Innocent Pakistanis paying for rich nations' sins

A motorcyclist covers themselves with a plastic sheet to protect from rain on a highway, in Islamabad, Pakistan on January 7, 2022. [AP Photo]

The figures arising from the flooding catastrophe in Pakistan are devastating for a country with such high levels of poverty.

According to the local National Drought Management Authority, at least 1,160 deaths had been reported by Tuesday. Over 700,000 livestock were killed, with no figure mentioning wild animals, neither is amount of crops lost in the farms.

At least 33.4 million people’s lives have been disrupted. They include more than 2.3 million elderly people whose vulnerability is higher because of mobility. Some may not access help. In one of the worst hit provinces, up to 160 of the 450 fatalities were children.

At least 10 million houses have either been destroyed or are barely standing, while up to 5,000km of roads are damaged. Power lines have been cut and railways blocked, hampering distribution of aid.

But how bad can things get?

The NDMA has announced that the rains will continue, yet up to a third of the country, size of the UK, is submerged. Winter, a low activity period that does not really mean less consumption, is approaching.

This in an economy that had, like many others, not recovered from the ravages of Covid-19 pandemic and direct effects of the war in Ukraine that pushed cost of living to unprecedented highs.

And the long term effects of this flooding will be more devastating.

The first time a disaster close to this magnitude happened in Pakistan, was 12 years ago. Then it was called catastrophic. Today, everyone, including the UN, is struggling to get an appropriate description for this one. The Pakistanis have called it Biblical. Others say it is epic. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it “monsoon on steroids” of “epochal level”. All are saying the same thing; it is mind-boggling.

But what would be the cause of such a catastrophe?

Various studies have shown Pakistan to have at least “7,253 known glaciers,” as reported by The Washington Post. It said in 2016 that there is more glacial ice in Pakistan than anywhere on Earth outside the Polar Regions. The country already receives up to four monsoon rain seasons.

Scientists have blamed the disaster on “torrential rains and melting of glaciers in the country’s north”. This, clearly, is a climate change effect.

So what is Pakistan’s contribution to global warming? According to World Populations Review data, by 2019, the top 10 countries with on Greenhouse Gas emissions, in tonnes, were China (9,877), US (4,745), India (2,310), Russia (1,640), Japan (1,056), Germany (644), South Korea (586), Iran (583), Canada (571) and Saudi Arabia at 495 tonnes.

Though not entirely clean, Pakistan is nowhere near these giants in terms of GHG emissions, and therefore does not deserve this magnitude of loss and damage, when true culprits, the fossil fuels projects funders and implementers, sit and sip.

The Pakistani government estimates the total damage at $10 billion. The long-term effects will be dire. At least 46 least developed countries, described by the UN as “highly vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks and have low levels of human assets”, have met huge resistance at climate talks in their pursuit for funding of loss and damage.

The aid now trooping to Pakistan is welcome, but we need such ratified, and as grants, not loans.

For now, Pakistan needs help to bring the situation under control, build more protective and other infrastructure, rebuild its economy, reunite families split in this quagmire and restore good health, livelihoods and social fabrics.

The writer is interim communications manager at GreenFaith. [email protected]