Long-term international climate assistance to Pakistan is a tough sell, but a necessary one. Here why.

It’s been several weeks since the world learned about the devastating floods in Pakistan, and yet it’s still hard to fathom the sheer scale: 33 million people, equal to the entire population of Canada, have been affected. A third of the entire country – more than the size of the UK – is submerged. More than 1,300 dead And the 6 million displaced. More than 240 bridges And the 3100 miles of devastating roads.

No wonder the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of Arrived in Pakistan todayshe has Call Disaster “Monsoon on steroids”. It is even worse than the 2010 Pakistan floods, which Guterres Ban Ki-moon’s predecessor describe it as the worst natural disaster the United Nations has ever responded to.

The world pledges support, and aid is pouring in. However, Pakistan needs much more than short-term flood relief. She needs long-term help to help her become more resilient to the climate, so she can better withstand the Earth’s furious wrath and the future damage it will inevitably inflict. Getting global support for Pakistan’s long-term climate assistance is a tough sell, given the various disasters grabbing the world’s attention against the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic – but it is essential. Pakistan is one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries, and in addition to the human toll that should take priority, this vulnerability also poses a threat to stability.

hard to sell

There is never a good moment for a catastrophic flood, but from an international aid standpoint, the current flood could not come at a worse time. Foreign donors were already struggling to address two other major humanitarian crises – one in Afghanistan after critical international economic aid was cut off after the Taliban seized power, and another in Ukraine after the all-out Russian invasion, not to mention the plethora of other acute or chronic natural and political disasters and conflicts across the globe. around the world. There is, for example, continuous The humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict in Yemen and Famine looms in Somalia. And then there are the supply chain shocks caused by the pandemic and the very high commodity costs raised by the Russian war on Ukraine, which exacerbate global economic pressure and increase the risk of donor fatigue.

There were not many restrictions during the 2010 floods, which at the time were the worst in Pakistan’s history. Within weeks after they started, 60 countries have committed funding. Washington pledged $600 million, and the US military – in the midst of a neighboring surge of troops in Afghanistan – sent helicopters to Pakistan and hundreds From people stranded to safety. This time, the United States only committed $30 million until the addition of An additional $20 million today. The US military has sent an assessment team to Pakistan to see how it can complement US assistance, an interagency delegation From senior US officials, including the director of the US Agency for International Development Samantha Powerin Pakistan .this week To focus on flood relief. Dozens of other countries have pledged support.

Despite the difficulty of selling, the world should not only step up and provide more aid, but also avoid the mistake made by the international community in 2010, which was to restrict most assistance to immediate rescue and recovery efforts. Long-term international assistance to help Pakistan mitigate the effects of climate change is essential. Climate vulnerability in Pakistan is painfully acute, and the less it focuses on mitigation and especially adaptation, the greater the risk of instability.

Through thick and thin, Washington has made clear that its main interest in Pakistan is stability. I have always worried about the potential repercussions – domestically in Pakistan but also regionally and globally – of the volatile combination of class, ethnic and sectarian tensions in the country. a history of violent extremism, terrorism, and state sponsorship of some armed groups; a large number of residents and young people; Unstable policies and often economic pressures; its nuclear weapons program; and its troubled relations with nuclear rival India.

severe weakness

Pakistan is severely, and oftentimes, affected by climatic events. for yearshe suffered Standard temperaturesAnd the DroughtAnd the TornadoesAnd the sea ​​level riseAnd, of course, rain and torrential rain. Glacial melt compounding floods, by 23 percent Between 2001 and 2011 and It continues at a fast rate today. An agriculture-based economy and a growing coastal population compound vulnerability.

The effects of catastrophic floods are compounded by governance failures: Not paying attention to difficult water infrastructure And the Bad drainage systemsand the lack of organization Rapid deforestation (Pakistan has The second highest rate in South Asia) and based on Construction along the river areasAnd the Poor implementation and enforcement of climate laws. These failures are compounded by significant resource constraints hampering a wide range of the state’s capabilities, from rescue efforts to the use of more stable building materials.

On September 2, several months after the start of the monsoon rains that caused the current floods, Faisal Edhi, President of Pakistan’s Edhi Charitable Foundation, estimated 90 percent of the flood-affected districts in Pakistan did not receive “any kind of assistance”. This is a reflection of the sheer scale of the floods, sure, but it also reflects the state’s lack of ability to respond more quickly. Religious charities, aid workers, and ordinary citizens, along with the military, sought to fill the void, as they had done during past disasters. But this is not enough.

Extreme climate vulnerability, failure of environmental management, and resource constraints for mitigation and adaptation measures make for a perfect storm, resulting in recurrent climate-induced shocks with catastrophic damage. Although they did not receive as much global attention as in 2010 and today, Pakistan has also suffered from catastrophic floods in 2011 And the 2020, with millions affected. What is happening now could easily happen again, and with the same terrible effects on the economy, food security, health – and stability.

Climate change is a destabilizing factor

One of the biggest impacts of devastating weather events is displacement. Pakistan and broader South Asia could have about 40 million climate migrants by 2050, According to the World Bank. In Pakistan, the collective movements of vulnerable groups, especially ethnic and religious minorities, can fuel tensions and violence during their migration periods and in their new communities. Rapid and mass rural-urban migrations impose additional burdens on already overcrowded cities to provide basic services. The inability to provide these resources increases the risk of radicalization. So do the broader conditions of deprivation in which many victims of devastating weather events find themselves.Scholarship It appears that class and economic status are not always the best predictors of extremism in Pakistan, but The dangers of extremism across the country, including cities, on the rise). Moreover, climate-induced crop destruction increases food insecurity, which in the past has caused Urban unrest and violent protests. Its current flood Pakistan’s rice crops, a key ingredient, have been damaged and threaten the upcoming wheat planting season In a country already suffering from severe food inflation.

The effects of climate change also serve to encourage and strengthen armed groups, which use charitable branches to conduct relief efforts in the absence of the state. Jamaat al-Dawa, which is part of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group, did just that for years. Tehreek-e-Labaik, a new hard-line religious party Calls for the death penalty for blasphemy suspects and has They staged violent protestsshe has Accommodation Flood relief centers in recent days. In Pakistan, climate-induced disasters help extremists gain more public goodwill.

The US intelligence community is aware of the stability risks at play. In 2021, the National Intelligence Council specified Pakistan as one of 11 countries — neighbors India and Afghanistan were also — “have a significant interest in climate change,” and said that “resilience building” was likely to be “particularly useful in mitigating future risks to US interests.”

Take a long look at climate aid

The need at the moment is immediate relief, and the international community is using newly established humanitarian air bridges to transport food, blankets and essential household items. Health and sanitation emergencies are also major concerns, particularly waterborne diseases and maternal health needs. Washington is well positioned to help on this front. Recently Launched A new health dialogue with Islamabad, which could serve as a critical node for health collaboration.

However, it is important that the international community does not back down once the immediate relief and recovery phase is over and the cameras are turned off.

It could make valuable investments in helping Pakistan develop stronger river dams, more resilient building materials, upgraded water infrastructure, and flood risk management systems. There are some precedents for such support in the broader South Asian region. British government a program Helping develop early warning systems for climate-vulnerable communities in the region, the World Bank and the Red Cross have provided technology and scientific support for natural disaster risk management programs. Another world bank Initiative Provides technical and analytical assistance to operationalize flood forecasting in the Ganges Basin, one of the world’s largest river systems (it flows from the Himalayas south through India and empties into the Bay of Bengal). Initiatives like this are a start, but they must be scaled up, and more focused on Pakistan specifically.

In addition, foreign assistance could support training or other educational programs to enable regional and local governments to better oversee these initiatives and pursue climate adaptation policies more broadly. decentralization reforms You have Transfer more responsibilities and resources From the central government to the provinces, a lot of policies are implemented on the ground. But officials outside Islamabad often lack the experience and resources to pursue such work.

Also, international interventions can promote more livelihood opportunities in the non-agricultural sectors. In Pakistan, agriculture is a major source of employment, but it is also the sector most affected by the climate, making its workers particularly vulnerable to displacement. Donors can fund vocational training and skills development programs to make people more competitive for jobs in areas such as telecommunications, electronics, and retail — all urban industries with high growth potential and less vulnerable to the vagaries and destruction of climate change. (thoughtful talk only security article By Jumina Siddiqui provides additional ideas for long-term international climate assistance for Pakistan.)

In recent days, many I really noticed Pakistan contributes less than 1 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, but must often bear the brunt of the developed world’s decades of pollution policies. Nobody can reverse climate change. But the onus is on the international community to do its part to help Pakistan – and other highly vulnerable countries – mitigate the devastating effects of climate change.

Photo: Locals lay sandbags to prepare a wall to protect residents from flood waters in Mihar district after heavy monsoon rains in Dadu district of Sindh province on September 7, 2022. Above the temporary dam there is a large amount of water up to Mihar district. The eye can see, with submerged buildings in the background on the left. Record monsoon rains have caused devastating floods across Pakistan since June, killing more than 1,200 people and leaving nearly a third of the country under water, affecting 33 million lives. (Photo by Aamer Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images)

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