What to know about the catastrophic floods in Pakistan

PAkistan is struggling with its worst flooding in living memory. A staggering third of the country was under water this week, with more than 30 million people affected in recent weeks, killing at least 1,100 civilians and pushing nearly half a million people into relief camps. UN Secretary General António Guterres called the disaster “monsoon on steroidswhich “requires urgent collective action”.

The immediate cause of the catastrophic floods is record rainfall. “Rainfall so far this year is more than 780 percent above average levels,” said Abid Qaiyum Suleri, director of Pakistan’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute. Melting glaciers – Pakistan has more glaciers than any other country – also contribute to flooding, which is linked to climate change.

It was not until 2010 that Pakistan last experienced such severe flooding, but officials have previously suggested the damage from this year’s calamity was worse. That year, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described them as the worst natural disaster he had ever seen, not just in Pakistan, but anywhere in the world. The 2010 floods affected approximately 20 million people and killed more than 1,500 people.

The UN said on Tuesday it was seeking $160 million in emergency aid for the ongoing floods, noting that nearly a million homes had been damaged and more than 700,000 head of livestock had been lost. The United States announced the same day that it would send $30 million in aid to Pakistan. Humanitarian aid began arriving in the country, but efforts were hampered by extensive damage to infrastructure; more than 2,000 miles of roads and 150 bridges were affected.

People who fled their flood-hit homes stand outside temporary tents set up along a road during heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan’s Sukkur province of Sindh on August 27, 2022.

Asif Hassan—AFP via Getty Images

Nauroz Jamali, a senior lecturer in social sciences at LUAWMS University in Balochistan, has helped the volunteer effort in villages across the South West Province, including Gandakha. “This whole town has been turned into a dam with multiple water sources pouring out but no way out, so it’s killing people step by step; it suffocates us,” he says. Jamali adds that the floods had trapped his uncle, whom he eventually helped evacuate. “We are helping so many people with little manpower and we are in such a confused state. We don’t know what to do.

Building climate resilience

Experts say Pakistan has not done enough to prepare for floods, which are frequent in the country. Countries with similar risk profiles, such as Nepal and Vietnam, have invested in building infrastructure to absorb climate shocks, says Amiera Sawas, director of programs and research at Climate Outreach and an expert on climate and water in Pakistan. “There is nothing in Pakistan [in terms of disaster resilient infrastructure]– so people were literally left to fend for themselves against really extreme weather conditions, which we knew would come at some point.

Pakistan has recently focused on megaprojects such as building dams to manage water, but this has worsened the effects of flooding. Water pockets caused by dams overflow during extreme rains.

Balochistan, the most affected and economically underdeveloped province, was not a priority for the Pakistani government during the floods, says Jamali. “The government is not serious. They don’t understand this idea of ​​climate change.

Meanwhile, floods have hit Pakistan amid a political and economic crisis. Earlier this year, former Prime Minister Khan was replaced by Shehbaz Sharif after being removed from office by a parliamentary vote of no confidence in April. Khan has since stepped up his criticism of the government and police charged him earlier this month under anti-terrorism legislation after he lambasted them for the arrest and alleged torture of a close colleague.

Read more: Why Pakistan’s plan to silence Imran Khan could backfire

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Monday approved a $1.1 billion bailout package for Pakistan to help the country avoid an imminent default. Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the South Asia program at the Wilson Center, points out that Pakistan is already facing soaring food prices that will likely rise even more as supplies dwindle and entire crops are wiped out. “Economic crisis, food insecurity, all of this kind of plays together and creates a perfect storm that will really complicate these recovery and reconstruction efforts,” he says.

What to know about the catastrophic floods in Pakistan

On August 29, 2022, internally displaced people board a truck to get boxes of food from a relief team in a flood-affected area in Pakistan’s Dera Ghazi Khan district, in the province of Punjab.

Shahid Saeed Mirza—AFP via Getty Images

And the recovery will be hampered by a monsoon period that is not yet over. “It’s going to be difficult to focus on recovery if it rains more,” added Kugelman.

For his part, Sawas of Climate Outreach says climate change is Pakistan’s biggest security risk and deserves the investment that recognizes it as such. “The idea of ​​security is a very old militarized notion of Pakistan against India. But if we look at the situation now, millions of people are in distress. It’s a huge human security issue,” she said. “There needs to be a real step back and reflection on what is important and how budgets should be prioritized and I really fear they will forget again.”

“The responsibility lies with the international community”

But the floods have also drawn attention to global inequality in who bears the brunt of the climate crisis; Pakistan was only responsible for 0.4% of historical global CO2 emissions. “It is incumbent on the international community – especially the Western industrialized world and countries like China – to do more to help Pakistan, but Pakistan could arguably have done a better job of keeping its backyard in better condition. in terms of climate change protection and emission reductions,” says Kugelman.

Maira Hayat, assistant professor of environmental and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame, told the BBC that Pakistanis can rightly focus on state accountability, but citizens of the North had to reflect on how their countries had contributed to the climate crisis. “[Pakistanis] know how to hold the state accountable. But there are certain other questions that citizens of the North need to ask their states,” Hayat said. “So, for example, what is the Global North’s responsibility for the kind of devastation we see in Pakistan today?”

Part of this soul-searching for rich countries involves a serious conversation about who should pay for “loss and damage” in poor countries, Hayat and others said. Many climate activists and politicians are pushing for the countries responsible for the most CO2 emissions to be made to foot a bigger chunk of the bill. During the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, signatories recognized the problem but have since refrained from an enforcement mechanism to put the program in place; the United States and the EU have actively resisted these efforts. Sawas hopes the floods in Pakistan will draw attention to the issue of “loss and damage” ahead of the UN COP 27 meeting in November.

In the meantime, even with donations pouring in, it can still be difficult to secure supplies, as Jamali’s volunteer efforts show. “We now have donations but we don’t have a market to buy things or we don’t have a way to bring things here; in the morning we brought a tractor to bring rations, but we are still waiting because the road is blocked,” he says. “I just feel helpless.”

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Write to Sanya Mansoor at [email protected]


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