A historic flood crisis
THE year 2022 has brought on the worst flood in the history of Pakistan. It has been estimated that a loss of 30 billion dollars has been caused and the magnitude is mounting on a daily basis.
Nearly 1500 lives have been lost and a lot many will be endangered if relief goods are not provided immediately.
It is a race against time. Around 33 million people have been displaced from their homes, their livelihoods have been lost and they are under the open sky.
Pakistan was already struggling with a weak economy, on the verge of collapse and now this flood is going to devastate the financial outlook of the coming year.
As relief pours in from the Government, NGOs and from the international community, this is the time to look at the factors that have caused this devastation, and what are the ways we can deal with this and whether all hope is lost?
Now is not the time to sit idle. The devastation of floods has spread to the whole of Pakistan but is more pronounced in Sindh, Balochistan and the KP.
Researchers are of the opinion that this kind of catastrophic flood is not natural, rather it is the direct impact of climate change.
Considering a 30-year average, the rain this year has been around four times higher. In other words, there has been over 400% more rain than in the last 30 years.
This is particularly true for Sindh. And for the rest of the country, the rainfall has been over 140% more than the past 30 years average.
It is impossible to mitigate and tackle such a challenge without developing a thorough understanding of it.
In 2022, right from the end of March, Pakistan observed massive heat-waves. The temperature reached an alarming rate going over 40 degrees even before the start of May.
This triggered the early melting of glaciers and the breaking of glacier lake barriers. The mountains were inundated and the flow of rivers began at least three months prior.
The addition to this factor was the excessive rain that melted the snow caps bordering the flow of rivers, spilling them into larger tributaries.
And over time, the flooded lakes poured in over 200 percent more water into the channels before their actual time.
This is a direct impact of climate change and the melting of ice caps in the mountainous regions and the spilling of water from the glacier lakes into the central and southern regions.
Pakistan observes around 4 rain and monsoon systems every year. This year, till September, over 8 monsoon systems have already passed and more are on their way.
This has not happened in the last four decades. As a result, where there is less floods, the rain has filled up spillways, dams and catchment areas.
The watersheds are also full of reserves and there is no path for the excess flow but to move above the surface and form flash floods.
The flooding across the country is three times more than the floods that came in 2010. As a result of the rains and the flow of water from the rivers, one third of the country is underwater.
It will take months before the water recedes and if the rain pattern continues, it will take even longer and the damage will break all previous records.
The flooding across Pakistan has killed over 1300 people and a loss of 30 billion dollars that will keep climbing.
In terms of the commercial and loss to GDP, billions worth of crops have been destroyed. Cotton in particular has taken a serious hit.
This will negatively impact the growth of the country in the agriculture, export and textile sector.
The families dependent on cotton yield will be dependent on aid from the Government. Similarly, the grain crops will have a delayed harvesting and sowing complication.
The flood crisis is set to become a food crisis. Thousands of livestock have been lost. Families dependent on cattle and livestock will be utterly vulnerable and destitute.
The industrial output based on food items and textile export will show negative indicators in the current and next financial year.
Aid is coming in from many corners. The international institutions like the World Bank, United Nations and Asian Development Bank have promised considerable support, relief goods and loans.
Countries like Iran, Bangladesh, Turkey, United States of America, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and many others are sending relief goods to the flood affected areas.
NDMA and PDMAs are playing a crucial role in coordinating the clearance and flow of these goods from airports and seaports to the district administrations.
But it is not enough. The amount of relief efforts needs to be tripled to reach the gigantic number of 30 million flood affectees.
The civil society is also active, particularly charity foundations that are gathering food, medicine, household supplies and tents and transporting them to flood affected areas.
The role of Pakistan defence forces is also commendable. The Army officers and officials have donated their one month salary to relief efforts.
There are multiple drives to attract donations and relief goods from all sections of the society but the key here is not the amount of relief goods and donations, but the consistency and continuity of the flow of these goods.
The magnitude of the flood indicates that helping the flood victims is not a race, it is a marathon which can last over a year, or even more.
In the middle of this catastrophe, there is another debate that needs to be considered. As Secretary General Antonia rightly pointed out by saying, “It is a question of justice, Pakistan is paying the price for a phenomenon that was created somewhere else”.
Climate change demands accountability of the wealthy nations who have been creating Greenhouse Gases since the time of the industrial revolution.
In the United Nations, this is called the dilemma of “historical emissions”. Over 50 percent of the carbon emissions from transport, factories and commercial activities that are directly responsible for melting of glaciers, rise in global temperature and increasing sea levels are caused by the United States and China alone.
The remaining are caused by European countries. It is a global disparity that countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh are the worst affected countries by climate change while they have the smallest percentage of contribution to global warming.
In another instance while on his visit, the UN Secretary General said, “Today it is Pakistan, tomorrow it can be your country”.
Pakistan is paying the price for global climate change. It is true that better infrastructure could have been built, more dams and irrigation systems should have been developed but that does not absolve the world of the responsibility to assist Pakistan in coming out of this crisis.
It is possible that Pakistan will once again have to rely on Pakistanis. The Government must activate the resource that only it possesses, that is the youth of Pakistan.
The magnitude of the chaos demands each and every one of us who is able to put in their best.
This is the time for national unity, resolve and commitment. This is the time to look in the mirror and act instead of looking for help from outside the country and as for morality and fairness in the International community, a Russian writer once wrote, “if you’re looking for Justice in this world, you’ve come to the wrong place…”
—The writer is Chairman, Jinnah Rafi Foundation, based in Lahore.