Pakistan floods do nothing to mitigate climate change – Analysis – Eurasia Review


By Manita Raut and Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt*

The slogan “water is life” took on deeper meaning in 2022 when floods submerged two-thirds of Pakistan, affecting more than 33 million people, displacing tens of millions and killing 1,400. .

While the Indus River has helped Pakistan’s rural prosperity grow over generations, the frequency and intensity of flooding has steadily increased in recent decades. More than 13 floods have occurred in Pakistan since 1992 – and each flood has killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Anger over climate change, a history of poor water resource planning and indiscriminate infrastructure development have turned the Indus into a symbol of danger.

By September 2022, the floods had killed eight million animals and destroyed around two million acres of crops – 90% of the country’s crops and 8 million animals had perished. These numbers should soar. Recovery from the disaster will be difficult as crops and livestock are an essential part of Pakistan’s rural economy and livelihoods.

Since around 40 percent of Pakistan’s workforce is employed in agriculture, inflation is likely to worsen and underemployment to increase. Pakistan’s transport, health and education sectors will suffer in the long run. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 5,000 km of roads and railways are badly damaged. The lack of mobility in the immediate future will strain the delivery of aid and medical supplies to households in the village.

Human-induced and climate-related factors are responsible for flood damage. But the 2022 floods were undeniably linked to climate change. Pakistan has experienced extreme heat, with temperatures hovering well above 45 degrees Celsius for long periods during the summer. Temperatures in Jacobabad, one of the hottest places in the world, have reached a staggering 51 degrees Celsius. Melting glaciers in the high Himalayas have led to excess meltwater in Pakistan’s river systems.

Once the monsoon season arrived, the already swollen rivers could not drain the waters quickly enough into the Arabian Sea. According to an article by Third Pole, the 2022 monsoon has moved away from its usual course and this change is likely to have serious repercussions for Pakistan. Increased water flows from the early and prolonged monsoon added to the melting of glaciers. Pakistan received twice the average annual rainfall, with some provinces, such as Sindh and Balochistan, receiving seven to eight times the average.

The other “man-induced” factor was the rampant and pervasive development of infrastructure. The infrastructure that has been built along and around the rivers has intensified the human losses. By ignoring the natural slope of the land, the infrastructure prevented the steady flow of excess water into the sea. It also instilled a false sense of security in people who occupied land that was previously occupied by the river whenever it overflowed its banks to cope with the excess water.

Two views have emerged as to whether or not infrastructure construction has caused the Indus to behave erratically. One group criticizes the extensive development of infrastructure, such as embankments and roads, without considering natural drainage or the slope of the land. The other argues that the poor always have no choice but to live in vulnerable areas.

In Pakistan, nearby farms have long been supplied with water from the Indus River to expand irrigation systems and support agricultural growth. Over the years, levees along the rivers have been built with government assistance to protect farmland from sporadic flooding. Settlements built along riverbanks and in flood-prone areas have helped stifle the natural drainage through which excess water flows to the sea.

The majority of farms receiving irrigation water from the Indus are owned by wealthier farmers. Wealthy farmers prospered on this irrigation infrastructure, leaving the burden of flooding and devastation to the poor. This raised questions about fairness and justice in Pakistan.

The floods also drew attention to global climate inequalities. Although Pakistan contributes less than 1% of global greenhouse gas and carbon emissions, it has been ranked among the ten countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change by the Global Climate Risk Index.

To address these multi-faceted challenges and tackle the climate crisis, Pakistan will need to implement a diverse set of short- and long-term strategies carefully designed, discussed and implemented in an inclusive manner. Science and policy must link climate change risks and mitigation measures in concrete ways.

Better climate preparedness is needed for South Asia as a whole, not just for Pakistan. The whole region has experienced extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts and heat waves. The tragedy in Pakistan is a wake-up call for the most densely populated region in the world. If immediate steps are not taken to improve preparedness, mitigation and adaptation to climate crises, disasters will get worse. As UN Secretary General António Guterres urges, “Today is Pakistan. Tomorrow it could be your country”.

*About the authors:

  • Manita Raut is a PhD student and John Allwright Fellow at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU.
  • Kuntala Lahiri–Dutt is a professor in the Resources, Environment and Development Program at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU.

Source: This article was published by East Asia Forum

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