to start from scratch. We don’t even have any food or tents. Things will worsen when the cold weather arrives and we are without proper shelter.”

While the government has been distributing basic rations and providing tents to some communities from the katchi, they have not given anything to the Khana Padosh.

“The government has not given us any rations. Nor do they allow us to sit in government sponsored tent communities,” says Muhammad.

Across Punjab, it is those villages that have connections with feudal lords or politicians that have generally been able to gain access to government rations. As the Khana Padosh are among the most marginalized of communities, they do not fit into the network of patronage. Bashir Ahmed says that they received government relief only after they repeatedly pressured officials into giving them their rights.

What are other possibilities for communities that live on the katchi in the face recurring floods? Roots for Equity has called for equitable redistribution of land as the only just way to address the issue. Without access to safe and fertile lands, millions will continue to reside on the vulnerable lands of the katchi. The Pakistan Kisan Mazdoor Tehreek (Pakistan Peasant Workers Party or PKMT) also advocates sustainable agriculture in the riverine lands. This is a medium-term measure to avoid the indebtedness that has resulted in the increasing entrenchment of corporate influence into agriculture in Pakistan.

In a field south of Multan tehsil, villagers who are members of the PKMT are experimenting with sustainable forms of agriculture. They are using a diversity of traditional, rather than corporate, seeds. They do not use pesticides and chemical fertilizers. PKMT realizes that the corporatization of agriculture is leading to the impoverishment of peasants. Opposing corporations and pro-corporate laws, such as the recent Punjab Seed Act of 2013, is necessary, but not enough. They also believe in creating their own alternative economies that are based on food sovereignty. Efforts are being made by some villages on the katchi in the Kanwan Wali village to transition to more self-reliant forms of agriculture.

But what do historical pastoralists like the Khana Padosh do when agriculture is not their calling? Equitable redistribution of land and ending a land-water ownership regime based on private property are important aspects within any long-term solution to the massive floods that have impacted the most marginalized of Pakistan in recent years. And no genuine land reforms will be possible without the mobilization of peasants, pastoralists, and labour.

Children of the village of Kanwan Wali on the embankment.

Children of the village of Kanwan Wali on the embankment.

The socio-ecology of Punjab is shaped by the legacies of colonialism as well as ongoing feudalism, imperialism, and corporate agriculture. Colonialism introduced commercialized agriculture, whereby the landscape of western Punjab was transformed, moving away from inundated agriculture and nomadic pastoralism and towards irrigated agriculture. In this transforming landscape, nomadic pastoralists were increasingly marginalized and rendered criminal. In addition, those tribes and sub-castes that were loyal to the British, especially during the 1857 war of independence were given large landholdings. Marginal communities such as the Khana Padosh were made landless in a territory that was increasingly ruled by private property, where their nomadic way of life was being made extinct.

Millions of other landless people opt to lease cheap land or squat on the katchi. This is despite the fact that this is a zone of recurring flooding. Global warming has been attributed to the expansion of capitalism,4 most evident in the greenhouse gas emissions from industrialization. The wretched of the world, it seems, only experience the exploitation and oppression of capitalism, and now they are further forced to squat on the most vulnerable of lands. Ironically, in the case of the Punjab, it was these very lands that used to be considered “a basket of gold”, not so long ago.

Kasim Tirmizey is a doctoral candidate at the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. He is currently based in Lahore, Pakistan.

  1. Wilson, James. Grammar and dictionary of western Panjabi: as spoken in the Shahpur District : with proverbs, sayings & verses. (Sang-e-Meel Publications, 2005).
  2. Patnaik, Utsa. in The agrarian question in the neoliberal era: primitive accumulation and the peasantry 7–60 (Pambazuka Press, 2011).
  3. Sayeed, Azra Talat. Communities Impacted by Floods in Pakistan. Roots for Equity (2014). at <>
  4. The connection between capitalism and climate change has been made in several places. More recently, Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. Alfred A Knopf, 2014.

Environment: The aftershocks of global warming



For the past three decades climatologists have been raising alarms about global warming and its consequences, and now geologists have also got involved in the issue. World’s renowned geologists are of the opinion that rapidly melting glaciers will result in increasing number of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis.

This is based on the premise that ice is extremely heavy — one cubic metre of ice weighs almost one ton and glacier being a colossal sheet of ice exerts tremendous pressure on the surface of the earth beneath their cover. When glaciers start to melt, as we are experiencing today, pressure on the earth’s surface on which the glaciers are located is reduced significantly. The lightening of load on the earth’s surface allows its mantle to rebound causing the tectonic plates beneath to become unstuck.

According to Patrick Wu, a geologist at the University of Alberta in Canada, the weight of thick ice puts a lot of pressure. This weight suppresses earthquakes, but when the ice melts earthquakes are triggered. Wu goes on to say that many earthquakes that occur in Canada today are related to this ongoing rebound effect that started with the end of the last Ice Age some 10,000 years ago.

The melting of glaciers can lead to more earthquakes in Pakistan and around the world

In the face of present global warming, rapidly changing climatic factors and speedy deglaciation the foreseeable rebound is expected to be much severe and faster. Experts term this rebound ‘Isostatic Rebound’. This process reactivates the fault, increases the seismic activity and lifts pressure on magma chambers that feed volcanoes.

Experts are also of the view that there are implications for parts of the world where glaciers and active faults coincide, including the Hindukush, Himalayas, Alps, Andes, etc. In Pakistan, in the Hindukush and Himalayan regions glacier melt due to climate change coincides with active faults.

Andrew Hynes, tectonics expert at McGill University, puts forward another theory to illustrate an additional relationship between glacier melt and earthquakes when he says that increased glacier melt increases the concentration of fluid in the fault that lubricates the rock, allowing the plates to slide.

An added phenomenon that needs to be kept in mind is that if glacier melt is reducing the stress on earth’s surface in glaciated areas, it is also increasing the stress on seafloors due to rapid influx of water.

The massive melting of ice might trigger earthquakes that are strong enough to lead to the seafloor collapsing or and underwater landslide that in turn could generate a tsunami. Melting of glaciers and the subsequent rise in sea level also means that previously exposed continental margins become inundated with water.

Melting of ice in Antarctica is already triggering earthquakes and underwater seafloor slides, says Wu. Although, at present, these events are not getting much attention, these are early warnings of the more serious events that scientists believe will be experienced in near future.

The glaciated areas in northern parts of Pakistan are quite vulnerable to such events as they are not only heavily glaciated but are also located on tectonic fault lines. For the last three decades the area is also experiencing rapid ice melt due to climate change. Climate change induced disasters, like Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (Glofs) and riverine floods, have become common features in the northern parts of the country. Call it a mere coincidence or reality that for the same period earthquake events are also showing an upward trend vis-a-vis the Glofs/floods.

The recent floods and earthquake events in Hindukush and Himalayan regions of Pakistan are clear evidences of this correlation. Over a period of three decades the frequency and intensity of both glacier-melt and occurrence of earthquakes in the northern regions of Pakistan have increased. Apparently both seem to be directly proportional to each other. During August 2013 alone, Chitral district and adjacent areas experienced over a dozen earthquakes of above five magnitude. During December 2015 and first week of January 2016, District Chitral and adjoining glaciated areas experienced over five devastating earthquakes.

In Chitral it has now become a common belief among the local communities that the frequency and devastation of earthquakes in winter is directly proportional to the severity and intensity of floods during the preceding summer. However, this myth of the local communities needs to be evaluated and studied in detail.

Chitral is home to some 542 glaciers with an estimated volume of nearly 269 cubic kilometres and alone counts for nine per cent of the total glacial or ice reserves of Pakistan. According to experts from the field of environment, glaciology and hydrology all glaciers of Pakistan will melt away completely by the year 2035.

As has been mentioned earlier, one cubic metre of glacial ice weighs almost one tonne. If by 2035 all glaciers in Pakistan melt away, as has been predicted by experts keeping in view the present melting rate, then it means removal of 269 billion tonnes of load from the surface of the earth’s crust in Chitral alone.

The melting of glaciers in the district is quite evident from increased number of Glofs and the ever increasing water flow in River Chitral (also known as River Kabul in the lower course) for the last two decades. However, the phenomenon needs to be studied in detail.

The writer is a field officer at the Pakistan Glof Project in Chitral

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 31st, 2016

In the Jaws of Climate Change

It was March 1st when suddenly unexpected flooding in the River Chenab created havoc in the lives of villagers living on the banks of Chenab in Multan District. Small farmers, a vast majority of which were actually leasing land, lost their precious wheat harvest, which was just days away from being harvested. These very farmers had also suffered from the Monsoon floods in September 2014. They had been displaced at that time, then once again in March. And now once again the much-feared monsoon is here. So in essence, in a ten-month period villagers have moved from their abode thrice; for many farmers, they were not able to go back to their original abode as that area was submerged in water. Waters when they receded did so only partially. The poorest, most marginalized have no permanent residence. They are forced to live in areas that is not taken up by others.

The kachaarea farmers, that is riverine belt farmers who live outside the embankments (made by the government to save the agricultural land and communities) watch the rising water levels and anxiously seek news on flood waters coming from upper regions of the country and from across the border in India. For those of us who do not face the daily torture of living next to ‘sleeping dragon’ are oblivious to the anxiety and helplessness of the kachaarea communities.

Most of the farmers living on the river banks are landless – they lease land for the year – paying in the range of Rs 12,000 to Rs 24,000 for the year. If you ask them how much do you pay – their response is not in monetary figures – instead they will say 10 maunds of wheat which is approximately Rs 12,000. Their response tells us that for them, land is food, and to access land is to ensure their food security. However, this must be a very bitter payment given the land is submerged in water for nearly four months of the year. The landlords, irrespective of flooding demand the full payment. The oppression of the feudal system can be seen vividly in the riverine areas. According to a farmer “zamindardariyamaezameendubnaedaega per humkokabhizameennahibataega “(A landlord would rather have his land lost to the river rather than distribute it to the us – the landless).

Apart from the constant exploitation of the landlords, riverine farmers have to deal with many other atrocities and hardships, daily. Now that the water levels are rising, many communities are already separated from the mainland by the formation of small rivers which are cutting across small parts of land and dividing communities. So, small daily chores have now become painstaking – for example taking children to the neighborhood doctor is now no more a walking journey. People have to walk a distance to the newly formed river, catch a boat – get off on the other side, walk some more to reach the doctor’s clinic, or the market place- and then of course the arduous journey back.

Women agricultural workers also face increased hardship: they work throughout the year in the neighbouring fields of their community. With the entire area divided by the encroaching river water, the surrounding farms are no more approachable by foot. So these women end up taking the local boats from one area to the other, sometimes, even taking two boats or in some cases wading through water holding their tools of trade and children – all for a small meager payment in cash or kind. The general trend is to pay women by the day – generally from Rs 120-150 for a six-hour work period. For many of the food crops such as moongi – women will pick a small-pail full. On picking four pails they get one pail as payment. All this in the blistering heat of Multan – where temperatures are reaching the high forties – the scorching sun and immense humidity makes breathing difficult. It is in such extreme temperatures that men and women work to earn enough for that day’s food.

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Our team had work in the communities. Of the four villages visited in our two-day work plan, only one village was now accessible by road. For the others we had to use local boats. It was a hot summer day; the sun was shining in its full glory. At the riverside there were many people waiting for the motor boat that was coming nearly every 15-20 minutes carrying passengers to and fro from the two banks.  The small boat was jam packed with mostly farmers, men as well as women along with their children;people were sitting close to each other, uncomfortably. Almost all of them were going for work. On our journey on the way back we had to wait for nearly half-an hour on the bank – on the other side of the small river we could see the boat unloading a lot of stuff which included jute bags filled with some produce, milk men carrying with their milk pails and even men who had ferried their motor bikes to the other side. Finally, the boat came for us and we all piled in. We found that our fellow passengers included 9-10 women with some young girls. They were were coming back from picking arvi, which is a root vegetable. For a full day work, they were paid the usual rate of Rs 120 for the six hour work they had put in. It was interesting to observe that they were more concerned about us riding the boat in such hot weather but did not think about their own hardship. They kept on commenting on why did we found it necessary to do our work on such a hot day? For us urban people it was hot – what about them? They had toiled much more than us.



A new member of out team was shocked by the circumstances of the people. She had many questions on the suffering of the people. Why is the daily routine of the villagers so tough? Who is responsible for this? And is there no one to feel seethe pain and sufferings of our most hardworking sector, a sector that is responsible for providing food for the entire country? Why do they work so much? And then in return, all that they have is a meager handful of food and with no amenities that would ease their lives! Why?

 As we traveled along with other people in a small boat, a question asked by a woman named Ruquiya underlined the class difference that these marginalized communities face. Her eyes filled with sadness inquired, “we are all humans than why are our conditions so different?”

The question if answered truthfully can only point to the unequal distribution of land where a very small number of people in the country own a majority of the land forcing others to either work as labour or lease land. Both occupations yield a bitter harvest – forcing people to go without all basic needs including food, water, shelter, education and health.

On the second day we went to two other villages again using boats. Our short exposure to the daily hardships of the people gave us a closer view to the enduring hardship of the people. At the same time, it also showed us clearly the ability of our people to survive against such difficult odds. The boat that we took to access the first village was without a motor-boat. It took us about an hour tocross a small distance that would not have taken us more than 10 minutes if we had walked and in a motor boat maybe 15 minutes. Apart from other passengers In the boat, there were 12 agriculture women workers who were going to pick a food crop called moongi. As the boat was pushed off the bank, women kept on calling out to the young children – mostly girls – who had walked with them to the boat, to go back home. It was clear that these women were very uncomfortable leaving their young children at home to fend for themselves: but they had no other option as they had to earn a living or to be more exact, earn the food they would have been able to get as payment in kind.



During the journey we talked to the women getting details of their work. Of these twelve women, one was a small farmer who had come to collect the women for picking moongi from her land; the total land area was no more than five canals (equivalent to just a bit more than half-an acre of land). Each woman would in the end be hardly able to get even a full pail of moongi in return for her labor.


After getting down from the boat we drove to toward the next village – about a 15 minute drive.  Then we took a self-made raft to the next bank. Village people hade made it with styrofoam wrapped in cloth and put an old wooden door on the top. The door still had nails and hinges protruding which was unsafe as it was rusty and could cause injury. The ‘boatman’ told us that if pushed he could actually seat 18 people on the raft if they would sit with their backs to each other in a tight fit. We were only five of ous on the raft and still were finding it difficult to balance our selves. We wondered on the ability of these people to make do and survive no matter what. In any case, after the raft journey we again walked a small distance and then another small raft took us to our destination. On the way back, in the first patch of river the raft was there to take us back. But when we got to the next water inlet, there was nothing to take us further. The small raft had gone with a load full of people to another village. So we decided to walk through the water. According to the community people, it was ok to walk through the water if we walked holding hands a forming a long chain of people. The water-bed was muddy and slippery and it took us a while to cross the small water belt.

11745283_1098857003477750_668823290_oWhat was a difficult journey for us was routine for the community people. They face the coming and going of river-inlets every few months; they point to a place under water and say this is where they were living just a few months ago; another patch of land was their abode last year and so on. According to the villagers, in the past years water would only come in to their lands during the monsoon season but now even during the winter months they are not safe.

These two days in the riverine communities made it clear what was it to live in the kacha areas. What is narrated here is basically only the journey to the communities. In the boats we saw people coming and going for various reasons – from daily chores such as household marketing to visiting the doctor or buying medicines or going to work. All of this was in addition to their daily living. In villages we saw people keeping small kitchen gardens for their daily food needs; women were maintaining mulching animal so that they could have milk for their daily consumption.


One woman was growing red chilies; she had laid them out for drying. According to her, after the chilies have dried she would pound them to make red chili powder that she sold to a shopkeeper. People had laid out nets and fishing hooks so that they could catch fish. In short, all activity was geared to gaining food and/or a meager livelihood.



The lack of our government in reach to the poorest, most needy was abysmally clear. People would ask us anxiously if there was any news of the flood-waters? How much water was India going to release into our rivers? Has the deal between Nawaz Sharif with Moodi been finalized? The government seems totally ignorant of the daily anxiety of the riverine people. During the March flooding no news media reported on the floods. The government did not make any statement on the destruction in the communities. Farmers lost the wheat harvest which is their food security through the year. Such is the heartlessness of our government.

So then, who is this government for? The rich and the powerful? Those who already have plenty? Those who own vast tracks of land? Those who live in cemented well constructed houses? Those who have so much food in their homes that they don’t even know the cost of wheat flour?

The Miserable Life of the Kacha Area Farmers: Facing Evacuation Once Again!

A community from Wilan Village leave their homes on a boat to reach dry areas.

A community from Wilan Village leave their homes on a boat to reach dry areas.

March 2015 has brought heavy rains in Punjab and Sindh, Pakistan. The result has been rising water levels in the rivers, and flooding of the areas adjacent to the riverine areas in Sindh and Punjab. These areas fall outside the embankments that have been constructed by the government to save farmlands and urban areas from flooding. The areas outside the embankments are called kachaareas that house hundreds of thousands of landless farmers in Sindh and Punjab.

The impact of the rising river waters due to heavy rainfall has devastated the kacha area farmers once again – in a matter of just six months. In September 2014, they had to evacuate their meager abodes to save themselves from the heavy flooding in the Multan and Muzaffargadh area. They returned with their meager belongings in November, facing a bitterly cold winter living at the riverbanks.

Farmers looking at their crops which are now lost to rain-water floods.

Farmers looking at their crops which are now lost to rain-water floods.

The willingness to look after themselves and their families is seen by their struggle to lease small amounts of land. Many of the landless farmers had leased land – as little as just half an acre – so that they could grow wheat and provide at least partial food security to their households. The heavy rainfall has resulted in flooding the Chenab River, totally destroying the standing wheat fields that would have been ready for harvesting by mid-April.

Apart from the staple food crop wheat, other crops such as green peas and mustard were also lost which were in the process of being harvested.

This flooding is tragic on many accounts. These rural families have moved twice in just a matter of six months. The temporary shelter they were able to have in the winter months were at great cost. The bitterly cold winds were sweeping through their tents that they had been able to wrest from the government authorities after a great deal of heated argument and acrimony. And now, when they were looking to a good wheat harvest and some months of full stomachs, the new devastation.

A farmer saving what he can of the destroyed wheat harvest. He will use the wasted crops as fodder for his livestock.

A farmer saving what he can of the destroyed wheat harvest. He will use the wasted crops as fodder for his livestock.

According to farmers, they don’t live in the kachaareas because they want to –  they have no choice – where else can they live?

Here, at least they are able to get leased lands at lower rates. Their animals have space to graze on many patches of land where the animals can roam more freely than in the embankment area agricultural land. In addition, the green pea crops also yield fodder for their animals. And women are also able to earn a livelihood as they pick green peas.

Where will these farmers go now? How will they earn a livelihood? What will happen to their food security?

There is no question that the only answer is to provide farmers in the kacha areas with land in the safe areas. Otherwise, farmers who feed the entire country are forced to accept alms from others.

Farmers feed the rest of the country - are now forced to depend on ohters!

Farmers feed the rest of the country – are now forced to depend on others!

The pressing question is that where is our government in this debacle. Farmers in Multan and Muzaffargardh have suffered immensely. There are also reports coming about crop loss in Ghotki, Sindh. But it is immensely unfortunate that neither the government nor media has tried to come forward and help a highly marginalized vulnerable group.

A group of farmers including women from Muzaffargadh and Multan have raised their voices demanding help from the government. They were holding placards asking where is the government, and who will pay for their loss? A placard shows the total cost of wheat crop to be about Rs 40,000 (approximately USD 400). Farmers also raised the issue of climate crisis during the protest, and the suggestion is that it is late extreme rains, which has resulted in the present debacle.

The press release distributed by the farmers clearly states their position that is their demand for land in safe areas!

Protest at Multan Press Club, Multan Punjab

Protest at Multan Press Club, Multan Punjab

Placard showing per acre cost of wheat production

Placard showing per acre cost of wheat production

In any case, if people will live and try to eke out a living sitting on riverbeds, this kind of devastation will occur over and over again.

The only permanent long lasting solution can be providing land to the landless in safe embankment areas so that they are able to attain the basic rights that our constitution promises clearly to all Pakistani citizens!


Kacha area farmer in front of his destroyed wheat field Ghotki.

Rain-waterr floods have encroahed agriculture land as well desroyed communities living in Kacha areas.

Rain-water floods have encroached agriculture land as well destroyed communities living in Kacha areas.

On the move once again!

On the move once again!


After 2014 floods in September in Multan, Kawa wali village had gone back to a place near their prevvious abode. Their land had been lost after 2014 floods. Now their present abode is alos eroded.

After 2014 floods in September in Multan, Kawa wali village had gone back to a place near their previous abode. Their land had been lost after 2014 floods. Now their present abode is also eroded.




Communities Impacted by Floods in Pakistan – 2014

The recent floods sweeping through Pakistan have affected thousands of communities in Punjab and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Thankfully, though the floods are not as devastating as of 2010, they have still created havoc in many communities costing nearly 300 lives to date.

Roots for Equity has been working in what is termed as ‘Kacha’ area in Multan, Punjab and Ghotki, Sindh with small and landless farmers since early this year. The context of this work is to work with rural communities learning and building systems of self-reliance in the face of climate crisis.

The kacha areas are basically lands that are situated along the river banks enclosed by embankments on both sides. The government has built the embankments to protect the populated rural and urban areas from flooding. In essence, communities should not inhabit the kacha area. But the reality of the landless is that they, in face of no access to land either for living or for agricultural production, many rural communities have no option but to live in these enclosed areas on the sides of the riverbanks. In the past few years, there has been decreasing quantity of water in the rivers and rural communities have actually even started living on the dried out riverbed.

Charpai (wooden frame bed) on the embankment

Charpai (wooden frame bed) on the embankment

Transportation of personal items by boat to the embankments

Transportation of personal items by boat to the embankments

The result is that during flooding, even of a very minor level, communities living in the kacha areas are displaced. Many of these communities loose their homes, daily living items, and in many instances the food stocks, especially wheat grains, nearly every year. With floods becoming a common feature, most people will evacuate children and their livestock early enough, but even then loss of homes and even food grains, and their very meager belongings is not possible.

Flooding in the katcha area

Flooding in the katcha area

It needs to be highlighted that the real issue is of landlessness. Many thousands of these people live on the banks of various which run the length and breadth of the country, only because Pakistan has failed to implement even the most rudimentary of land reforms, let alone a policy that would allow for a just equitable distribution of land. Feudal lords, who are fast changing into ‘corporate land lords,’ rule the country and millions of farmers are forced to eke out a very meager earning by working as sharecroppers, agricultural workers or contract farmers. Others are forced to endanger their lives and livelihood by living in what could be called a ‘seasonal red zone’; no doubt global warming and ensuing climate change have exacerbated the situation.

The situation of the landless can be well depicted by the five communities in Multan that Roots with the help of Friends of Roots has been working with and helping to provide basic support and solidarity.

Map of Head Nawabpur, settlement of the khana badosh community during the floods, in the map, the embankment is considered part of the river:

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In the past few years there has been an evolving pattern of floods occurring now mostly by the end of August or early September. However, this year, the general feeling in communities living in the kacha areas was that floods will not be severe and they would not really have to evacuate but just live with flooding of their lands. Due to consistent floods, year after year, many of the kacha area farmers have stopped planting crops during the flood season. This was the case nearly seen in all of the five communities. Only farmers in one village had sown rice; and here the entire harvest is now lost.

A mud house collapsed because of the flooding

A mud house collapsed because of the flooding

The flooding proved to be of a high volume and water level rose was very high: in fact so high that authorities feared flooding of Multan city itself. Many strategic breaks in the embankments were made to avert water flow away from cities lying in the floodwater path.

Families from all five villages had to evacuate and are now living on various embankments or ‘bunds’ as they are called locally. Many families had tied their packed food grain on top of trees. Those who are going back to check on their homes report that much of it has been washed away. A woman had made a dozen razais (traditional comforters) for the coming winter. Another woman tells of her daughter’s trousseau that she had just completed. All of these are now lost.

Their mud homes have either collapsed totally or walls show cracks, making them no longer safe for living. Entire villages are still inundated with water. Where water has receded, the place is muddy infested with flies and mosquitoes. Some cannot even see the area where they were living as so water level is still high in these areas.

Of the five communities, three have been provided with tents by the government; the fourth community has been only partially settled with some families living on the embankment.

A tent community on the embankment (government provided tents)

A tent community on the embankment (government provided tents)

Inside of a government issued tent

Inside of a government issued tent

These in tent communities are receiving cooked food, enough for subsistence. It was observed that of the most well equipped tent communities is the one that has inhabitants who have direct affiliations with local feudal lords. The Federal Minister for the Ministry of National Food Security and Research is Mr Sikander Hyat Bosan is from Multan and has a huge constituency from the flooded areas in Multan. He is also one of the biggest feudal lords of Multan. A tent community organized by his political workers has housed nearly 50 families and they are well looked after, to the extent that they even have a supply of clean drinking water. The tent community has been placed on the base of the embankments, adjacent to mango orchards; hence are a bit further from the floodwaters. This means that the community has at least some shade and is not directly being affected by the blazing sun. But others, are not being given even shelter. There have been general observations that goods coming for flood relief are being stored in the dairas (traditional community space/room maintained by well off landlords for entertaining their male guests). Given the highly corrupt nature of governance maintained by Pakistani influential raise question marks on equitable distribution of these materials to the most needy.

The class-caste relationships are quite apparent as relief work is being carried out. A particular caste locally called pakhi bas, or khana badosh are considered nomads. People from this community face discrimination for instance, two separate villages from this particular caste have not been provided adequate shelter or food; local authorities have been heard saying that they are used to this way of life and being beggars they will only be helped if there are tents left-over. They have been pushed back to live on an embankment where neither official help is being provided nor civilian help is arriving as it is off the main embankments.

The khana badosh community who are receiving no government assistance

The khana badosh community who are receiving no government assistance

The khana badosh living on the embankment

The khana badosh living on the embankment


The khana badosh living on the embankment

The khana badosh living on the embankment

These people generally earn their living making wooden baskets, made from shrubs that the community members gather themselves. Some were able to bring their raw material with them and others not.

A woman weaves baskets from small branches as a source of income

A woman weaves baskets from small branches as a source of income

Evacuation was carried out in small boats or in some cases on makeshift raft-like structures put on rubber tubes. People had placed their charpais (beds made from ropes woven around a wooden structure) upside down on rubber tubes. Some climb on to the charpais while others push it and wade through the water from their villages to the embankments. Hence, not all household items or other necessary material could be brought to the embankments. Men have been going to the city in search of work. But according to them, half the time they are unable to get any work, as there are so many laborers looking for daily wage labor. In addition, these people are far from the city and they pay for their travel from the embankment to the city, or try to walk at least partial distance. The minimum distance to the city area from where they are sitting on embankments is about eight kilometers away. Families with only a single adult male don’t feel comfortable leaving their families at the embankments.

A covered ceramic toiler made especially for the privacy needs of woman. This was constructed by Roots with funding from Friends of Roots.

A covered ceramic toiler made especially for the privacy needs of woman. This was constructed with funding from Friends of Roots.

floods 2014 - 12These embankments have water on both sides making it immensely hot. On top of that, there are no trees and the blistering sun is making their existence even more miserable. Many of the households have no shelter. They have been sitting on the dirt with tilted charpais for forming a shade over them for protection against the sun.

Initially, water had to be fetched from some distance. But now all communities have hand pumps installed, making the chore somewhat more bearable.

Water hand pump installed through the funding of the Friends of Roots

Water hand pump installed through the funding of the Friends of Roots

However, things are much better in the government set-up tent campsites. In the two camps, medical teams have been placed. It is clear that people are not very satisfied with the services. Given, the class difference, and a highly class-conscious society, no doubt people are not being treated with respect and kindness.

Children are experiencing a variety of diseases in their new conditions, such as diarrhea, eye infections, itchiness, cold and fever. Medicines being dispensed may or may not be for the condition suffered.

It is criminal that government officials, especially those who are setting up tent communities, have been heard saying that the affected people in the kacha areas have not lost much because they generally did not grow crops in anticipation of the floods.

But as has been highlighted above, they have lost nearly everything. Their livestock are living without shelter; people have no access to fodder or they have to buy fodder for which they have no money. Many of them are falling sick due to first wading through water, and now living under a very hot sun, with flies and mosquitoes in plenty. There is poor hygiene, and close proximity of so many people in itself is a health hazard.

Livestock and animals in the tent community

Livestock and animals in the tent community

Women are very uncomfortable as so many strangers are walking through the campsites at all times. There is absolutely no privacy, even when people are lying inside the tents (where it extremely hot and stuffy) they can be seen by the people outside. Cooking space is truly makeshift and they have no real water storage capacity and have to fetch water for every little thing from drinking water to cooking or cleaning.

Sanitation needs of women make it more difficult for them to look after themselves. Initially, there were no enclosed private spaces for daily ablutions. These have also been now looked after. But women lack basic material or sanitary napkins for maintaining hygiene. Before the installation of and washroom cubicles and hand pumps they were finding it even more difficult as washing soiled clothes and themselves was no easy task.

In nearly every community there are pregnant women. No doubt, for them, this time must be pure torture. Thankfully, at least in one campsite, it was observed that in tent community there were two separate tents for patients and they even had pedestal fans.

Community Practices of Self-Reliance

Disasters create havoc. There is an immediate need felt by the larger community to provide help and assistance to those who have been impacted. The focus on the needy and destitute is high. The suffering of the people is publicized; all this is needed especially to ensure that government provides to the needful immediately.

The dignity of people, their ability to look after themselves, and their courage also needs equal attention. Whereas often humanitarian agencies and the media treat those affected by the floods as victims, it is unfortunate that they rarely touch on how communities are looking after themselves in the wake of calamity. In the past two weeks since floodwaters have inundated Multan, the amazing forbearance of people, their courage and pride (khud-daree) has been seen again and again. In many spots across the flooded areas people are seen fishing hoping to not only find food for themselves but eke out some income if possible. According to a young man from Kanwa Walee village: “putting in a fishing net is really a luck of the draw. We may be able to earn Rs 4,000-5,000 [$US 40-50] in a day, or there may be no fish at all for 5-6 days.” Families those who have been able to save wood and bring it with them have already started making wooden baskets that they can sell. Some women have set up their mud stoves and are making snack items to be sold at the campsite or at nearby tea stalls. Women can also be observed making ropes from old cloth so that they can use the ropes make charpais. Their men folk have had the wooden frame made from local carpenters and ropes will be woven to make the bed within the frame.

Make-shift shelter using wooden-frame beds to protect from the sun and heat

Make-shift shelter using iron-frame beds to protect from the sun and heat

Travelling across the flood waters to villages with a bed on top of a wooden-frame bed

Travelling across the flood waters to villages with a bed on top of a wooden-frame bed


A woman makes a charpai in the camp

A woman makes a charpai in the camp

A woman makes a charpai in the camp

A woman makes a charpai in the camp

A make-shift covered toilet that was constructed by the community as a means to give woman privacy

A make-shift covered toilet that was constructed by the community as a means to give woman privacy

Fishing nets that are being as a means of catching fish for their subsistence

Fishing nets that are being used as a means of catching fish for their subsistence

A man selling falooda (a sweet and cold drink made with vermicelli) from his cycle in the khana badosh community as a means of livelihood

A man selling falooda (a sweet and cold drink made with vermicelli) from his cycle in the khana badosh community as a means of livelihood

Nearly all families have some form of livestock, from chickens to donkeys, cows, sheep and goats. Of course, a major concern and expense is fodder for these animals. Some of the communities are close to grasslands and are taking their animals their. Some families have collectively rented a small piece of land just to grow fodder. It is interesting that a family has actually put its livestock inside the tent and is living outside in the open. People are using their own livestock for milk and trying to supplement the small amount of foods being distributed by the government.

In general, it has been observed that even for transportation over the floodwaters to their homes, people have started ‘charpai’ ferries,’ meaning that as people want to go back to check on their homes, they make use of the charpais sitting on rubber tubes, go for a few hours and then come back to the campsite.

Going Back Home

Though the coming in floods catch the most media attention, and of course those moments create the worst havoc, the suffering and hardship of the affected communities actually continue for many months.

They cannot go home till at least end of October, depending on how quickly floodwaters recede and then the muddied area dries. They have now no warm bedding, nor any warm clothes, especially for children. And in another 6-8 weeks it will become very cold here in Multan.

By late October, early November, the wheat-sowing season will start. This is an immensely important crop not only for rural communities but also for the entire country’s food security. If land dries up by then for farmers with some agricultural land will need help with sowing wheat. For the landless, it will be a search for agricultural work, most probably they will have to go much further afield in the dry areas where there are no floods. Those who will be able to find the money will try to lease land. If there is dearth of land due to the floods, then even land lease will go up. There are also chances that some land would have been lost due to erosion.

So on one hand, livelihood pressures will be immense. At the same time, having lost not only most of their household goods but also their homes, there will be further hardship as they suffer the cold months without proper bedding or protective shelter. Cooking utensils are mostly lost, wood stocks for cooking food were lost and fresh stocks will have to be found which given the havoc will be no easy task. Animal fodder already scarce in winters will have to be searched.

In essence, the rural kacha area communities will start their lives once more. To what avail? In just a few months, maybe 10 months, if they are lucky another 24 months, the whole debacle will be faced again.

No doubt, the major problem is cause due to climate crisis. The fossil fuel driven paradigm of industrial production that has resulted in global warming, changed weather patterns, disrupting normal harvest seasons, melting glaciers rapidly in Pakistan are a major cause for floods year after year.

But as mentioned earlier, this is not the only cause for the suffering and destitution of these communities. If there was an equitable distribution of land, these people would not be forced to live on the river bed or on river embankments. They would not be made homeless every few months. They would not have to rely on others to provide for their shelter and food. Their dignity would not be so tattered! They would not be forced to almost begging for basic needs.

It is the right of the people to live in dignity and our government has the absolute responsibility to look after its people!

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