Noor Israr describes a harrowing situation of UN chief in Pakistan
The devastating floods and the UN chief in Pakistan are a poignant wake-up call to the world on the threats of climate change. The situation in the country is indeed perilous making United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to visit Pakistan seeking the world’s generous support for the country devastated and highlighting the urgency to deal with the climate change crisis. He arrived in Islamabad shortly after midnight at his solidarity trip that is in continuation of the launch of $160 million UN Flash Appeal for helping the people most affected by the floods caused by what he had called monsoon on steroids. Mr. Guterres will also visit areas most affected by flooding, including Balochistan and Sindh, where he will meet first responders and interact with people displaced by the floods. A sense of injustice is keenly felt in the country, referred to also by Mr. Guterres, that though Pakistan contributes less than 1% of the global greenhouse gases that warm but its geography makes it extremely vulnerable to climate change. Particularly flash floods currently experienced.
Pakistan has been urging the rich countries to help Pakistan and other poor countries suffering from climate change because of their massive greenhouse gas emissions that caused global warming. The rich countries have generally been reluctant to pay for the climate loss. Pakistani leaders would in their meetings draw the secretary general’s attention to the huge resources needed for the reconstruction and rehabilitation phase. Sharing an overview of the international relief goods consignments reaching here it is observed that a large number of friends and partners have stepped forward with assistance to buttress the government-led relief efforts. The perilous impact is more than visible as another 2,000 people were rescued from floodwaters on Friday, while ministers warn of food shortages after almost half the country’s crops were washed away.
To the horror of policy makers one-third of Pakistan is underwater right now, which has exceeded every boundary, every norm experienced in the past. Pakistan is located at a place on the globe which bears the brunt of two major weather systems. One can cause high temperatures and drought, like the heat-wave in March, and the other brings monsoon rains. The majority of Pakistan’s population lives along the Indus River which swells and can flood during monsoon rains. The science linking climate change and more intense monsoons is quite simple. Global warming is making air and sea temperatures rise, leading to more evaporation. Warmer air can hold more moisture, making monsoon rainfall more intense. Scientists predict that the average rainfall in the summer monsoon of the subcontinent season will increase due to climate change.
The main problem for Pakistan, however, is that Pakistan has something else making it susceptible to climate change effects – its immense glaciers. The northern region is sometimes referred to as the third pole – it contains more glacial ice than anywhere in the world outside of the polar regions. As the world warms, glacial ice is melting. Glaciers in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa regions are melting rapidly, creating more than 3,000 lakes. Around 33 of these are at risk of sudden bursting, which could unleash millions of cubic meters of water and debris, putting 7 million people at risk. Pakistan’s government and the UN are attempting to reduce the risks of these sudden outburst floods by installing early-warning systems and protective infrastructure. In the past poorer countries with weaker flood defences or lower-quality housing have been less able to cope with extreme rainfall.
Pakistan received nearly 190% more rain than its 30-year average from June to August – reaching a total of 390.7mm. Pakistan’s meteorological service did a reasonable job in warning people in advance about flooding and though the country does have some flood defences but they could be improved. The result is that people with the smallest carbon footprints are suffering the most and the victims are living in mud homes with hardly any resources. The flooding has affected areas that don’t normally see this type of rain, including southern regions Singh and Balochistan that are normally arid or semi-arid. People living in cities and from more privileged backgrounds are least affected by the flooding but people in poorer regions have just lost their homes and have no food or shelter. All of this is happening when the world has warmed by 1.2C – any more warming than that is a death sentence for many people in Pakistan.
The most severe difficulty faced by the Pakistani people is that most of the aid is not reaching the flood affectees. Although a substantial amount of aid has arrived in Pakistan but reportedly that only 10% of the flood victims have received any assistance so far. According to UNICEF, relief and rescue operations are still extremely difficult to carry out given the scale of destruction in many parts of the country. It is frequently pointed out that the government does not have the capacity to help them and a growing number of people are without any help for days. Many remote areas in the Sindh and Balochistan province are still under water and authorities have not rescued the residents there and they have not received medicines, food and tents. It is also reported that women have been affected by floods more than others as many relief camps do not have toilet facilities. Thousands of people are camping on roads and had to walk three to four kilometers to safer areas.
It is reported that government is doing its best but it looks increasingly difficult to help flood victims without the help from non-governmental organisations but the government has barred them from operating in the country on the pretext of security. Authorities say they are doing their best to help the flood victims and the federal government introduced a scheme to deliver cash aid to families affected by floods. The foreign aid is being distributed to people through the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) that delivers aid to provincial disaster management authorities, who then pass it to the district management and other administrative units. It is also pointed out by them that international NGOs have their own local partners who they give their aid to. They have their own mechanism and ways of assessing the damages and victims’ needs though they must get permission from the government to work in a particular area.
Although water is receding in some areas, the ordeal of the flood victims is far from over. There are reports of disease outbreaks in many flood-affected areas, and a shortage of medical facilities. It is estimated that at least five million people are at risk of contracting various diseases. UNICEF fears that over three million children could contract waterborne diseases in the coming days. According to the UN body, at least 18,000 schools have been damaged or destroyed by the floods. It is mentioned that it will not be easy for the Pakistani government to get a large amount of aid due to donor fatigue. It is also mentioned that Pakistan needs to slash non-development expenditure, ration petrol and ban non-essential imports to generate money for domestic consumption. TW