JACOBABAD, Pakistan – Generations of Mr Rahim Buksh’s ancestors have laboured in the rice paddies and wheat fields surrounding Pakistan’s hottest city, no strangers to intense summers or monsoon rains.
But in 2022, Jacobabad lurched from record heatwaves in May to an unprecedented deluge of rain in August that drowned crops.
The floods forced tens of thousands of people to flee for makeshift camps and relatives’ homes, leaving them doubting the future of farm work despite their deep connection to the land.
“We would move to the cities and take up manual labour work if somebody helped us to get out of here,” said Mr Buksh, whose mud-brick home was flooded, like much of the surrounding farmland.
Even before the destruction, Jacobabad and dozens of nearby villages were crippled by poor infrastructure. Most of the district’s million-plus population are itinerant farm workers, earning a daily wage tending crops for major landowners.
Poverty, debt and the unequal distribution of land have made their livelihoods precarious, but the rise of extreme weather events linked to climate change has deepened the insecurity.
This year’s crops were first scorched by temperatures that reached 51 deg C in May, only to be drenched by monsoon rains that affected a third of the country – a scale never seen in Pakistan.
“We have to live with it all,” said 25-year-old Ms Zamira, who fled with her husband and children to a makeshift camp. “It will be months before we can work again. We’re abandoned.”
The agriculture sector is by far the biggest employer in Pakistan, accounting for more than 40 per cent of the labour force, the majority being women.
Community non-governmental organisation worker Jan Odhano, who has provided emergency relief to victims of both the heatwave and floods, said the “double disasters” left farm workers desperate for a way out.
“They think can get work in the big cities more easily. Men can work in the factories,” he told AFP, adding that a wider range of work opportunities is also available to women.
Many of the flood-displaced in southern Sindh province have sought shelter in urban centres, including tens of thousands recorded at relief camps and many more in the homes of relatives or rental properties.