Pakistan is not simply being hit by the impact of climate change. It's also enduring our ongoing failure to adapt to known environmental stressors.
This weekend, Pakistan flooding caused skyrocketing death and displacement tolls, where rains 190 percent higher than a 30-year average have yielded catastrophic flooding, and a national emergency in need of immediate international redress. To date, over 1,000 people have been killed, including hundreds of children, since flooding began in mid-June. On Sunday, the National Disaster Management Authority reported 119 deaths in a 24-hour period alone.
Pakistan usually sees three or four rain cycles during monsoon season, but is now currently in its eighth cycle, which is most deeply affecting southern provinces like Balochistan and Sindh, where rain levels are at 400 and 480 percent above seasonal averages, respectively.
Media reports vary with respect to total impact figures: Ahsan Iqbal, Minister of Planning and Development, told Reuters that some 30 million people, around 15 percent of Pakistan’s population, were severely affected by the crisis. This figure includes not just the dead, injured, and displaced, but also those impacted by power outages, distribution system cut-offs, livestock casualties, and being stranded in regions of destroyed infrastructure and homes.
Meanwhile, the UN Agency for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports some 184,000 in relief camps, out of 3 million affected citizens, and Pakistan’s central bank estimates a drop in agricultural output from 6 to 3 or 4 percent: a bad sign for future hunger, on top of the heightened risk of disease dissemination from stagnant and contaminated water. Finance Minister Miftah Ismail gave Bloomberg 10 billion USD estimate in economic damages, still rising.
The last two weeks of flooding have been particularly ruinous, as the compounding effects of extreme storming have not only damaged hundreds of thousands of homes and wiped out roads, dams, and bridges, but also cleared the way for further devastating landslides and flash floods. Officials compare the current humanitarian disaster to the flooding in August 2010, which saw some 1,800 deaths, 20 million affected, and around 2 million homes and 500 health centers destroyed.
But therein lies the deeper problem. Pakistan is not simply being hit by the impact of climate change. It’s also enduring our ongoing failure to adapt. In Pakistan, a highly impoverished population has been building settlements, with all their attendant human waste, in riverbeds and along other drainage channels, clogging natural pathways to larger bodies of water and plains. Worse yet, Pakistan also struggles with a water shortage in its dry season, which has led to increases in dam-building and water-diversion pathways for irrigation. Pakistani-Indian hostilities further exacerbate this water race to build resource-securing infrastructure. All involve added, human disruptions to already heavily stressed local waterways.
The poorest among us have little choice about where and how to settle, so they will always be among the first to incur the worst impacts of climate change on already precarious systems. The question is whether we will learn from our failure to follow up effectively on Pakistan’s last devastating floods, in 2010. Pakistan’s hardest hit need more than immediate crisis aid. Even as the current deluge keeps coming, they need meaningful and comprehensive societal reform.