Sunday, December 26, 2010

Flood-hit growers in wilderness

By Saleem Shaikh

Daily Dawn, December 27, 2010

WHILE the Rabi season is drawing to a close, a vast majority of poor growers in all flood-hit districts of Sindh are yet to get the government`s promised farm inputs free of cost.

When contacted, provincial agriculture department officials said serious efforts were being made to provide the required farm inputs to affected growers free of cost as the government was well aware of the consequences of delayed sowing. Free distribution of fartilisers and seeds have started in some districts.

“As the recent floods had inundated standing crops on 2.2 million acres and caused losses to the tune of Rs102 billion to the agriculture sector, a hefty amount is needed to put things in place,” remarked a senior official in the finance department.

However, they said that delivery of farm inputs was being delayed for want of funds while a provincial minister said that the federal government has given the pledged sum of money.

Meanwhile, growers have cautioned the government that wheat acreage would shrink if the pledged free farm inputs were not distributed among the genuine and deserving farmers without further delay.

The wheat sowing season in Sindh begins from first week of November and ends on December 30.

The provincial government had recently announced to have drawn up Rs3.36 billion Rabi Assistance Plan (RAP) for the recovery of badly hit agriculture sector in flood inundated areas. But, delay in implementing the plan has been adding to the misery of the growers, who want to cultivate their land that remained unaffected or where the floodwater has receded at the earliest.

The growers of Kamber-Shahdadkot, Dadu, Khairpur Nathanshah, Naushero Feroz, Shaheed Benazirabad, Sukkur Ghotki and Jacobabad districts, who suffered heavy flood losses, badly need assistance. They have also fulfilled the necessary requirements and have completed all requisite paperwork.

“Yet, the government officials are making all sorts of excuses to avoid delivery of inputs to these farmers for reasons best known to them,” said Akhund Ghulam Mohammad, general secretary of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture.

“It is a `do or die` situation for the poor farmers, who have lost everything in the floods but the government officials are dragging their feet on the issue,” he remarked, urging them to have pity on the hapless farmers.

A senior finance department official said that the estimated cost of the Rabi Assistance Plan was Rs3.36 billion, to be equally funded by the federal and the Sindh governments.

“Though the federal government has released its share of fund for initiating RAP, the distribution of farm inputs has started only in some districts,” Sharmila Farooqui, Advisor to the Sindh Chief Minister, told this scribe.

Meanwhile, reports of mismanagement and embezzlement have started coming in from the districts where the disbursement of free seed and fertiliser has started.

Some growers of Rabi crops, waiting to obtain the farm input, have alleged that farm inputs were being distributed among undeserving growers.

Having failed to get the Rabi assistance from the Jacobabad district government, Rustam Khoso, a poor farmer from Ghulam Mustafa Khoso village, attempted self-immolation outside the Jacobabad Press Club, but was saved by a police personnel.

Khoso alleged that “instead of distributing farm inputs among flood-hit small landholders, the agriculture department officials are giving inputs to landholders and those with political clout.”

Members of the Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB) in Jacobabad told this scribe on phone that wheat seed and fertiliser were distributed among some affected farmers during the first two weeks of December, but the supply was later stopped by the district revenue officials for reasons best known to them. Nevertheless, the process of distribution of farm inputs among influential large landholders continues secretly during night hours, they alleged.

The alleged injustice on the part of the district government officials also led to highway blockades during the third week of this month.

Agha Jan Akhtar, provincial agriculture secretary, rejected the allegations of embezzlement in distribution of free farm inputs. “A few complaints have been received about enlisting of some fake farmers. The government has formed a committee to probe such cases and resolve such issues on a priority basis,” he said.

Meanwhile, reports of sporadic protests of farmers still continue to come from different parts of Sukkur, Ghotki, Kambar, Shikarpur, Shahdadkot, Larkana and Dadu, against delay in supply of promised relief.


Sindh’s damaged roads hamper rice trading

By Saleem Shaikh

Daily Dawn, December 13, 2010

BECAUSE of standing floodwater and broken road networks, paddy growers in Sindh are facing enormous problem in transporting their produce to rice mills.

Consequently, the rice mill owners have also not been able to gear up rice processing on account of slow arrival of paddy at their mills.

This year paddy was cultivated over 1.15 million acres in Sindh, which is 72 per cent of the sowing target of 1.6 million acres. The production target for rice was set at 2.052 million tons..

According to the provincial government, around 30 per cent of the paddy crop survived the recent floods. “Paddy crop worth over Rs60 billion cultivated over an area of around 0.7-0.8 million acres was completely washed away,” said a provincial agriculture department official.

Agriculture department officials have estimated a shortage of around 1.7 million tons of rice this year, as production expected from the unaffected paddy crop on 0.3-0.4 million acres will be around 0.3 million tons.

Economic activities pick up in rice growing areas of the province during four months of the rice harvesting season, which begins from August every year. But, this time the situation is dismal as rice millers have not witnessed any healthy activity on account of slow and delayed arrival of the produce. There are around 850 rice mills in Sindh, but only a few of them have started functioning so far.

“Nearly 80 per cent or 680 rice mills were fully operational by mid-November last year. But, this season their number was 140-150 by the beginning of this December,” said members of the Sindh-Balochistan Rice Millers Association (SBRMA).

They said that as only 20-30 per cent paddy output was available, more or less 200 mills would be able to go into production.

However, Nabi Khan Brohi, a noted paddy grower in Shikarpur district, said arrival of paddy at mills could improve if floodwater was flushed out and broken roads were repaired without any further delay. But, nothing is taking place in this regard, he complained.

Officials in the provincial roads and communications department estimate that around 1,800 kilometres of provincial (highway) roads and 4,500 kilometres of district roads have been damaged. About Rs38-40 billion is needed for their rehabilitation, for which the required fund is not available.

Rice millers say that they have suffered serious financial losses, their mills were hit by floods and tons of last year’s stored rice and seed in the mills were damaged. Owners of such affected mills are unable to begin rice processing.

“Around 200 rice mills in the province are still under floodwater. The owners of these mills have suffered economic losses worth billions of rupees, ” said Siraj Rashdi, president of the Larkana chapter of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture.

Some rice millers also complain that paddy arriving at their mills is generally damaged and of poor quality. They also said that it was financially unviable to run these mills because growers were demanding Rs1,000-1,200/ 40 kg for irri-6 paddy, which is unaffordable for them.

Growers argue that since the cost of farm input and transportation charges have soared, they cannot sell their produce at official rate.

The millers are reluctant to pick up paddy at prices demanded by the growers. They are reported to have been buying paddy at Rs800-Rs900 per maund. Each miller, on an average, procures 70,000-80,000 maunds of paddy every year.

According to rice millers’ association, each rice miller employs 80-90 workers on a daily basis during the paddy harvesting season. But, this time thousands of labourers are bound to remain unemployed.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Improving access to safe drinking water

By Saleem Shaikh

Daily Dawn, December 20, 2010

DESPITE different programmes launched to provide safe drinking water in Sindh, access to potable water for a sizeable population has not improved. Instead, the situation has deteriorated gradually.

A majority in the province are still without safe drinking water. Water experts blame corruption, inefficient planning and implementation, and poor quality infrastructure for the grim situation. “Most of the projects are malfunctioning or have become dysfunctional due to poor implementation and maintenance, and negligence,” they said.

Survey reports of Unicef, ADB and WB show that only 20-25 per cent population of Sindh has access to safe drinking water. About 65 per cent people in countryside and 35 per cent in urban areas have no access to clean drinking water.

But, some local water experts believe the situation more depressing. They say that 10-15 per cent rural people and less than 25 per cent in urban areas have access to safe drinking water.

In Sindh, 87 per cent of households use improved sources for drinking water and 13 per cent unimproved, according to the Unicef`s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS).

`Improved sources` include piped water in the household (31 per cent) or from a public tap (eight per cent), water from hand pump (35 per cent), donkey pump/turbine ( six per cent) or borehole ( four per cent). The `unimproved sources` (13 per cent) comprise unprotected dug well, river or stream and other (e.g., tanker truck and tractor- pulled tanker).

The MICS survey, however, points out that the `improved source` of water does not necessarily imply safety. There is potential contamination from pumps and wells, especially outside the household. Even piped water quality can be compromised by leakage and, in certain situations, come from suspect sources such as stagnant water.

There are major differences for sources in urban and rural areas. In urban centres the improved sources account for 93 per cent, of which piped water in the household (66 per cent) is most common. In rural areas this stands at 83 per cent, where the dependence is mainly on hand pumps (53 per cent) followed by public standpipe (11 per cent), piped water (eight per cent), donkey pump (five per cent) and protected well/ponds (four per cent), according to MICS findings.

Consumption of unsafe and contaminated water pushes up expenditures on health bills because of water-borne diseases. Availability of contaminated water to the people, particularly the poor, increases their living costs, lower their income earning potential, damage their well-being and make life riskier.

The continuing deterioration of the surface and underground water sources on which people survive means that water pressures will simply become worse in future,” remarked Munawar Memon.

“The lack of water infrastructure for the poor forces them to buy water from water-vendors at high prices, walking long distances and waiting in long queues at public sources, and incurring additional costs for storing and boiling water,” admits a senior official in the provincial public health engineering department (PHED).

“This lack of suitable and affordable access to water, leaves people consuming less than the optimum amount of water for good hygiene and impacts health and labour productivity of the household members, reducing income-generating opportunities of such households,” remarked Ghulam Haider Birhamani, a water expert.

“Most of filtration plants installed under the multi-billion rupees `Clean Drinking Water for All` (CDWI) have failed to provide relief to the intended beneficiaries.

According to official reports, most of the filter plants in different parts of the province are mal-functioning, because these developed faults in their first year of installation. Besides, some have become entirely dysfunctional because of poor maintenance and negligence.

As many as 1,108 plants of different treatment capacities (2,000 and 4,000 gallons per hour) were approved for Sindh at a cost of Rs2.4 billion under Rs23.8 billion CDWA project.

The CDWI progress report available with this scribe shows that so far 360 water filter plants have been installed in different union councils of the province, but 227 of them are inoperative.

Conceived in 2004 and executed by the federal environment ministry in 2006, the CDWA project was launched in the year 2006 and was to be completed in November 2010 to provide clean drinking water to the residents of 40 districts across the country, 23 districts of them in Sindh. Relevant officials said that unnecessary delay in procurement of specified water filtration plants has harmed the efforts for timely implementation of the project.

Director Provincial Project Implementation Unit (PPIU) of CDWA, Abdul Raheem Shaikh, said: “A contract for setting up plants in different parts of the province was awarded in 2007, but those responsible failed to procure the specified water filtration plants in time, which caused undue delay in the initiation of work on the CDWA project. Only 360 plants could be set up in three or so years. In fact, all 1108 plants would have been installed and in operation by now.”

“At the time of awarding contract, it was agreed with the contracting firm that Italian filtration plants would be procured. But, it failed in doing so and provided local plants, which were poor in quality and much cheaper than those made by Italy,” he explained.