Flood Devastation Needs Effective Response

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Frank F Islam

Losses could have been mitigated if there were no illegal construction alongside riverbeds and waterways

The devastation that the catastrophic flooding has wrought upon the nation of Pakistan and its people is virtually incomprehensible. Yet, if Pakistan and the world are to survive this climate change crisis, it must be comprehended and responded to in a coordinated and comprehensive manner. Federal Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal’s initial estimation of the economic losses from the flooding was $10 billion-plus. To date, more than 33 million people have been affected by the flash floods and one-third of the country has been impacted. According to Pakistan’s National Flood Response and Coordination Centre, over 1300 people have been killed of which more than 500 were children. All major crops have been affected as flood waters have submerged millions of hectares of fields. Tens of thousands of farms have been completely destroyed and hundreds of thousands of livestock have been lost. The damage to the nation’s infrastructure has been equally devastating with more than 100 bridges collapsing, thousands of miles of roads disappearing or being damaged, and more than one million homes washing away. Close to 500,000 people are now in displacement camps
These statistics are stunning. The stories behind the statistics are saddening. The mother and father without a child. Families with no place to live. Having only memories to hold on to as the places and things that one loved are gone forever. What brought Pakistan and its people to this staggering and saddening state? And, what should be done about it? Based on the information, that I have reviewed the tragic flooding is primarily attributable to two factors: globally-driven climate change and inadequate prior preparation by Pakistan to deal with climate change problems. Correcting the current conditions demands a coordinated and comprehensive local and international response. Let me address each in turn. Julien Harneis, the UN resident coordinator termed the floods in Pakistan as a ‘climate-change driven catastrophe’ and the biggest challenge in decades. Pakistan Prime Minister Sharif and other government officials in a press conference on August 30 assigned blame to the developed nations for causing the extreme weather to sweep the country and asked them to provide aid to Pakistan to help them combat it.
There is no question that developed nations have been the primary contributors to changing the climate around the globe. There is also no question that Pakistan could have been better prepared for this current onslaught. Even though this year’s August rain, as the Pakistan Meteorological Office reports, was excessively above average, Pakistan experienced serious flooding in 2010 when the record rains hit certain parts of the country such as Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pukhtunkwa. Pakistan could have used those flooding events to initiate actions to correct problems that were evidenced more than a decade ago but it did not.
Losses could have been mitigated if there were no illegal construction alongside riverbeds and waterways. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa River Protection Law of 2002 does not permit any construction within 200 feet of the river. Contrary to that, hundreds of small and large hotels, shops and settlements were built upon the riversides, all of them washed out, as gigantic flood waves hit the areas this year. Experts are also of the view that deforestation in the valleys of Swat, Abbottabad, Mansehra, Galliat and adjoining areas contributed to the further destruction.
Going forward, to ensure that a disaster of this type never happens again, Pakistan will need to put the proper national plan in place and have the appropriate level of international assistance. Given Pakistan’s current political and social strife, it will be difficult to create unity around a national plan but that will be essential for Pakistan to confront its climate change dilemma effectively. A positive sign as a starting point is that the Pakistan government has announced Rs. 70 billion to assist each displaced family with immediate Rs 25,000 cash.
On the international side of the equation, there are many reasons for optimism and one area of great uncertainty. The optimism comes from those organizations that have already stepped forward to provide assistance. The uncertainty comes from whether the developed nations will make any significant contribution to assist Pakistan in fighting its climate change problems. Examples of international contributions include The International Monetary Fund’s approval of a $1.17 billion relief package. The World Bank repurposing $ 300 million to help flood victims and support flood relief. The World Food Programme provided $ 110 million, the Asian Development Bank pledged $20 million, UKAid announced $1.7 million immediately and $ 44.9 million for long-term works; and, the United States Agency for International Development pledged $30 million in humanitarian aid.
The real question remaining is whether the developed nations will sit on the sidelines and get on the playing field to help Pakistan and other developing nations who are the victims of climate change globally. Going into the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) held in Glasgow, Scotland in November 2021, poorer developing nations called upon the richer developed nations to provide financial help to help them adapt to climate change. They came away from that conference with no climate financial assistance. COP 27 will be held in Egypt this November. This request for financial climate aid from richer developed countries should be at the top of the list again for the poorer developing countries. The U.N. Environment program estimates that they need $70 billion per year for adaptation, and projects this number could double by 2030. That estimate was made before Pakistan’s flooding and the shattering climate change conditions experienced around the world in 2022. The estimate would most likely be higher now. What has happened in Pakistan should be a warning that climate change is occurring more rapidly than anyone expected. The future for climate change is now. For Pakistan and its people to have the future they deserve, they need an effective national and international response to its devastating crisis. They need that response now.