Pakistan has been experiencing the worst floods in its history. A staggering one-third of the country was underwater as of this week, with more than 30 million people affected over the last few weeks—killing at least 1,100 civilians and pushing almost half a million people into relief camps. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has referred to the disaster as a “monsoon on steroids” that “requires urgent, collective action.”
Record rainfall is the immediate reason for floods. “So far this year the rain is running at more than 780% above average levels,” said Abid Qaiyum Suleri, a director at Pakistan’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute. Melting glaciers—Pakistan has more glaciers than any other country—is also contributing to the floods, which are linked to climate change.
It was only in 2010 when Pakistan last experienced such extensive floods but officials have already suggested that the damage from this year’s calamity is worse. That year, then-U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had described them as the worst natural disaster he had ever seen—not just in Pakistan but anywhere in the world. More than 1500 people died in the 2010 floods that affected around 20 million people.
Tuesday saw the U.N. announce that they are seeking $160million in emergency assistance for ongoing flooding. This was in response to nearly 1 million houses being damaged and 700,000 animals lost. On Tuesday, the U.S. also announced it was sending $30 million to Pakistan. Although humanitarian aid has begun to arrive, it is being hampered due to extensive infrastructure damage. More than 2,000 miles have been cut off roads and 150 bridges are now closed.
People fleeing flood-hit houses stand in temporary tents along the roadside during heavy rains that hit Pakistan’s Sukkur Of Sindh province on August 27, 2022.
Asif Hassan—AFP via Getty Images
Nauroz Jamali, a social sciences lecturer at LUAWMS University in Balochistan, has been helping with the volunteer effort in the southwestern province’s villages. “This whole town has been converted into a dam with multiple sources of water pouring in but with no exit so it’s killing people feet by feet; it chokes us,” he says. Jamali also said that floods had taken refuge in his uncle who he later helped to 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 resilience to climate change
Experts believe Pakistan is not adequately prepared for flooding, as they are common in Pakistan. Similar risk countries like Vietnam and Nepal have made investments in infrastructure to absorb climate shocks. Amiera Seeas is director of programs, research and research at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). She’s also a climate- and water expert for Pakistan. “There’s just nothing in Pakistan—so people were literally left to fend for themselves against really extreme weather, which we knew was going to come at some point.”
Pakistan recently focused its attention on large-scale projects such as the construction of dams for water management. However, this has been a problem that has worsened flood risk. Extreme rain can lead to dams overflowing with water.
Jamali states that Balochistan was the most affected province and the least developed in Pakistan during the floods. “The government is not serious. They don’t understand this idea of climate change.”
However, Pakistan is currently in an economic and political crisis. Following a parliamentary vote in no confidence, Khan had to be replaced by Shehbaz Sharif earlier this year. Khan is now voicing his disapproval of the government. Police arrested him this month in accordance with anti-terror legislation.
Continue reading: Why Pakistan’s Plan to Silence Imran Khan May Backfire
Monday’s approval by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), of a $1.1billion bailout package to Pakistan, was aimed at preventing an immediate default. Michael Kugelman from the Wilson Center is deputy director of South Asia. “The economic crisis, food insecurity, it all sort of plays together, and makes for a perfect storm that will really complicate these recovery and reconstruction efforts,” he says.
On Aug. 29, 2022, internally displaced persons climb onto a truck in order to receive food boxes from relief workers in flood-hit areas in Pakistan’s Dera Ghazi Khan District of Punjab Province.
Shahid Saeed Mirza—AFP via Getty Images
A monsoon season that has not ended will hinder recovery. “It’s going to be difficult to focus on recovery if you’ve got more rain,” Kugelman adds.
For her part, the SIPRI’s Sawas says that 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 school militarized notion of Pakistan vs. India. But if we look at the situation now—millions are in distress. That is a massive human security issue,” she says. “There needs to be a real step back and reflection going forward on what’s important and how budgets should be prioritized and I’m just really worried they’ll forget again.”
“The onus is on the international community”
But the floods have also called attention to the global inequity in who bears the brunt of the climate crisis; Pakistan has been responsible for only 0.4% of the world’s historic CO2 emissions. “The onus is on the international community—particularly the industrialized world in the West and countries like China—to do more to help Pakistan, but also Pakistan arguably could have done a better job to keep its backyard in better order in terms of climate proofing and emissions reductions,” says Kugelman.
Mairahayat, an assistant professor of environmental and peace studies at Notre Dame told BBC that Pakistanis are right to focus on holding the government responsible, but that people in the Global North need to think about their contributions to the climate crisis. “[Pakistanis]Know how to hold the government accountable. But there are certain other questions that citizens of the Global North need to be asking of their states,” Hayat said. “So for example, what is the responsibility of the Global North in the kind of devastation that we’re seeing in Pakistan today?”
Part of that introspection for rich countries entails a serious conversation about who should pay for “loss and damage” in poorer countries, Hayat and others have said. Politicians and climate activists are pushing to have countries that emit the highest levels of CO2 be responsible for paying a greater share of the cost. The 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change recognized this issue, but they have not yet created an enforcement mechanism. These efforts have been actively blocked by the U.S. and E.U. Sawas hopes that Pakistan’s floods will call attention to the “loss and damage” issue ahead of the U.N.’s COP 27 meeting in November.
In the meantime, even with donations pouring in, it can still be a challenge to secure supplies—as Jamali’s volunteer efforts show. “We now have donations but we don’t have a market to buy things or don’t have a way to bring things here; in the morning we sent for a tractor to bring rations but are still waiting because the road is blocked,” he says. “I just feel helpless.”
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