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UN Chief Surveys Damage in Flood-Hit Pakistan, But Could Disaster Have Been Mitigated?

This aerial photograph shows a flooded area on the outskirts of Sukkur, Sindh province, on September 9, 2022InternationalIndiaAfricaAneela RashidUnited Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, during his two-day visit to Pakistan said that the situation in the country is ‘unimaginable’ and that it needs a massive financial support. As harrowing stories emerge from this calamity, there are some analysts who feel that Pakistan’s government ignored the warning signs of the looming threat.Floods across Pakistan have left nearly one-third of the country (roughly size of the UK) underwater, with 33 million people displaced and over 1,300 dead.The World Health Organization (WHO) and Pakistani health officials have warned of outbreaks from water-borne illnesses such as cholera, diarrhea, dengue, malaria and typhoid. Concerns have grown more dire by the fact that some 1,460 health facilities were destroyed in the floods.In light of the devastation, UN Chief Antonio Guterres remarked on Saturday said that the current state of the world was “very unfair” as he called on wealthy nations to play their part to help countries that haven’t contributed to global emissions.During his two-day visit in Pakistan, Guterres flew to flood-affected areas of Sindh and Balochistan, calling on the world to provide “massive” financial support to Pakistan.An official statement by Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs read that Guterres’ visit will help in “raising global awareness” about the tragedy, which the Pakistani government says has been caused by climate change.”I have arrived in Pakistan to express my deep solidarity with the Pakistani people after the devastating floods here. I appeal for massive support from the international community as Pakistan responds to this climate catastrophe,” Guterres tweeted.According to Pakistan’s officials, the devastating floods caused by torrents of monsoon rains have caused more than $10 billion of economic losses. The UN has already issued a flash appeal for $160 million to help flood victims.In a recent interview with a foreign publication, Pakistan’s minister for climate change, Sherry Rehman, highlighted the level of destruction caused by the floods, underscoring that little restitution has been provided by rich countries that have caused climate change extremes.She further said it is becoming very obvious that the bargain made between the Global North and South is not working.”You can’t walk away from the reality that big corporations that have net profits bigger than the GDP of many countries need to take responsibility,” Rehman said.Although Pakistani officials have correctly attributed the natural disaster to climate change caused by big corporations that cause global warming, the country’s vulnerability to climate change is well known.It is not the first time Pakistan has suffered a disaster of such a scale. For decades, the country has suffered record-breaking temperatures, torrential rains, glacial melt, droughts, and floods.Back in 2010, scientists described Pakistan’s floods as “the worst natural disaster to date attributable to climate change.” The flood disaster was massive and unprecedented, killing more than 1,700 persons, affecting over 20% of the land area, more than 20 million people, and causing a financial loss of billions of dollars.That was twelve years ago and it seems those lessons were not learned as prevention methods were not fully implemented.Pakistani officials are ignoring an uncomfortable truth: The deadly effects of floods are made worse by poor governance and corruption.In 2021, a study published by the Population Council included a series of interviews conducted in poor communities in two districts most susceptible to climate change – Umerkot and Thatta. What this research confirmed was that climate change was a known reality in these communities for years. Locals living in Umerkot and Thatta found that changing weather patterns lead to droughts that were followed by floods, two occurrences that were already posing great threats to their health and livelihoods – and a finding made way before the devastating floods of last month.The study, named “Impacts of Climate Change in Vulnerable Communities in Sindh, Pakistan,” was comprised of focus group discussions (FGDs) that saw all respondents from across five communities agree that summers had become much hotter and longer. Rainfall patterns have become less predictable and more intense, with longer dry spells and sudden downpours prompting destruction to crops, trees, and soil.”Winter used to start in October but now it is delayed. There is no autumn or spring now. As soon as winter ends, summer starts. And it goes on for months,” respondent from Kanbhar Badha, Umerkot told the researchers.”We used to be happy when it rained but now rainfall is so catastrophic that we become fearful when it starts. Our children used to play with joy in the rain, but now they get frightened,” another woman from Miroo Dablo, Thatta said.UN Chief Visits Pakistan to Coordinate Global Response to Floods as PM Sharif Faces Backlash9 September 2022, 10:17 GMTThe 35-page study is one of many conducted by scientists across Pakistan that shows how climate change and its drastic effects on the population has been building up for years; and yet it seems that the federal and provincial governments have been deaf to people’s warnings.One might ask, what could Pakistan’s government do to prevent the effects of climate change?According to one expert, Pakistan could just observe and follow the methods of other countries that have faced similar issues.”European countries that face heavy rainfall have been collecting and using rainfall data used in research for rainwater harvesting systems. There is no need for invention, we only need to look at data and solutions from our western counterparts,” A. Khalid, an urban planner from Lahore, told Sputnik.He further said that Pakistan should repeat West’s consumption, channeling and reservoir technologies and use the annual event of the monsoon for harvesting the rainwater.Flood management forms one of the biggest parts of China’s budget, with over 1 trillion yuan ($144 billion) invested in these projects in 2017.”This sum is larger than what was spent on health care or railway construction,” according to analysis by David Fickling for Bloomberg.Hence, allocation of serious budget for flood management is something Pakistan’s government needs to do, considering that the country has the largest irrigation system in the world.Pakistan’s Indus Basin Irrigation System (IBIS), formed by river Indus and its tributaries services Afghanistan, China, India, and Pakistan, and provides water to more than 1.6 million square kilometers of agricultural land in Pakistan.The farmland irrigated by IBIS produce huge amount of food staples to feed the local population and to provide food products for export. It is about 4,000 years old and as Pakistan’s economy is based mostly on agricultural products, it means that it critically depends upon IBIS’s irrigation water.However, the Indus and its tributaries have been neglected by the authorities and has lacked investment for years, indicating it cannot presently effectively manage the risks of natural disaster, such as floods.WorldPakistan’s Climate Minister Says Global Corporations Responsible For Devastating Floods8 September 2022, 14:51 GMTWhatever pillars of defense against floods, those in Pakistan’s arsenal are all British colonial-era projects. One such is the vast Sukkur Barrage, which is a system of dams and canals that divert the waters of the Indus’ to irrigate dry southern Sindh Province. Unfortunately, these dams are in a bad state and need repairs, but years of underinvestment and corruption have left the system in a dire state.Meanwhile, the two giant water dams – Tarbela and Mangla – have become so blocked with silt coming down from the Himalayas that they’re losing their ability to store floodwaters and prevent it from flowing downstream.Tarbela Dam, by the way, is the largest Earth-and-rock fill dam in the world and stands 147 meters above the Indus riverbed. This feat of extreme engineering is now functioning at only 50% capacity due to negligence and lack of proper funding for its maintenance.Many flood victims now – most of them still living in the same areas that were hit by flood back in 2010 – are questioning why more hasn’t been done in the past decade to flood-proof their communities. Had these dams and river banks been maintained and kept in good shape, perhaps the disaster could have been prevented.According to Jumaina Siddiqui, senior programme officer for South Asia at the Institute of Peace: “I think the federal and provincial governments place a lot of blame on climate change and use it as a scapegoat for their own incompetence.”She further said that Pakistan’s irrigation departments and environmental protection agencies are not in touch with locals, noting that the “Balochistan disaster management authority is currently the most useless institution in the country.”Hence, the government must heavily invest in flood risk reduction and building resilient infrastructure, as well as stronger river embankments and implementing updated water infrastructure.Moreover, the received international funds must find their way to improve data modelling, alongside educating and training the next generation of climate scientists and urban planners, who should then become part of related ministries to implement the right decisions on the government level.Currently, the citizens of Pakistan who are known for their generous philanthropy have stepped up to compensate for the state’s limitations in responding to the tragic floods.Numerous civil society organizations such as Edhi Foundation, Shahid Afridi foundation, Akhuwat and many others are coordinating aid and food supplies. Pakistanis oversea are also known to come to aid by donating large sums of money to their home country.However, that is not a permanent solution and government’s task lies in preventing such disasters from happening in the first place, or at least minimizing the effects.A changing climate will only worsen the problems Pakistan is facing currently, more so as the region is also home to the largest glaciers on the planet after the poles. As rising temperatures melt away at glaciers and prompt a spike in water levels and severe flooding, it is vital Pakistan is prepared for what the future holds.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Sputnik.


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