Animal agriculture made Pakistan crisis worse
FORT MYERS, Florida; ISLAMABAD, Pakistan––With Hurricane Ian storm water still receding in Florida and South Carolina, the human body count rising over 100, and animal casualties only just beginning to be estimated, Julien Harneis, United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Pakistan, might be said to have picked an awkward time to appeal to the world on October 3, 2022 for a five-fold increase in flood relief aid to that often struggling and dysfunctional nation.
On the other hand, the urgency of the Pakistani crisis left Harneis little choice. And Harneis may have felt that Hurricane Ian might help to dramatize to affluent donors, including the billionaires whose vacation homes and yachts were wrecked on Sanibel Island, Florida, the helpless need of some of the poorest people in the world.
Like the Sanibel billionaires and more than two million ordinary Floridians, most of Pakistan abruptly felt the scourge of global warming, beginning in August 2022 and continuing into October, in a disaster partially predicted by ANIMALS 24-7 in November 2015.
A third of world’s fifth most populous nation underwater
A third of Pakistan, equal in size to all of Florida, twice over, was underwater at the height of the late summer 2022 monsoons, which delivered nearly twice as much rain as the monsoons normally bring.
But that was not the worst of it.
“Pakistan has more glacial ice than anywhere outside the polar regions,” pointed out BBC News climate and science reporter Georgina Rannard.
Glacial ice melted by the monsoons, poured into the Indus River, which drains most of the western Himalayas and flows from one end of Pakistan to the other.
“Nearly 1,700 people, including more than 600 children, lost their lives and a total of 33 million people were affected,” summarized Abid Hussain for Al Jazeera.
Upward of 800,000 cattle, sheep, goats, and other hoofed animals were killed.
Hurricane Ian damage more costly
Yet Harneis on behalf of the United Nations mission to Pakistan sought only $816 million in relief aid, a relative pittance compared to the estimated cost of Hurricane Ian.
“The Insurance Information Institute, an industry-funded research group, estimates that Ian has caused at least $30 billion in damage,” reported Thomas Frank for Politico.
“That would make Hurricane Ian roughly the 12th-costliest U.S. disaster since 1980, according to National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration records,” Frank added.
“Ian could financially ruin thousands of families in Florida. There’s no better way to say it,” projected Insurance Information Institute spokesperson Mark Friedlander.
Economists consulted by ABC News guesstimated the total damage from Hurricane Ian to be be anywhere from $75 billion up to $258 billion.
Infrastructure damage in Florida
The Hurricane Ian damage is mostly to infrastructure: the Sanibel Island causeway and bridges, dating only to 2007; hundreds of other roads and bridges; electrical wires; public buildings; tens of thousands of homes; cars, boats, and business equipment; and just about anything else that can be damaged by wind and water.
Alligators, manatees, and most other Florida wildlife co-evolved with the severe storms that often sweep the habitat, and were mostly back to their normal activities within days.
Domesticated and captive animals had a more difficult time, along with their human keepers, but domesticated and captive animal deaths resulting from Hurricane Ian are so far still counted in the low hundreds.
Food & disease crisis in Pakistan
In Pakistan, warned Harneis, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 8.62 million people in 28 assessed districts were “in crisis and enduring the emergency phases of food security.”
This included “some 5.74 million people in flood-affected districts covered by the assessment.”
Pakistan is normally among the world’s leading rice-producing nations, even exporting rice to China for use as livestock feed, but much of the 2022 Pakistani rice crop was lost to the flooding.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also warned that “water-borne and vector-borne diseases” are of “growing concern,” especially in downstream Sindh and Balochistan states, where the most water backed up and stagnated.
“Our actions did not contribute to this”
Cholera, mosquito-borne diseases including dengue fever and malaria, and leptospirosis, spread mostly by rodents, are all at risk of becoming epidemic in Pakistan, and are only a partial list of the infectious threats to both public and animal health.
Said Pakistani prime minister Shehbaz Sharif, “Pakistan has never seen a starker and more devastating example of the impact of global warming. Nature has unleashed her fury on Pakistan without looking at our carbon footprint, which is next to nothing. Our actions did not contribute to this.”
United National secretary-general Antonio Guterres agreed.
“Pakistan contributes less than 1% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions,” pointed out Farah Naureen, Mercy Corps’ country director for Pakistan.
“This humanitarian catastrophe is yet another example of how countries that contribute the least to global warming are the ones that suffer the most,” Naureen said.
But animal agriculture did contribute
But no one, so far, seems to be observing that greenhouse gas emissions contributing to glacier-melting global warming, many of those emissions resulting from animal agriculture, are scarcely the whole of how the affluent northern hemisphere has helped to create Pakistani misery.
The 2022 “super flood” in Pakistan, like the previous but smaller “super flood” of 2010, may be the result of a global ecological shift, but the country is also suffering from misguided domestic food production policies, apparently based on bad advice and bad examples from donor nations and international charities.
There are relatively few vegetarians in Pakistan, compared with India, where about a third of the population are lacto-vegetarian, but among the populations of major nations, only Indians eat less meat per capita than Pakistanis.
According to United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization data, Pakistanis currently consume about two and a half times more meat per capita per year than Indians, but only about a fourth as much as Chinese, an eighth as much as Afghanis, and a tenth as much as Americans.
Too dry to sustain grazing
Thus nature dictates. Barely a fourth of Pakistan, most of which consists of steep, rocky hillsides, retains enough water from the annual monsoons to grow crops.
Sixty percent of Pakistan is too dry to sustain more than light grazing, again according to United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization data.
Yet Oxfam since 1973, Heifer International since 1994, and a variety of other international aid projects have year after year, decade after decade, sought to increase Pakistani consumption of animals and animal products, as has the Pakistani government.
Superficially, their efforts might appear to have succeeded.
As the human population of Pakistan rose 17% in the 10 years from 1998 to 2008, the donkey population increased 19%, sheep production rose 14%, goat production rose 29%, buffalo production rose 40%, cattle production rose 51%, and poultry production rose 88%.
But the ecological effects of expanding livestock production in Pakistan were long ago clear. Agricultural scientist Dost Muhammed reported to U.N. Food & Agricultural Organization in 2002 that “Heavy grazing over vast areas of rangeland has gradually put intolerable pressure on land, vegetation, and its inhabitants.
“More palatable grasses, legumes, herbs, shrubs, and trees that once covered the rangeland have been destroyed, or thinned out.”
Thus Dost Muhammed described the destruction of vegetation that in a healthy environment holds and stores rainwater, prevents soil erosion, and with appropriate infrastructure can help to turn “super floods” into irrigation.
20 more years of intensified abuse
The 2020 monsoon flooding came after another 20 years of environmental degradation resulting largely from intensified animal agriculture.
Between the 2010 and 2020 monsoon “super floods,” the Pakistani human population increased 22%, despite a growth rate slowing from more than 2% per year to less than 1.8%..
The Pakistani donkey population, meanwhile, is up another 19%; sheep production up 13%; goat production up 31%; buffalo production up 40%; camel production up 14%; cattle production up 51%; and chicken production up a whopping 450%.
Pakistan long since became a world leader in numbers of buffalo, cattle, and poultry raised for slaughter. But that has not helped much of the human population to get enough to eat.
Food insecurity worse than ever
Indeed, between the loss of the 2022 rice crop and disruption of wheat supplies normally purchased from Ukraine and Russian, Pakistani food insecurity may now be worse than it was 50 years ago.
The human population was then a quarter of the present size, and the farmed animal population was much smaller than that.
Pakistan will need a lot of help to recover from the 2022 super-flooding. But that help should not include rebuilding animal agriculture.
Terraced crop production best captures and makes use of the monsoons, as the first settlers of the Indus valley learned thousands of years ago; is the mode of food production contributing least to deforestation and soil erosion; and appears to be the most effective means of buffering food needs against the certainty that global warming will continue for at least another several decades, no matter what the rest of the world does to deal with it.