SUKKUR    -    Pakistan’s farmers are still counting their losses from the devastating floods that have put a third of the country under water, but the long-term impact is already clear. “We have gone back 50 years,” said Ashraf Ali Bhanbro, a farmer in Sindh province whose 2,500 acres of cotton and sugarcane, on the verge of being harvested, have now been wiped out.

More than 33 million peo­ple have been affected by the floods caused by record mon­soon rains and one of the worst-hit areas is Sindh in Pa­kistan’s south. The province is bisected by the mighty Indus River, along whose banks farm­ing has flourished for millennia with records of irrigation sys­tems dating back to 4,000 BC.

Sindh’s problems are two-fold. The province was drenched by record rains lo­cally, but that water has no­where to drain because the Indus is already at full flow, swollen by tributaries in the north, and has burst its banks in several places.

“At one stage it rained contin­uously for 72 hours,” said Bhan­bro, adding he has lost at least 270 million rupees ($1.2 mil­lion) on inputs alone. “That was the cost incurred on fertilisers and pesticides... we don’t in­clude profit, which might have been much higher as it was a bumper crop.”

Unless flooded farmlands can be drained, farmers like Bhan­bro will not be able to plant a winter wheat crop, vital for the country’s food security. “ We have one month. If water is not discharged in that period, there will be no wheat,” he said at his farm in Sammu Khan vil­lage, around 40 kilometres (25 miles) northeast of Sukkur.

Pakistan was for years self-sufficient in wheat pro­duction, but more recently has relied on imports to ensure si­los are full as part of its stra­tegic reserves. Islamabad can scarcely afford imports, even if it purchases discounted grain from Russia, as is being discussed. The country owes billions to foreign creditors, and only last week managed to convince the Internation­al Monetary Fund to resume funding that can’t even service foreign debt, let alone pay a flood-damage bill estimated at $10 billion.

Driving along an elevated highway from Sukkur to Sam­mu Khan provides a shock­ing view of the devastation wrought by the floods. In some places there is water as far as the eye can see; where cot­ton crops are visible in flooded fields, their leaves have turned brown, with hardly a boll to be seen. “Let’s forget the cotton,” said Latif Dinno, a farmer in Saleh Pat, 30 kilometres north­east of Sukkur.

The big landowners will like­ly ride out the floods, but tens of thousands of farm labourers face terrible hardships. Many only get paid for what they pick, and supplement their earnings by growing food on tiny plots of land in villages scattered across the province. Those too are un­der water, and tens of thou­sands have fled their flooded homes to seek shelter on high­er ground. “There is nothing left to pick,” said Saeed Baloch, who labours every season with members of his extended fami­ly, pooling their earnings.

It’s not just the farmers that are affected, but every link in the supply chain is feeling the strain. “We are doomed,” said Waseem Ahmed, a cot­ton trader in Saleh Pat, who like many in the industry paid ad­vances to fix purchase prices and hedge against inflation and market fluctuation. “Against 200 maund (about 8,000 kg, 18,000 pounds) expected, only 35 maund has been reaped,” he said, adding he had shelved plans to expand his business. At a small collection store in a usually vibrant cotton mar­ket in Sindh, two boys poked half-heartedly at a heap of wet cotton, checking to see if any­thing could be salvaged. “The market is shut down and even the ginning factories are closed,” trader Ahmed said, pointing to a row of closed shops.

The sense of helplessness is overwhelming, but cotton picker Dinno hopes for divine intervention. “We look up to Allah. He is the ultimate sav­iour,” he said.