Pakistan is facing the worst consequences of the climate crisis, partly owing to the actions of the developed world, says Pakistani Finance Minister Miftah Ismail, as the country battles the worst floods in its history.

Today, the world’s fifth-most-populous country is fighting for its survival. This summer, erratic monsoon rains battered the country from north to south, leaving nearly three-quarters of a million people without access to safe and adequate housing. Large swathes of agricultural lands have been flooded, destroying crops and threatening the country’s food supply. “A third of the country is underwater,” says Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman, dubbing it a “crisis of unimaginable proportions.” Additionally, damage to infrastructure and internet and phone connectivity is severely hampering rescue and relief operations.

Southwestern Balochistan and southern Sindh provinces were the hardest hit, receiving 464% more rain over the last few weeks than the 30-year average for that period. Videos have shown swollen rivers and gushing floodwaters submerging towns, destroying buildings, and washing away villages, bridges, roads, and other infrastructure. 

Flooding in Pakistan this year, as well as in 2010—the last time extreme floods hit the country—were caused by the same combination of heavily meandering jet streams, tropical oceans being locked in a certain phase and elevated temperatures in the Arabian Sea, along with a natural climate cycle driven by temperature and wind variations in the Pacific. 

The link between climate change and more intense monsoons boils down to basic science– global warming is making air and sea temperatures rise, leading to more evaporation. Warmer air can hold more moisture, making monsoon rainfall more intense. Corroborating this is a 2021 study that stated that global heating is driving the South Asian monsoon more intense and erratic, with each 1 degree Celsius rise in global temperature leading to 5 percent more rain. At the same time, as the world warms, glaciers in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa regions are melting rapidly, creating more than 3,000 lakes, according to the United Nations Development Programme. Around 33 of these are at risk of sudden bursting, which could unleash millions of cubic meters of water and debris, putting 7 million people at risk.

These consequences of the climate crisis have amalgamated to create a monstrous super-flood that has ravaged the country, the damages of which are set to hit $10 billion according to the Pakistani government, and has already killed more than 1,300 people and destroyed 1.2 million homes, official data shows. The floods have had a particularly devastating impact on people living in poverty as many live in inadequate and poor-quality housing along riverbanks that are difficult to reach due to a lack of adequate infrastructure. Moreover, women are particularly adversely affected by the floods. According to the United Nations Population Fund, there are almost 650,000 pregnant women in the flood-affected areas, with almost 73,000 women expected to deliver in the next month. More than 1,000 health facilities are either partially or fully damaged in the Sindh province, while 198 health facilities are damaged in affected districts in Balochistan. 

Furthermore, 90 percent of crops in Sindh have been damaged. Faisal Edhi, who runs Pakistan’s largest social welfare organization, the Edhi Foundation, has warned that those who don’t die from the floods risk death by starvation. To top it all off, the calamity has struck Pakistan at a time when the country faces a severe economic crisis, with dwindling foreign cash reserves and historic inflation.  

A famine is coming; the only question is how soon? Economic losses are estimated to exceed $30 billion, 50 million people have been internally displaced, there is a threat of a malaria epidemic as floodwater lies stagnant, and there is no doubt that a generation will be cast backward as already meager education and health services are violently disrupted. More than 400 children have died and with winter approaching and millions left without shelter, many more will. 

Worst of all, a sense of injustice is deeply felt in the country. Pakistan contributes less than 1% to the global greenhouse gases that warm our planet but its geography makes it highly vulnerable to climate change. The victims of this crisis are living in mud homes with hardly any resources—they have contributed virtually nothing to climate change, yet bear the brunt of it all. 

While the solidarity displayed by some towards Pakistan has been touching, the silence from major international figures and western media at large has been demoralizing, if not unsurprising. The week the floods hit, there were more newspaper column inches devoted to a Finnish prime minister who likes to party than to the fact that a third of Pakistan was submerged. Our countries and our lives are dispensable to the world at large. We have always known this, but we are simmering with rage now. How else are we supposed to feel when almost $1 billion was raised in 2 days after the Notre Dame Cathedral suffered a fire in 2019 but an entire country of drowning poor must beg for humanitarian aid and assistance? This abhorrent global apathy is costing the lives of millions in need. 

So far, the United States, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has pledged $50 million in aid to Pakistan; UN agencies and several countries have already sent nearly 60 planeloads of aid, with more expected to arrive. Estimates suggest Pakistan needs about $30 billion to recover from the floods.

Ultimately, the horrors faced by Pakistan today are a clear warning of the consequences of universal and rapacious climate breakdown that cannot afford to be ignored. UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has lamented that the world is “sleepwalking” through the country’s devastating super-floods, calling for increased global financial support and cautioning that “Today it’s Pakistan, tomorrow it could be your country, wherever you live”. 

Credits – Iman Aamir Ghani

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