Pakistan has suffered from the highest summer rainfall totals in more than three decades. The recent flash flood has left a third of the country submerged in water and caused catastrophic damage affecting at least 33 million people – around 15% of the population – according to Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority. Additionally, Bloomberg estimates that the floods caused $10 billion in damage and destroyed more than a million homes.
While floods are certainly not uncommon during the monsoon season, Pakistan’s rainfall for the month of August has been 780% above average, as reported by Pakistani Senator and Federal Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman. The flooding is so severe that a 100 km inland lake is now visible from satellites in space. This is a direct effect of climate change. “Global warming means that water evaporates much faster at sea. And a warmer atmosphere can hold more humidity. So the monsoons are likely to bring far too much rain,” says Manuela Andreoni in the New York Times.
This natural disaster follows the harmful heat wave of the beginning of the year, with triple digit temperatures, which had already exhausted social services and public aid in Pakistan. It also comes amid major political tension in the country. In April, a motion of no confidence was tabled against Prime Minister Imran Khan, which led to his removal as leader of Pakistan. Now, the former prime minister continues to hold rallies and prepares to launch his supposed comeback, which has ensured high political tension across Pakistan. Shehbaz Sharif is now prime minister, while the nation also suffers from an economic crisis – including the country’s debt, record inflation and food insecurity resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Pakistan is also considering importing vegetables from India after floods caused by rising food prices, according to a statement from Finance Minister Miftah Ismail on Monday. This is an important option, given that hostile relations between India and Pakistan are rooted in a history of wars, power politics and rivalry over territory, water and trade.
While natural disasters cannot necessarily be controlled, response and recovery can. According to a Vox report featuring a conversation with Ayesha Siddiqi, a geographer at the University of Cambridge who has studied Pakistan’s response to the 2010 floods,”structural inequalities, poor policymaking and a focus on large-scale infrastructure projects have left much of Pakistan sadly unprepared for flooding. Siddiqi explains that Pakistan has carried out national projects in an attempt to control rainfall, however, it creates pockets of water that eventually need to be released, causing ecological problems.
Additionally, after the 2010 floods, the Pakistani government realized the importance of providing direct cash transfers to those affected. However, what Pakistan has yet to understand is how to help these same people recover in the long term. Siddiqi shares, “The state has learned to reach out to people, but… how do you rehabilitate people over the next five, 10 years, so they’re not so vulnerable anymore? Now that the floods are more serious, it is clear that the country has not solved this problem. Moreover, with the current political tensions and economic crisis, rapid recovery measures, now and long after, will inevitably be a challenge.
International support is needed for those affected by this climate catastrophe in Pakistan. In a statement, Mercy Corps Pakistan Country Director Farah Naureen highlighted that Pakistan contributes less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions while calling for international support. He says: “This humanitarian catastrophe is yet another example of how the countries that contribute the least to global warming are the ones that suffer the most.” The Global Climate Risk Index 2021 and Climate Watch reported that despite the low carbon footprint, Pakistan is one of the 10 countries most affected by extreme weather events.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has since announced that he will travel to Pakistan, where he will arrive on September 2, accompanied by a sum of $160 million.Illion emergency plan in hopes of reaching “5.2 million of the country’s most vulnerable people”. The UN plan has three key objectives. First, to provide vital services such as health services, food, clean water and shelter. Second, prevent outbreaks of communicable diseases. And third, to ensure that people can access help and protection, such as family tracing. While these are important first steps towards initial relief, it will be essential for Pakistan and supporting organizations to continue their assistance and develop long-term recovery plans. United Nations Refugee Spokespersonon Matthew Saltmarsh shared in Geneva that so far much of the UN response has been to provide emergency relief items, but “much, much more” will be needed.
A potential long-term solution to the crisis would be for other countries to cancel Pakistan’s public external debt, so the money can be used for relief efforts and go directly to those affected. Mainly, countries that have a large carbon footprint and emit a lot of emissions should be inclined to write off these debts, given Pakistan’s small contribution to climate change. The money may be needed to fund projects that will reduce the impact of future floods. Also, it is in the best interest of the international community to keep the region stabilized, it could be seen as a worthwhile investment. However, it would ultimately be very difficult to fully convince these nations to come on board. Internally, Pakistan could funnel less funding to the country’s military and restructure it to reach those in need.
The floods in Pakistan are devastating. Although there is support and action from the UN for immediate relief, Pakistan needs to develop a long-term recovery plan, unlike what happened after the 2010 floods. more to climate change should be adamant about providing support, whether in the form of debt cancellation or other forms of assistance. But now the most important thing is to provide immediate help to those who have been affected.