Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Race to save Pakistan's agriculture

New Scientist: In Pakistan, the flood waters just keep on coming. While the stationary weather system that produced the extreme rainfall seems to have dissipated, the annual monsoon rains continue to fall. As New Scientist went to press, a new wave of flood water was heading down the Indus river, with the populous southern province of Sindh already suffering the consequences.

With over 1400 people confirmed dead and millions affected, the immediate health consequences have been dire. But the biggest problem may be an escalating food shortage. According to a report issued on 14 August by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 3.2 million hectares of standing crops and 200,000 head of livestock have been lost, along with most food supplies stored in affected homes. These figures will only grow, compounded by the fact that Sindh is one of the country's main agricultural areas.

The situation can be partly salvaged if the winter wheat crop is planted by September, but that depends on clearing the sediment dumped by the floods. "Pakistan has the largest continuously managed irrigation system in the world," says James Wescoat of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Now the system is almost certainly silted up. Clearing it will be a huge task, especially now that floods and landslides have knocked out many roads.

"It will take a long time until the infrastructure is up and running," says economist Reinhard Mechler of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria….

A wheat field in Punjab, Pakistan

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