Photo: Islamic Relief Germany

Pakistan pays the bill for climate change

Seasonal rains are the norm in countries reached by the monsoon. What Pakistan experienced a few weeks ago in terms of rainfall after a period of tremendous heat is a consequence of climate change, experts say.

(IZ/IPS/KNA/IRD). Pakistan has been through the worst period in its recent history. This is due to unprecedented colossal monsoon rains and devastating floods. The recent floods would have been expected to occur less than once a century, but climate experts believe that the recent weather events are just a “foretaste” of what we face if no attention is paid to climate change.

Since the end of August, millions of people in Pakistan have been directly and indirectly affected by the record rainfall of the monsoon season. According to experts and observers, the floods were the “worst flood disaster in recent decades.” On 29 August, the English-language daily The Dawn described it in drastic terms: “Let’s not fool ourselves, we are currently experiencing the biggest natural disaster we have ever seen.”

Shortly after the floods became known, international aid organisations estimated that well over 1,000 people had died and countless others were injured. A total of 33 million were expected to be directly affected. A hitherto unknown number of buildings and public facilities were destroyed or damaged. In addition, there was considerable damage to local infrastructure such as roads, bridges and the power supply.

It is also unclear what the medium-term consequences for the country’s food security will be. In view of the distortions on the global grain markets due to the Ukraine war, additional burdens are to be expected. More than 3.6 million hectares of crops and orchards have been destroyed by the floods and more than 800,000 animals killed. Isabel Bogorinsky of the German humanitarian NGO Welthungerhilfe expects food supplies to deteriorate.

Especially in the parts of the country downstream of the rivers, she said, the harvests of staple foods such as wheat and rice have been almost destroyed. In Pakistan, a record 375.4 millilitres of rainfall were recorded. That was nearly three times the 30-year national average of 130.8, according to media reports. Sindh and Balochistan and parts of Punjab were hardest hit by the rains, which swelled rivers.

Aid workers called for massive emergency relief and recovery programmes. A special focus for the aid organisation CARE International is the situation of women and girls. “We know from experience that violence against women increases after disasters. The flood tore families apart, many people have to sleep outside, and the usual social structures and protection mechanisms fall away. This can be very dangerous for women and girls,” explained Adil Sheraz, Country Director of CARE Pakistan. They need “40 to 50 million euros” to be able to provide sufficient aid over the next three years.

Aid workers from Islamic Relief Germany also called for immediate support for the people. More global assistance is urgently needed, they said. “The people here are the main victims of global climate change. Pakistan produces less than one per cent of the world’s carbon footprint, but its people suffer the greatest consequences. These are the worst floods Pakistan has ever seen,” reported their international executive director Waseem Ahmad on a trip to Pakhtunkhwa province. “I saw whole villages washed away and flooded. I saw miles and miles of nothing but water where just a few days ago there were entire communities and houses.”

The organisation initiated a global appeal for donations for emergency relief and aims to support around half a million people affected by the floods with 34.6 million US dollars. In addition to emergency relief, the organisation is focusing on “sustainable reconstruction of infrastructure and livelihoods.” Its new and expanded operational plan for the next year states that people will be protected from further damage and will be able to live in dignity by rebuilding necessary structures and livelihood basics.

How long Pakistan will be dependent on foreign aid in view of future weather events of this kind is still unclear. Aid workers and climate researchers assume a long-term need. Jacob Schewe, a climate researcher from Potsdam, sees direct connections between such extreme weather events and climate change. Without external support, it would not be able to adapt to the changed conditions. Isabel Bogorinsky also stressed the need for international action. Those most affected by climate change are those who contribute the least, she said.

Pakistan and its people are paying the price for something they are not responsible for. Over the last 20 years, the country has consistently ranked among the ten most vulnerable countries on the Climate Risk Index. It is exposed to such aggression and devastation from climate change, despite contributing only 0.8 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions to global warming. Its people are in a fix as they are geographically sandwiched between the titans of China and India, which are the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases. This affects the Himalayan glaciers. Since the whole country lies in the lower reaches of the mountains, severe floods have become common.

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