‘Epic’ Pakistan Floods Show Need for Climate Action

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A displaced family wades through a flooded area in Jaffarabad, in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province, August 24, 2022.
© 2022 AP Photo/Zahid Hussain

Cataclysmic flooding in Pakistan, triggered by unprecedented monsoon rainfall and glacial melting, has killed over 1,000 people and destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes and millions of acres of crops, affecting more than 30 million Pakistanis and causing billions of dollars in damage.

Rainfall nationwide has been nearly three times higher than average and in worst-hit areas such as Sindh province, more than five times higher. Pakistan’s minister for environment, Sherry Rehman, stated that relentless torrential rain has added to accelerated glacier melt in Pakistan’s mountains, causing a “climate-induced humanitarian disaster of epic proportions.”

Pakistan is among the countries most vulnerable to climate change. It faces rates of warming considerably above the global average and likely more frequent and intense extreme climate events. These events are particularly threatening for marginalized and at-risk populations, including older people, people with disabilities, people in poverty, and rural populations.

Pakistan’s government has a human rights obligation to prevent foreseeable harms from climate change and extreme weather events. They should provide assistance to those communities already affected by the floods and take preventive measures to protect the most at-risk groups from foreseeable events.

All governments also have a human rights obligation to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to avert even more catastrophic effects of climate change. Those countries most historically responsible for climate change, including top emitters in Europe and North America, should also support vulnerable countries’ adaptation efforts.

Pakistan’s devastating floods come amid a deepening economic crisis. Forty percent of its 230 million people faced food insecurity in 2020, yet only 8.9 million families received assistance to mitigate the impacts of rampant inflation. Poverty is concentrated in rural areas, particularly hard-hit by the floods.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) board met on August 29 and, according to Pakistani officials, decided to revive a stalled loan program approved in July 2019 and disburse nearly US$1.17 billion to reduce some burdens of the economic crisis on Pakistan’s population.

The IMF had earlier conditioned the loan program on austerity measures, including removing electricity and fuel subsidies and imposing a fuel tax, that added to inflation and further burdened many people’s ability to realize their economic rights.

Considering the devastation caused by the recent flooding, the government should use the influx of funds to expand support for affected people and the IMF should ensure it has the time and flexibility to achieve a sustainable, inclusive, and rights-based recovery.

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