Pakistan in desperate need of international aid as it fails to weather the storm of climate crisis

By South Asia Press Team

Following the COP27 held in Egypt in the month of November, member nations of the Climate Change Conference reached an agreement to create a fund for “loss and damage”, where developed nations will pool money to help their developing counterparts who are struggling with the effects of climate change.

This fund comes at a time where Islamabad is struggling to barely stay afloat following the ruinous floods and torrential rains in the country which lasted from June through August. Brought on by climate change, the environmental disaster has brought Pakistan to its knees, as millions continue to suffer in a country entirely unequipped to manage a calamity of this magnitude, owing largely to its political instability and inadequate economic resources.

While the details of the agreement still remain to be hashed out (including the amount to be sanctioned or the course over which payments will be made), the United Nation Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), in October, 2022, had reached the conclusion that an amount of $816 million would be required to cover the cost of tending to an affected population of 20.6 million in the country.

116 districts across the nation stand impacted, out of which 84 have been declared to be “calamity hit” by the Pakistani government, with Balochistan and Sindh provinces having had to bear the worst of it. Estimates show that collectively, the disaster has left 33 million people affected in the country, with over 1600 killed and nearly 13,000 injured. The flooding and rains in the worst affected areas have washed away nearly all infrastructure, including residential houses as well as public service buildings such as hospitals. Currently, around 7.9 million citizens have been displaced from their homes, having to resort to living in relief camps and temporary housing just to get a makeshift roof over their heads.

The most immediate and pressing concern, apart from the distress of millions having lost their homes, is the rapidly emerging health risks and the resultant impending health emergency from the flood waters. Now that the water has started receding, having taken down 10% of the nation’s health facilities, Pakistan has been left grossly unprepared to deal with the aftermath. International aid and assistance is the need of the hour in the country, and if the global attention to the tragedy begins to wane, Pakistan will be struggling to deal with the long-term effects of the situation for a long time to come, while facing largescale loss of life.

The people having been displaced and living in temporary housing have the predominant requirement of clean water and sanitation facilities, as the stagnant water is giving rise to a host of medical issues within this broken community. A UNICEF officer stationed in Pakistan admitted that lack of access to medical supplies stands to be one of the primary difficulties in the crisis-response effort, post disaster. The medical needs of the affected areas continue to rise— water-borne diseases have taken centre stage for the suffering communities, malaria outbreaks have officially been reported in 32 districts, along with sharp spikes in cases of dengue, acute diarrhoea and skin conditions. The breakdown of roads and transport system in the floods also suggests that the reported numbers are merely a fraction of the full picture.

Over 8 million people remain in need of medical assistance, while WHO and UNOCHA in September 2022, jointly assessed less than 50% of the population to be receiving the health aid that they require. The disaster has not only created a new onslaught of medical emergencies, but also rendered the routinely available medical aid and assistance to the citizens, useless. Immunization campaigns within the country for polio (as Pakistan remainsone of the two countries still battling polio), as well as treatment for severe chronic diseases has been brought to a grinding halt.

What the country requires, to battle this crippling emergency- as more long-term effects come to the forefront- is international solidarity and aid to help battle this humanitarian crisis. While individual bodies of international organizations are attempting to tackle the situation to the best of their ability, the funding gaps for these agencies have seriously limited their efforts (UNICEF reported a gap of 85%, while the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) claimed one of 94%).

One of the most vulnerable populations has emerged to be young children. Riddled with diseases and infections, thousands of children suffer through the added issue of malnutrition, as food shortage has proven to be another acute consequence. With 9.4 million acres of agricultural land submerged in flood water, and over a million livestock dead- the country’s food insecurity levels are rising rapidly. The FAO has reported that over 500,000 people are on the verge of catastrophic food insecurity, while nearly 2 million people require assistance in this sphere.

Medical personnel tending to these compromised communities are at their wits end as they admit to the futility of their limited assistance in the context of the big picture. The previously impoverished areas of Balochistan and Sindh, after being hit by the floods have been driven up the wall. With 1.6 million children likely to suffer from severe malnutrition in the impacted areas, any substantial change is unlikely to come about without sizeable assistance from the global community, as the country seems to be “fighting a war which has no end to it”.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif claimed that the Post Disaster Needs Assessment placed the estimate of damages from this year’s floods at $32 billion, which approximates 10% of the nation’s GDP. The process of reconstructing and rehabilitating the disaster struck regions is a Gargantuan task, especially if undertaken with sustainable growth in mind.

Pakistan’s crisis brought on by climate change is an unfortunate affair, since the country contributes a miniscule 0.8% to the global carbon footprint as compared to its developed counterparts, which account for the majority. The country’s fate of facing disaster hit where it hurts, while the country was already in the midst of an expansive economic crises, with a slowed down GDP, dwindling foreign reserves and increasing inflation. To top it all off, the environmental catastrophe has pushed close to 9 million people into poverty, with an additional 8 million falling 20% below the poverty line.

At this time, when Pakistan struggles to dredge through flood waters, it is important for the world to notice the situation for what it is— a humanitarian crisis above all else. The time calls for the global community to come together to pledge help to one of the most vulnerable countries. It is necessary to have a commitment to protecting people’s social and economic rights by providing the financial and technical support to facilitate the country’s recovery.

Maximum focus needs to be on providing a strengthened WASH (Water, sanitation and health) response, and to collaborate on providing the resources necessary to adequately address the calamity. Bilateral lenders need to consider debt relief for Pakistan, as nothing short of debt cancellation will help, given that the country stands next to no chance of honouring any repayments. The foreign direct investment in the country has fallen by 52%, pushing the country further into the clutches of financial ruin.

The support needed by the country needs to involve grants issued for the purpose of climate adaptation, separate from the aid coming in for the humanitarian cause. The government of the country also remains in need of guidance and support to better manoeuvre the establishment of an effective health and social security system to protect the citizens from the repercussions of this disaster, which must also serve as a protective measure for any unfortunate incidences in the future with regard to climate change.

The current scenario in Pakistan, given the political tumultuousness as well as financial ruin, does not serve as conducive to the well-being of the citizens, which requires to be one of the priorities for the state.

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