Pakistan is in the clutches of climate injustice

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

One-third of the country is under water, following an intense heatwave and a long monsoon that has dumped a record amount of rain. Gushing floods flowed with the bullet speed swept through houses, community infrastructures, suspension of train services, damaged road infrastructure, inundated public amenities, snatched the livelihood of millions and have caused social risks for the rural and urban settlements. The world is challenged with the next apocalyptic event. We evangelicals must respond.

The water brings devastation, disaster and death

The numbers are depressing. According to the latest information release, 34 out of 35 districts of Baluchistan are declared disaster-hit, affecting 10 million. In the province of Sindh, 23 out of 33 districts have been declared disaster-hit, with 114 million affected. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reports 33 out of 34 districts being declared disaster-hit affecting half a million people. And in Punjab 16 out of 36 districts were declared disaster-hit, affecting more than 5 million people.

The consequences are disastrous: 33 million people are displaced,1,200 have lost their lives, 3 million children are suffering from devastating situations, 7 million livestock are lost or dead, 2 million acres of agricultural land have been impacted, and damage to property is currently estimated to be at US$10bn.

The standing water in rural areas poses a massive threat to public health. Pakistan's economy may slow down beyond the targeted level in the current fiscal year as the government has decided to divert development funds to flood re-habilitation.

While Pakistan produces around 0.43% of the world's carbon emissions, it has taken on losses much higher than its share. It is ranked among the top 10 most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change. There is an imminent fear of serious food shortages and Pakistan has already begun importing vegetables from neighboring countries in the wake of a period of inflation and rising food prices.

The low lying regions of Pakistan, which majorly include Sindh and Baluchistan, are the most affected by the raging monsoon floods. The mountainous regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have also been badly affected. The extent of the damage has been unfathomable and state ministers have expressed their surprise saying rainfall has been of 'biblical proportions'.

A snapshot from UNOCHA tells us that almost 950,000 houses have been destroyed and more than 33 million people are estimated to be displaced. A big challenge appears in real time to Pakistan. Inflation in Pakistan is at an all-time high at 27%. At least 380 children are among the dead and it is estimated that 73,000 women will deliver babies in the coming month. Government personnel say that it may take around five years to rehabilitate people and try and recover the losses from the floods.

According to the UNOCHA, two thousand kilometres of road and 98 bridges were damaged or destroyed across a span of over 5,000km, and 243 bridges damaged or destroyed in the last two and a half months. Most of this increase was incurred in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which reported nearly 1,600 km of damaged and destroyed roads as of 1 September, compared to just 7km a week ago.

Railways have also been affected. Destroyed railway bridges, submerged tracks and landslides have disrupted routes connecting Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab, including stretches between Quetta and Taftan; between Quetta and Habibkot via Sibbi; between Hyderabad and Multan via Rohri; and between Kotri to Dadu via Lakhi Shah.

The Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) indicates that high flood risks remain along the stretch of the Indus River between Taunsa in Punjab and Kotri in Sindh. The United Nations Satellite Center (UNOSAT) indicates that of 793,000 km2 of lands in Pakistan analysed between 1 and 29 August, around 75,000 km2 appear to be affected by floodwaters, including some 48,530 km2 that appear to be croplands.

Initial estimates on the ground suggest that at least 3.6 million acres of crops and orchards across the country have already been affected, including over 35,500 acres in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 304,000 acres in Baluchistan, 438,000 acres in Punjab and 2.85 million acres in Sindh. The livestock sector has also experienced severe losses, with over 733,000 livestock reportedly killed as of 1 September – 68 per cent in Baluchistan and 28 per cent in Punjab.

Preliminary information indicates major damage to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure. Initial estimates are that some 20 per cent of water systems are damaged in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, around 30 per cent in Baluchistan, and up to 50 per cent in the hardest hit areas of Sindh and Punjab.

In Baluchistan's Lasbela district, 19 water systems have reportedly been damaged due to floods. The extent of reported damages across flood-affected areas requires further verification. Access to safe drinking water is a significant concern, and communities are increasingly resorting to open defecation, heightening the risk of water and sanitation-related diseases. Cases of diarrhoea and water-borne diseases, respiratory infection, and skin diseases have already been reported.

Where did the flooding come from?

The floods in 2022 pose an unprecedented crisis, turning the monsoon season into a climate injustice. Scientists says several factors have contributed to the extreme event like prolonged heat waves from 40C to 51C which caused the melting of glaciers, and a depression or system of low air pressure in the Arabian sea which brought heavy rains to Pakistan. According to the Ministry of Climate Change, Pakistan has received 87% more rain this monsoon and the La-Nina condition of monsoon will continue throughout September 2022.

It's a high time that the Pakistani nation should stand up strongly and jointly to voice this climate injustice to save generations.The torrential rainfall this season in Pakistan and its consequences have termed this as the 'monster monsoon' or a 'monsoon on steroids'.

The effects of the monsoon have been nothing but alarming and are expected to continue at exponential levels. To add to the plight there will be very dire recovery, post recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction needs. Satellite images and maps show images of extensive damage and destruction.

The landscape in Pakistan is an important factor that needs to be understood. The floods were caused by heavier than usual monsoon rains and melting glaciers that followed a severe heatwave. This is very strongly related to climate change and mitigation measures which have largely been ineffective. This is the deadliest flood since the 2017 South Asian floods. Pakistan declared a national emergency with a third of the country underwater.

Christians all over the world need to be aware of how much the suffering people of Pakistan need our assistance now. Our brothers and sisters in Christ in Pakistan started their humanitarian response the day the flood hit the country. An impressive example of their engagement is the Evangelical Pak Mission Society (PMS). Immediately after the disaster broke out, PMS launched a humanitarian action programme to address this issue systematically and coherently through the '3Rs' mechanism (Response, Recovery, Rehabilitation) coupled with advocacy strategies to highlight the voices of Pakistan to save people and planet.

PMS Response teams are on the ground to respond and have provided emergency relief to 4,210 households in the districts of Lasbela-Baluchistan, Rajanpur-South Punjab, Larkana-Sindh, Badin-Sindh, and Sanghar-Sindh.

Bringing life back to 20,000 households

Emergency response and rehabilitation is the priority for the above mentioned areas. Community-based, civil society and public institutions will have to combine efforts in a more coordinated way during post-disaster relief and recovery to ensure that there is adequate and fair outreach in all affected areas reaching out to the most vulnerable where facilities have been washed away.

While provision of facilities is the core principle, accountability has to be a guiding value in which organizations and institutions both public and private hold themselves accountable in their fundraising and outreach.

PMS has set the goal to bring life back to at least 20,000 households in the districts they already work in. Their teams are constructing facilities, organizing food and fresh water and restructuring the community for a joint action towards the future. It is obvious that this and other similar evangelical mission ventures will need the assistance of the world Christian and especially evangelical community. Millions of people are suffering, and millions of funds will be needed to restore life for them. Join the Pakistani Christians in their mission to save the country.

Dr Johannes Reimer is Director of the Department of Public Engagement of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). Adeel Rehmat is President of the Pakistan Mission Society in Islamabad, Pakistan.