"Pakistan is a test case for the climate induced devastation the world faces"
The recent floods in Pakistan, linked to our changing climate, left one third of the country under water, affecting 33 million people. The devastation caused by the floods should be a wake-up call for the world, as no country is immune to increasingly frequent extreme weather events. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the international community to “stop sleepwalking towards the destruction of our planet by climate change”, as he asked for solidarity for the affected population in Pakistan.
A lot can be done to anticipate extreme weather events and prevent them from turning into a catastrophe; clearly climate resilience and adaptation are more important than ever. Smart Water Magazine spoke with Dr Pervaiz Amir, member of the Steering Committee Member of the Global Water Partnership (GWP) in Pakistan, to learn about the situation in the country and what lessons should the world take away from it.
Pakistan serves as a test case for the world to witness the widespread devastation that can befall nations from climate change
With almost 30 years of experience in water, climate change, agriculture, policy analysis, and rural development, Dr Pervaiz Amir provides policy advice to GWP on South Asian Water issues. As a member of Pakistan’s Prime Minister's Task Force on Climate Change and a member of the Technical Advisory Panel of the Ministry of Environment, he provides senior level policy advice on issues pertaining to agriculture, water and climate change. Dr Amir has consulted widely with World Bank, ADB, FAO-UN, CGIAR, IFAD, EU, USAID, AKDN, World Commission on Dams and many others. Author of over 300 publications, he is a regular guest on TV programmes and provides expert opinion for the BBC, Voice of America, Washington Post, New York Times, The Guardian, Bloomberg, Reuters, and several others.
Attribution analysis has linked the recent floods in Pakistan to climate change. To what extent do you think the catastrophic consequences will help focus international attention on climate action and specifically on adaptation?
Pakistan serves as a test case for the world to witness the widespread devastation that can befall nations from climate change. The world has responded with humanitarian assistance and sympathized with Pakistan. While this is the second repeat event since the 2010 floods that cost US$10 billion in losses, the 2022 super flood is overwhelming in its coverage and devastation with estimated losses exceeding US$33 billion. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during his visit to Pakistan in September 2022 summed it up: “Humanity has been waging war on nature and nature strikes back” and further cautioned “The West is ignoring Pakistan’s super floods. Heed this warning: tomorrow it will be you”.
Pakistan is building its case for climate justice. With already a debt-ridden economy the international community can help it recover from these massive floods that are likely to lead to negative growth of -2% in its GDP. The appeals and piecemeal responses are coming. Given the overwhelming nature of the disaster, the international community could devise a strategy on how to deal with similar situations as they arise, with a well-established set of protocols. Unfortunately, Pakistan is a test case for the climate induced devastation the world faces. For COP-27, being held in Egypt, this should be an eye opener and provide the world with an example of what’s in store, as climate change opens its jaws to show its might and potential to cause widespread human suffering.
Countries like Pakistan with a very low carbon footprint are bearing the brunt of climate change. Is it feasible to envision international cooperation mechanisms to help with know-how and financial aid to increase adaptative capabilities in those countries most affected by climate change?
It is important to speed up widespread participatory priority setting in designated hotspots
Pakistan is ranked 135th in the global ranking of CO2 emissions, with less than 0.8 % of global emissions. Countries that are such low emitters but bearing the brunt of climate change can be helped through international cooperation, including technology transfer, capacity building and financial assistance to enhance their adaptive capacities. Cooperation that brings low-cost solutions through adaptive and applied research could focus on clean energy, carbon markets, projects on climate resilience in food security, biodiversity, energy, economic management and more, as well as business models that are sensitive to the changing supply-demand scenarios and supply chain shocks created by climate change. Grants and incentive-based financing can help to adapt through technology and environments that help build local industries, institutions such as adaptation centres, and in-house capabilities to meet dynamic climate change challenges and associated risks and uncertainties. It is important to speed up widespread participatory priority setting in designated hotspots.
Such cooperation must feature high on the strategic response and cover all different types of situations created by climate change including glacier melt, droughts, heat waves, temperature rise, forest fires, biodiversity loss and sea level rise.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department issued warnings about the rainfall and flooding hazards. To what extent are the early warnings reaching the most vulnerable population?
The meteorological department warnings are issued 3 days in advance with advisories to all concerned government departments informing them about the likely severity of the weather and areas to be impacted. Communication with the departments is almost instantaneous, with regular updates on mass media and press. However, warnings are slow to reach distant and difficult-to-reach communities. This has been one of the main reasons for the destruction due to flash floods in the Baluchistan province and underprivileged and marginally developed districts of Southern Sindh.
The meteorological department had informed almost 1 month earlier about an above average monsoon season
The meteorological department had informed almost 1 month earlier about an above average monsoon season. The unprecedented record-breaking high temperatures in 2022 helped predict an abnormal rain pattern. The table below shows the large deviation from the normal faced by Sindh and Balochistan in July and August, 2022.
Populations in the riverine belts and even those on high ground were just overtaken by the unprecedented severity of the rains. Communication infrastructure like mobile phone towers is lacking, many were damaged and power outages made communication difficult during the pre- and post-flood response, hampering relief activities.
As building adaptive capabilities becomes more and more urgent, do you think there is a political will to work towards decreasing exposure to hazards, such as ensuring continuous operation of essential services like power grids, healthcare, and drinking water in the aftermath of disasters?
The country is facing a serious economic crisis marred by political uncertainty and polarization. The inflationary trends prevailing pre-floods have been exacerbated during and after the floods, coupled with the severity of IMF loan conditions – all taking a toll on repayment problems.
Drinking water has not received the needed attention and Pakistan lags behind in terms of achieving the requisite SDG 6 targets
While the majority of political parties agree with the need for a sustainable long-term strategy to deal with climate change, especially floods and droughts, discussions on budgetary allocations are fraught when they deal with investments in grid stations, contentious water storages or health care. Drinking water has not received the needed attention and Pakistan lags behind in terms of achieving the requisite SDG 6 targets. The post flood situation has created a health crisis of disturbing proportions. The World Health Organization has warned of an extreme crisis situation, as malaria, dengue and other waterborne diseases intermingle with already ongoing covid-19, and polio eradication initiatives.
As Pakistan comes out of the relief and rehabilitation phase there is a growing realization of the need to target investments in hotspots and undertake projects that mitigate the chances of widespread damages from floods, especially in the Indus River.
The catastrophic floods in Pakistan have led to a humanitarian crisis. What is most urgent right now to help communities recover and build resilience to future risks?
The most urgent need is health care and drinking water. Special attention needs to focus on fighting malaria with mosquito nets, sprays and mass campaigns to reduce population exposure. Water purification kits, mobile health clinics, food, tents, plastic sheets, hygiene kits, water containers and essential household items are required, besides financial assistance to meet urgent emergency expenses. Likewise, livestock disease outbreaks and acute fodder shortages require emergency assistance. The needs vary by region and hotspots.
The impacts of severe hydrometeorological events are not gender neutral. What should be the approach to ensure relief and restoration efforts address women’s vulnerability?
Women will continue to be more vulnerable to flood hazards and will disproportionately face more exposure to climate challenges during the coming months
Women bear the main responsibility of fetching drinking water and its storage at the household level, collecting fuel wood for cooking, which poses major challenges during floods, and caring for the sick, children and the elderly. The challenges for pregnant women are even more serious due to a lack of field level clinics, maternity facilities and post-natal care. It is estimated 650,000 women in flood affected areas need maternity services. In addition to these, the lack of field toilets and open defecation pose problems for personal security. Numerous rape cases have been reported, and overall, the law-and-order situation has degraded, with cases of theft and dacoity on the rise. Women living under open skies are easy targets of such crimes.
Similarly, women are largely excluded from directly receiving humanitarian assistance, which puts them at a disadvantage. Also, a lack of basic lifesaving skills like swimming has resulted in a higher incidence of drowning among women.
Women will continue to be more vulnerable to flood hazards and will disproportionately face more exposure to climate challenges during the coming months, in the post-flood repatriation phase. With 80% of the crops destroyed, very limited income earning opportunities exist for women, placing a major burden on economic survival. Cash for work is one alternative to productively engage women in post flood rehabilitation. Mere transfer payments may not be the way forward.