In Pakistan, Two Landscapes and Livelihoods Just a Short Drive Apart
I recently went on a field visit to our country programs in Pakistan. I was there to facilitate a training for our program teams with a focus on how we can best implement our activities to make the biggest impact on undernutrition in children under five and in pregnant and nursing women, and to visit our field interventions in the southern Province of Sindh, in Dadu District.
The training was a great success, with a mix of our Food Security and Livelihoods, Nutrition and Health, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, and Management teams in attendance, all learning together. Of a total of 25 staff members involved, we had four women as part of our Senior Management team present in the training, which is a great success given that many women still face professional hurdles there. In the training, the team was able to identify a number of bottlenecks which they can quickly and effectively address to improve our impact.
My journey to Dadu involved a two-hour flight from Islamabad, the capital, to Karachi in the south, and an additional five hours by car to Dadu. Dadu District is one of the most vulnerable districts in the country in terms of poverty levels, access to water, health care and other services. Nearly 50% of the population lives at the poverty line. Dadu lies along the large and famous Indus River, posing a risk for seasonal flooding when the river comes over its banks during snow melting season in the mountains.
Neighboring areas, seemingly a world apart
The areas along the river are the lowlands, green and lush with rice fields, livestock, and seemingly no lack of resources. Unfortunately the agriculture system and access to land for the most vulnerable is very restricted, as there’s a land tenure system by which the local farmers are cultivating the land owned by big landlords, and are obliged to give up to 75% of their harvests to them. Once vulnerable households are stuck in the system there is rarely a way out, and their families will remain in extreme poverty and exposed to vulnerabilities like undernutrition, diseases, and lack of resources.
Traveling from the lowlands to the highlands, up in the mountain range at the border with Balochistan Province, the situation and landscape changes dramatically. It is incredibly dry—there are no green rice fields, there is no water. There is lots of dust. Communities are suffering from a lack of water and food. Their agricultural production is limited by rainfall as no additional water sources are available.
"We’ve been working in Pakistan since the 1990s, and I’m proud that our team will continue to support the local population with access to food, water, and health services, and is working on sustainable and participatory ways to bring about change and end hunger and malnutrition there."
The families own a few goats and sheep, but these don’t provide them with sufficient milk for consumption for the family. Women work hard within their households, to provide additional income sources. They work on mats and rope making, made from locally-sourced leaves. The areas are remote and the communities’ access to markets and other services like health centers is limited. Poverty is high, and seasonal migration for labor affects nearly every household—leaving behind women and children.
Unexpected common ground
While the two communities are very different in terms of their challenges and their access to resources and agro-ecology, they do share one major common concern—open defecation. This means people do not use latrines and washrooms, but use their fields and backyards when they need to use the facilities. This poses a major threat to community and individual hygiene, infectious and diarrheal diseases—one of the main underlying causes of child undernutrition and mortality in the area.
To combat these negative effects, our teams are engaged in community mobilization and education on hygiene and sanitation, as well as getting community members involved in building the necessary household and community latrines and washrooms. We also teach proper management of animal stables as a key lesson in community hygiene.
Pakistan is a country in economic transition, and there are still lots of concerns with people’s basic living conditions and poverty. Undernutrition rates are way too high—one in every five children is acutely malnourished. We’ve been working in Pakistan since the 1990s, and I’m proud that our team will continue to support the local population with access to food, water, and health services, and is working on sustainable and participatory ways to bring about change and end hunger and malnutrition there.