Floods and other natural hazards affect much more than physical infrastructure. For smallholder farmers, who are often amongst the most food insecure communities in the world, such events can be devastating both in the short and long term.
In Dakhin Sindurna, Bangaldesh, Morjina works as an agriculture day labourer. At home, she also cultivates and sells pumpkins and other vegetables to support her family. However, massive flooding caused by heavy rainfall has devastated her crops and left her without work. Sometimes she asks her relatives for food, or her family goes without meals entirely.
As the waters have not receded, Morjina is now left with no choice but to borrow money from local, high-interest money lenders to start a business selling livestock and basic food items so she can feed her family. Worse still, extreme flooding is recurring in her community every year.
Unfortunately, Morjina’s situation is not uncommon. From flooding in Pakistan to cyclical droughts in Somalia, communities around the world are contending with the impacts extreme climate shocks and stressors have on food security and nutrition. Flood exposure prevents smallholder farmers from recovering their livelihoods which are essential to maintaining food security.
The impact of floods on smallholder farmers
Second to droughts, floods have produced some of the greatest agricultural production losses in low-and-middle income countries – totaling US$21 billion in crop and livestock loss over the past decade. For smallholder farmers who rely chiefly on the land for their income, these losses are deeply felt.
Diminished agricultural production also drives up local food costs. Price shocks force farmers to spend more on food, and less on the recovery of larger assets that could provide more financial security, like livestock or food storage.
Flood events do not impact everyone equally. Women play a central role in agricultural labour, but after a flood event often cannot restore their livelihoods due to their increased domestic responsibilities. Without reliable work, men may leave home to find opportunities elsewhere, leaving women behind to contend with new economic and social realities. Girls may be forced to drop out of school to take care of siblings, or marry early to help improve their economic situation.
Impossible choices caused by hunger
When faced with hunger, studies confirm an increase in negative coping mechanisms amongst affected communities. For example, smallholder farmers may be forced to choose between selling their assets to buy food, or reducing their food intake to protect assets. Both decisions can be costly, either economically or nutritionally, and may exacerbate or push famers into poverty.
Changing food consumption patterns have severe implications on health. Fewer meals and smaller portion sizes lower nutrition and energy levels, affecting educational performance and work productivity. Moreover, communities may also experience micronutrient deficiencies associated with severe or life-threatening health problems like undernutrition and malnutrition. Flooding during a twelve-month period in Afghanistan decreased calorie consumption by approximately 60 kilocalories, with households experiencing deficiencies in iron, vitamin A and vitamin C.
For community members with physical and cognitive disabilities, inequities in economic opportunities, increased vulnerabilities, and social and environmental barriers place these individuals more at risk of food insecurity. Those with disabilities may require more specific psychosocial support to resume daily routines, such as eating and hygiene.
The action we’re taking
The Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance recognises the importance of sustaining established food networks to improve livelihoods and build flood resilience. This year, the Alliance provided cash assistance to 1,941 individuals and flood-resistant seeds to 900 households in agricultural communities in Bangladesh.
Additionally, through joint action planning with the national government, the Alliance helped communities access agricultural inputs like seeds, local agricultural extension services and other local service providers to improve food security. We also influenced the Bangladesh Ministry of Finance to organise vaccinations clinics for livestock to prevent disease.
Data gathered with the Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities (FMRC) tool is also helping communities design flood resilience approaches and solutions with local stakeholders. This information is vital to understand the food security situation, determine food supply, and identify ways to quickly resume provision of local food supplies and safe water in the event of a flood. Communities can also determine the primary sources of income of households, and how those might be affected by floods.
The path forward
Recognising the great potential for sizeable and repeated losses for smallholder farmers due to flood events, it is critical for governments, donors, implementers and local actors to support and invest in research and programmatic efforts to improve food security and livelihoods for flood-prone communities. Some specific considerations include:
- Invest in programs that provide income stability for communities and increase capital assets. Improving resilience will give affected households the improved ability to cope.
- Fund research on flood loss and damage to more accurately assess the specific impacts of flood events.
National and Local Governments
- Secure more social safety programs that reduce flood vulnerabilities and build equity (ie. cash assistance, education support, job training).
- Connect vulnerable communities with agricultural and livelihoods extension programs. Utilise connections with local service providers.
- Conduct market systems analyses to identify alternative employment opportunities, and support building critical capacities for diverse livelihoods.
- Provide psychosocial support to community members after flood events, especially for those with disabilities (ie. social workers, mental health counsellors, peer support groups, education programs).
To find out more about the objectives of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, head here.