“Literally one third of the country is underwater” said the Climate Minister of Pakistan. “Millions are homeless, schools and health facilities have been destroyed, livelihoods are shattered, critical infrastructure wiped out, and people’s hopes and dreams have washed away announced UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Yet you probably heard very little about this tragedy that killed at least 1400 people already and will kill many more due to starvation, waterborne diseases, lack of shelter and famine — all caused by this climate change-induced super-flood. As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, the world is “sleepwalking” through Pakistan’s devastating floods that are not only an unfortunate natural disaster, but a direct consequence of climate change. What we need to understand is that if we continue to turn a blind-eye to it, Pakistanis will not be the only ones fighting for survival.
What exactly happened?
This summer, Pakistan had seen its worst monsoon season in recorded history. While heavy rainfall is normal during summer in such a climate, this one was 10 times heavier than usual and the acceleration of the country’s glaciers melting at an unprecedented rate only made it worse. Bear in mind, Pakistan is the location in which you can find the most glaciers after the poles and is sometimes called the “third pole” of the world. So, you can imagine how glaciers melting is not about the polar bears for the people of Pakistan, but a matter of direct survival. The combination of these two climate change consequences (heavier rainfall and glaciers melting) created a “monsoon on steroids”, as the UN Secretary General referred to them.
The aftermath in numbers
- At least 33 million people are directly affected by the floods
- 18 thousand schools are either completely or partially destroyed
- Millions are homeless
- 45% of the country’s crops are wiped out
- 800 thousand livestock are gone
- At least $10 billion in damage
Another crisis on the way: waterborne diseases and healthcare at large
People who fled the flooded areas now don’t have access to clean water. There are already a lot of cases of dysentery being reported, an infection that causes severe diarrhea with blood, fevers, abdominal cramps and life-threatening dehydration. There are also high risks of malaria due to the mosquitos that are attracted to the region now, as well as cholera and skin diseases. This health crisis might even be more damaging to the population than the initial flooding, especially considering that many hospitals cannot be used anymore, affecting not only people who get sick from the lack of clean water, but also the ones who already needed continued care and preventative measures such as polio vaccines.
A true case of why climate justice = social justice
While climate change is a global crisis, it affects first and foremost the countries that contributed to it the least, and the already vulnerable populations the most — women and children.
“An estimated 16 million children have been impacted by these ‘super floods’ and at least 3.4 million girls and boys remain in need of immediate, lifesaving support. Young children are living out in the open with their families, with no drinking water, no food, and no livelihood, exposed to a wide range of new flood-related risks and hazards — including from damaged buildings, drowning in flood waters and snakes. The vital infrastructure that children so rely on has been destroyed and damaged, including thousands of schools, water systems and health facilities” said Abdullah Fadil, UNICEF representative in Pakistan.
Pakistan emits less than 1% of the world’s greenhouse gasses, yet it’s one of the countries that bears the heaviest cost of climate change that wealthy western countries contributed to most. South East Asia is extremely vulnerable to climate change due to the geographic characteristics. A person living in that region is 15 times more likely to die because of climate change even though they contribute way less than other parts of the world as the UN Secretary General stated.
We need to acknowledge that climate change affects regions around the World unequally and that it’s the ones who are the least to blame and most vulnerable that get affected the most. Climate justice goes hand in hand with social justice and it would be very ignorant of us to see this phenomenon solely as an environmental one. Climate change damages the planet, and the consequences take a toll on our economies and societies in return, especially the ones who already struggle. Ignoring this fact will only delay the measures we have to take.
It’s interesting how we receive an immense flow of information and solidarity for some disasters and total silence for others depending on which part of the world it happened and which people got affected — isn’t it?
Even though this event is a huge one on many levels, it wasn’t so popular in the media. While we receive daily notifications on Ukraine, all heard about floods in Belgium and Germany last summer that killed less than 10% of the death rate in Pakistan, or learn that the Finnish PM loves partying, we hear very little about a tragic disaster in Pakistan that left more than a thousand dead and affected 33 million people. This event should in fact be a wake-up call for the rest of the world to take action faster. Instead, the West is ignoring millions that are affected by this disaster that their emissions contributed greatly.
Yes, we can’t change what happened, but we can take actions to prevent these disasters becoming more and more frequent. Maybe we should not need Russia to start a war to rethink about our energy sources, or wait for Venice and Florida to disappear for good to care about sea-levels rising and extreme heats. Isn’t ⅓ of a big country submerging enough to wake us up? Isn’t 33 Million people being deeply affected enough to change the importance and urgency we attach to climate change and those are already affected by it?