Pakistan’s climate emergency | By Haya Fatima Sehgal


Pakistan’s climate emergency

WITH one-third of land underwater, Pakistan is in a state of crisis. After weeks of continuous flooding and heavy downpours, all four provinces are submerged.

All things said, the political circus needed to be sidelined for the country and the world to realize that we are faced with an unmitigated natural disaster.

The monster monsoon has been relentless, creating a cataclysmic chain of events in country.

Climate emergency is now a stark reality for us. The calamity in Pakistan is now being used as a wake-up call for addressing climate emergencies by world experts.

Interestingly, Pakistan contributes less than 1% to greenhouse gas emissions, yet it is in the top 10 countries adversely affected by them.

Pakistan has 7253 glaciers, more than any country outside the Polar Regions. The sudden high temperatures in March initiated the glacier melt that has added to the flooding.

This year, Pakistan has received 188% more rain than normal (NDMA). Almost 5,000 kilometres of roads have been swept away along with communications networks, bridges, millions of homes, businesses and livestock.

Pakistan’s infrastructure has been hit catastrophically. Flood death tolls now tops thousands with over 30 million people affected.

These numbers are expected to rise as those left homeless will now certainly encounter disease, poverty and famine.

Millions are sitting under the open sky unprotected from the ongoing torrential rain and flooding.

Displaced climate refugees have started arriving in droves to the already overpopulated cities, all looking for dry land and shelter.

With an agrarian culture, villages have already declared a loss of crops for the current and upcoming seasons.

The staggering loss to the economy is now being calculated in billions. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has launched a flood relief fund and the government has been utilizing their teams for disaster management.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Foreign Minister of Pakistan, has made immense effort to reach out to the international community whilst providing aid and on-ground assistance.

Talks have been underway with António Guterres, Secretary General, the United Nations who has termed these events as a “monsoon on steroids”.

The UN has launched the ‘Flash Appeal for Flood Response Plan for Pakistan’. This $160 million emergency plan aims to provide food, safe water and medical supplies.

The Minister of Climate Change, Sherry Rehman, has been vocal about the ‘climate chaos’, especially communicating with the international media, and has termed this as “a crisis of unimaginable proportions.

” Those who are posing the debate of climate change vs poor governance, by venturing only the latter for this destruction are inadvertently politicizing a natural disaster that has been expected 20 years in the making.

It is true that it was ‘mitigation’ which was required to alleviate and redirect resources.

Adequate reporting had been done with lessons neither learned nor implemented since the floods of 2010.

The political instability in Pakistan caused by internal bickering, power show rallies and mayhem, also took away the focus from the millions in need.

Our history of political upheaval seldom has time to concentrate on issues such as these.Bad policy making in the past or the lack of planning were certainly part of the equation.

However, climate extremities are a reality, and the crux for this devastation. Something which simply cannot be ignored anymore.

The destruction has been on such a massive scale that it is a combination of unprecedented events that are simply unstoppable.

Pakistan has been blessed by countries such as the US who are providing humanitarian assistance worth millions through multilateral agencies.

France, UK, Canada, Ireland, Turkey, UAE have also pledged and sent support. Food, shelter and medical packages necessary for immediate survival have started arriving.

The contributions by empathetic world powers will be what stabilizes an already crippled nation.

A note of appreciation for the armed forces who have contributed by risking their lives, saving and rehabilitating millions since the advent of the crisis.

Thousands of local NGOs have set up collection camps in the urban centres to gather food, clothes, water and medical supplies donated by Pakistanis for their fellow citizens.

As somebody said, the flood water and torrential rain have no political affiliations, and do not distinguish between people or communities.

Time is of essence as the devastation poses threats to food and national security for the future.

The people of Pakistan will need to unify by ignoring their differences-political or otherwise. It seems the nation has finally woken up to what should have been spoken – and done about, much earlier.

—The writer is contributing columnist, based in Islamabad.


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