Pakistan flood havoc: Will the sinners pay?

Nearly 1,400 people, over 500 of them small children, are dead. More than 33 million people are economically hit or displaced, more than half a million have been rendered homeless. 

Published: 11th September 2022 07:46 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th September 2022 07:46 AM   |  A+A-

People navigate through a flooded road caused by heavy monsoon rains, in Nasirabad, a district of Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province. (Photo | AP)

People navigate through a flooded road caused by heavy monsoon rains, in Nasirabad, a district of Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province. (Photo | AP)

There seems to be no end in sight for the climate breakdown we are experiencing the world over. Haunting images chase us from Sindh and Baluchistan, in Pakistan, of desperate young men dragging coffins through miles of flooded water in search of a dry patch to bury the dead.  

Pakistan’s endless rains and simultaneous glacial meltdowns in the upper reaches of the Himalayas has pushed the Indus and other rivers and lakes over their banks and inundated one-third of the country. Nearly 1,400 people, over 500 of them small children, are dead. More than 33 million people are economically hit or displaced, more than half a million have been rendered homeless. 

While its floods and cloudburst in Pakistan and Sudan, it is drought and heat waves in China and Europe at a scale rarely seen before. Europe’s summer this year has scorched thousands of acres of farmlands and displaced hundreds. Pinhao, Portugal recorded a temperature of 47°C, while the United Kingdom sizzled at an unheard of over-40°C.

sourav roy

Flood distress

While climate scientists are still scrambling to understand the sudden and devastating floods, the extreme heat wave in April and May experienced by the country had sent alarm bells ringing. Temperatures of 40°C for prolonged periods in many swathes of the country had become common and the city of Jacobabad topped with a sweltering 50°C. Very warm air can naturally hold more moisture, and it was a warning that a very wet monsoon was to follow. 

Scientists in Pakistan, who have researching the cause of the flooding, say the intense heat also melted glaciers in the northern mountains, pushing water beyond the banks of the Indus and its tributaries which run the stretch of the country. Several glacial lakes have also melted and burst through the dams of ice, releasing unmanageable volumes of water downstream.

These factors coincided with a larger-than-normal depression – a huge pocket of low pressure – over the Arabian Sea, that brought heavy rain to Pakistan’s coastal provinces at the start of the monsoon cycle in June. Weather experts point out that Sindh and Baluchistan have received as much as 5 times the normal monsoon average. Water, which has nowhere to go, and has formed multiple lakes washing away bridges and over 5,000 kilometers of roads. 

Who will pay for the damage? 

Even after pressing the armed forces for flood relief, the Pakistan government is struggling. United Nation Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appealed for $160 million in emergency funding, while the US is rushing immediate aid worth $30 million. 

However, all this scraping around for international relief is only band aid for a tragedy that is ultimately the responsibility of the developed, western world. It is in this context that the demand by the poorer nations for a ‘loss and damage fund’ became shrill at the last Climate Change convention – COP26 – held in Glasgow last November. 

Look at the facts: According to the Global Climate Risk Index, Pakistan accounts for less than 1% of the world’s planet-warming gases. Horn of Africa nations Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan -- enduring a grueling two-year drought and extreme food insecurity -- are together responsible for only 0.1% of global emissions. 

In contrast, the US has to answer for 25% of all carbon emissions since industrialization began in 1850, the European Union 22%, and China, though today’s biggest single emitter, a distant third with 13% of global emissions. The Global North is responsible for a whopping 92% of global emissions threatening the planet. 

Yet it is the Global South that is bearing the crisis of climate breakdown. Pakistan ranks 8th in climate-related vulnerability behind countries including Myanmar, Haiti, Mozambique and Bangladesh.
Pakistan’s Minister for Planning, Development and Reform, Ahsan Iqbal, summed it up thus: “All the quality of life that people are enjoying in the west, someone is paying the price in the developing world,” he said on August 30.

The principle that ‘sinners must pay’ emerged on the agenda at the November Glasgow session of Climate talks. During the conference, the developed nations stepped up with new pledges, but far, far below the annual $70 billion developing countries are thought to need now, an amount that could rise to $300 billion a year by 2030.

The developed world, despite all its crocodile tears, have so far refused responsibility for the Climate Change problem. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry conceded to journalists that increased resources would be needed to support people on the frontiers of climate change, but said consensus would be needed to first understand how the money could be raised and delivered.

Refreshingly, Scotland and the Wallonia province in Belgium, are the first to forward to pay towards ‘loss and damage’ with a contribution of one million euros a piece. Though a small amount, it is a start and sets a precedent. The die has been cast, and it is now unlikely the poorer nations will allow Climate Change talks to move forward without settling the question of who pays for the damage.  t, and it is now unlikely the poorer nations will allow Climate Change talks to move forward without settling the question of who pays for damage.                    



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