Dr Saira Kazmi
External actors are not a permanent solution to this problem
The year 2022 brought Pakistan to the edge of a political, economic, and humanitarian crisis. The country was struggling for stability, and to exacerbate this, another natural crisis–a flood–emerged and proved to be the worst of its kind in 75 years. The catastrophic floods affected 33 million people out of the country’s 220 million population. The affected number can be imagined by comparing it with the total population of Canada (38.2 million), Malaysia (32.7 million), Poland (37 million), Saudi Arabia (35.3 million), etc. Almost one-third of the area is submerged; bringing an estimated financial loss of $30 billion. The flood water is expected to take another six months or so to recede.
Pakistan has faced extreme weather conditions due to climate change that triggered the monsoon to be started in June, with 67 per cent rainfall above the normal level in a single month; breaking the record for being the wettest since 1961. Pakistan faced the hottest months in April and May; causing 100 deaths in southeast Pakistan and northwest India. The higher temperatures caused the glaciers to melt at an increased rate. In this regard, the country has more than 7200 glaciers, and the meltdown of such a large number of glaciers has created flood water to run at a higher speed. Other than this, the industrialised countries from the North have globally affected climate by their excessive carbon emissions. Sadly, Pakistan has a contribution of safer 0.4 per cent in carbon emissions despite comprising 2.6 per cent of the world population. According to experts, the continued carbon emission exceeding 92 per cent from Global North will keep affecting the climate of the Global South, needed to be tackled on an urgent basis.
However, the political instability in early April by ousting the government of Imran Khan detracted the attention from an upcoming crisis, and the media glare reached a little late as it was involved in political developments. The infrastructure destruction has severely made a few places inaccessible and constrained civilians and government agencies. According to the authorities, 6.4 million people require urgent humanitarian aid. For long-term prevention and rehabilitation, there is a need for an aggressive plan, which should be followed from one government to another. The question here is, how to keep a cheque on continuity of plans if the government changes? Normally, it is seen, previous plans are abandoned by any new government, which introduces an alternative plan. Such a waste of money and this is being wasted again and again. Strict follow-up and monetary cheques are suggested in this regard. For taking preventive measures, forests are needed. Pakistan already has only five per cent of the area forested, which shows a forest deficit. The country is having higher deforestation rates due to rampant fires and uncontrolled logging. If the same pace will continue, the country will be more susceptible to severe floods in the future.
The disaster-hit country has caught international attention, and in this regard, international and national aid and pledges have been placed. The United Kingdom pledged $17.3 million, European Union $1.8 million, the U.S. $50 million, and Germany $13 million. Other countries are also coming up for help. Still, financial aid is not enough to cater to and rehabilitate the affected people. The UN has announced an initial flash appeal of $160 million for Pakistan. In this regard, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also visited Pakistan and stated that he had “never seen climate carnage at this scale.” According to World Health Organization (WHO), respiratory infections, typhoid, skin diseases, diarrhoea, and vector-borne diseases, such as dengue, and malaria have already been reported in affected areas. They have urged an urgent provision of clean drinking water, sanitation, food, hygiene kits, medicines, shelter, clothing, and shoes to provide immediate necessities.
The concern here is that Pakistan will go a long way to resume normal activities in severely-affected areas of Sindh and Balochistan, which were hit the worst. Disaster management plans need to be in place for the future. External actors are not a permanent solution to this problem. There is a need to look into the systems for proper management and internal functioning. However, it is also an awakening call for Global North–to think and help reduce carbon emissions as the developing countries do not have that many resources to spend. Luckily, Pakistan has also received a chance to make its voice reach internationally through the 77th UN General Assembly’s Session. In the case of Pakistan, it has already taken a $1.2 billion loan as a bail-out package to tackle its economic crisis.
It is not a worry only for Pakistan, but a worry for developing countries, which are major contributing members to climate change. UN Secretary-General’s concern can be observed when he urged “debt-reduction mechanisms” for Pakistan.
He called on saving lives through the mechanisms and livelihood in Pakistan, which is not drowning in floodwater, but also debt. A lot is being done for the country, but there is much more needed, and mutually can be handled to survive the disaster and tough times. At the moment, the disaster scale is in raw numbers and the real scale would be analyzed after the drainage of flood water. It is a real worry, indeed. Preventive measures with proper planning are needed to handle similar crises well ahead of time to avoid damages on such a scale.