ROME, ITALY — Urgent donor support is needed to help farmers in southern Pakistan hit by rain and floods that are worse than last year's devastating flooding, said the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) on Sept. 23.

The organization is seeking $18.9 million to address the most time-critical needs of millions of rural families in Sindh and Balochistan provinces. FAO's call for funds is part of the latest UN appeal for Pakistan, and aims to provide emergency livestock support and critical agriculture packages to over 300,000 needy families.

Heavy monsoon rains that began in mid-August destroyed or damaged 73% of crops and 67% of food stocks in affected districts of Sindh province, and have killed nearly 78,000 head of livestock. Millions of people are destitute and face an uncertain and food-insecure future.

This catastrophe struck before families affected by last year's flooding were able to even start recovering — especially as Sindh did not receive as much assistance as other provinces in 2010. The floods and rain deepen the risk of losing more vital livestock assets and, for some, missing another opportunity to plant wheat and other essential crops.

One of the top priorities now is to prevent further livestock losses. At least 5 million surviving animals are at risk, lacking feed and shelter while facing increased exposure to debilitating diseases and worm infestations.

"Around 80% of people in the affected area depend on agriculture — including livestock — for a living," said Luigi Damiani, FAO senior emergency and rehabilitation coordinator. "These animals often represent a family's entire life savings. It is vital to reach animals with emergency feed rations, fodder seed, vaccination and de-worming supplies."

Restoring agricultural production is fundamental to the recovery of farming-based livelihoods. Where planting is possible, farmers need critical agricultural inputs, such as seeds and fertilizer, in time for the upcoming Rabi winter planting season. Rapid rehabilitation of damaged irrigation and drainage infrastructure is vital — around 80% of wheat planted in Sindh is irrigated. Carrying out these repairs through cash-for-work schemes will create much-needed income opportunities in the affected communities.

The destruction of crops has wiped out farmers' present and future sources of food and income, with spiraling humanitarian consequences unless immediate assistance is provided.

Prior to the 2011 rains, it was estimated that families affected by the 2010 floods would require three to four cropping seasons to recover. For many communities in southern Pakistan, the new disaster compounds losses from last year's floods, which receded too late in many areas of Sindh to allow for winter planting.

"Delayed assistance will lead to heightened food insecurity, increased public health threats, loss of land tenure agreements due to farmers' inability to pay their debts, population displacement and longer-term dependence on food aid," Kevin Gallagher, FAO representative in Pakistan said. However, further livestock deaths and missed planting opportunities can be prevented with timely donor support.

FAO, together with the World Food Programme, leads the Food Security Cluster in Pakistan in collaboration with the National Disaster Management Authority and line ministries. Total funding requirements of the Food Security Cluster amount to $174 million.

Over the past year, FAO has greatly expanded its presence and partnerships in Pakistan, with particular focus on preparedness for future shocks through contingency planning, detailed livelihood assessments and mapping needs.

FAO's response to last year's floods reached over 7 million people with vital farming inputs, livestock support and rehabilitation of on-farm irrigation systems. This was possible thanks to the funding by Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Central Emergency Response Fund, the Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, the European Union, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Italy, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.