The recent flood disaster in Pakistan, which the United Nations Chief dubbed “Monsoon on steroids,” has wreaked havoc across the country and affected nearly 33 million people. According to various rankings, Pakistan is among the most sensitive nations to the effects of climate change. It is among the ten most affected countries, as the hottest city in Pakistan, Jacobabad went from a ‘furnace to flood’ in 30 days.
Surprisingly, Pakistan has a minimal impact on climate change — less than 1%. According to a 2021 German Watch report, Pakistan witnessed some 173 instances of extreme weather. It stood 8th in the world among the countries most affected by severe weather events from 2000-2019.
Unfortunately, both in the long-term index and in the index for the relevant year, Pakistan consistently ranks among the most affected nations.
Pakistan, at the moment, has endless challenges and minimal resources, and the capacity to deal with crises. Two things have led the country to this fate where more than one-third of the land is underwater — first, climate change and the non-serious attitude of the global power to address and tackle this issue — secondly, poor management, inability, and corruption inside our own house.
Speaking about climate change, we are witnessing an ever-increasing change in the climate, both in intensity and frequency. Cyclones, heatwaves, water shortages, and floods are becoming recurrent. We must realize that some countries are at greater risk than others because of their geography and demographics. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) world disasters report 2020 has also stated that global efforts to tackle climate change are failing to protect the people in greatest need.
As per the IFRC report, over the last decade, nearly 83 percent of all disasters were caused by extreme weather and climate-related events such as floods, storms, and heat waves. It is undeniably a Code Red for humanity.
Devastating Floods; What Went Wrong?
As per a leading debate, disasters are not natural but a result of our choices. The same cyclone will have an entirely different impact on two distinct regions. The same goes for the floods in Pakistan. We might not have stopped the floods or even limited them, but we sure could have prevented the vast scale of damage. There were no preventive measures or readiness at the end of the government to tackle the disaster.
The government of Pakistan this time was too busy with election campaigns, hence there was a delayed response to the calamity that hit the region in mid—June. Due to extreme polarization and political uncertainties, even the media did not give due coverage to the flood-hit areas. In short, when nearly one-third of the country was flooded, our government realized that it was time to flex some muscles and later took some aerial tours with international journalists.
Pakistan suffered through the same floods in 2010 and 2014, so why was there nothing in hand now to face the calamity? Our politicians, civil servants, and especially the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) have a lot to answer for this disaster. Time and again, these institutions have failed to reduce, avoid or manage disasters — either because they lack coordination, and expertise, or are plagued with corruption and poor governance. Resultantly, a citizen has to suffer both physical and emotional damage. Regrettably, lessons are not learned from past experiences.
What Needs to be Done is the Prime Question Now
First, it’s high time to address climate change as a national security threat and an existential crisis. A study conducted in Pakistan with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2015, categorically recognized climate change as a threat to livelihoods, food, and water accessibility. Competition over resource ownership may result from the rise in migration to metropolitan regions brought on by better facilities and access to resources.
If not today, in the coming years Pakistan will be having a war on resources inside its own territories because these disasters are affecting people already on the verge of starvation.
Climate change is just not about floods and heatwaves; it will generate an unending cycle of unthinkable tragedies and multi-dimensional threats to national security if further delayed. All stakeholders must take responsibility and Pakistan needs to exploit all its strength and voices to tackle this issue on priority.
Secondly, the role and efficacy of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) need to be questioned more than ever. Everyone agrees that Pakistan is paying the price of the mess created by the rich countries, but putting everything in the name of ‘climate change’ will shadow our incompetency and lack of will to tackle our problems. Whether it was the unfortunate droughts in Thar or the tragedy in Murree, NDMA as an institute, failed to prevent the loss of innocent human lives.
Thirdly, this is high time to shun petty water politics, as it divided the country on issues like dams, destroyed the will, and consumed the time that could have been used to make preparations in advance. Policymakers should rise above politics and grudges and come up with a comprehensive plan that can save the country and future generations from such catastrophes.
Fourthly, Pakistan’s external debts should be reduced immediately. The reason is simple; If Pakistan can suffer due to the ‘lack of consciousness’ of other countries and the citizens here keep paying the price for the global hitches, then the world should come forward and help the people out of their misery. As eventually, the debts will make the life of an ordinary man difficult, as the elites here have no worries about survival and safety.
Pakistan should seek help and assistance from technologically advanced countries to deal with disasters. The relief aid should reach the most deserving. Moreover, a trained rescue force is very important, but even more important is to work on preventive measures. There is a need to develop transparency, capacity building, monitoring, and resource management.
This climate change can induce a ‘climate of terror’, as the growing calamities will force people to resort to violence. Most people in the global south are already living in poor countries, plagued with corruption, and bad governance and are now suffering through rising extreme urban poverty and resource depletion. Fewer resources, including food and water, will lead the masses to crimes, and it will bring society to collapse. Lack of resources is often the main reason for the emergence of conflicts.
Global inability to timely address the climate crisis is impacting vulnerable regions, especially the underdeveloped countries in the global south. Somehow, one way or the other, poor countries are paying the price. As per the recent report of the United Kingdom meteorological office, we have a 48% chance of breaching the 1.5°C targets by 2026, which shows the lack of will of the world powers to abide by the Paris Agreement. Countries responsible for the climate crisis and the largest emitter of CO2 in the world should pay a ‘carbon tax’ and assist all those countries suffering from this crisis.
The deadly impact of the climate crisis is unfolding right before our eyes; today, it is Pakistan, but next, it can be any other country. The death and displacement of millions should not become a figure. It is already too late; the developed countries must come forward and fight this war on climate change with a steady resolve.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the South Asia Times.