THE colossal floods this year are a stark reminder of the suddenness with which Covid-19 hit the world. The virus paralysed mobility and disrupted the economy, triggering fear and uncertainty in the lives of everyone. People with existing health problems faced a higher risk, and those with multiple health problems could not survive the shock. The climate-induced hydro-meteorological disaster that hit the southern part of Pakistan had similar shock value. It exacerbated the existing structural inadequacies in the system and affected the poor and the vulnerable with more intensity. This one-in-a-thousand-years event has submerged a third of the country in water and impacted 33 million people, with numbers rising every day and no end in sight to misery and hardship.
The current estimated damages of $10 billion do not take into account the secondary and intergenerational impact of losses. Some experts think that this number can go up to $16bn. A whole generation will have to bear the brunt of this disaster and millions will be pushed back into poverty. Even before the disastrous floods, the economic losses attributed to climate change were estimated at $3.79bn, but the scale of floods in 2022 has jettisoned numbers out of the window. At the upcoming COP27 in Egypt, loss and damage and climate finance will remain contentious issues, with little hope of agreement between the Global North and South.
With disasters on the rise and competing demands on finance, it will become increasingly difficult to safeguard human security. This calls for a moment of reflection. Non-traditional threats are on the ascendant. They now pose a higher risk and come without warning. Even scientists say that such drastic variations in weather patterns were anticipated to occur 30 years later. Simultaneous events, like wildfires, droughts, famine, flooding, temperature spikes, diminishing river waters and loss of biodiversity and habitat, are signs of a natural system gone haywire.
Since 1980, more than 2.4m people and over $3.7 trillion has been lost globally to disasters caused by natural hazards, with total damages increasing by more than 800 per cent. The pace of increase can be gauged by the fact that within one year, losses from natural catastrophes in 2020 jumped to $210bn globally, from $166bn in 2019. According to the UN country classification, of all the deaths from weather, climate and water hazards from 1970 through 2019, 91pc occurred in developing economies.
It will be increasingly difficult to safeguard human security.
Pakistan is in the eye of the storm. With melting glaciers, intense monsoons, climate hotspots, a 1,000-kilometre-long coastline and food and water scarcity on the horizon, the list of disasters is endless. The task of managing disaster and reducing risks will become more difficult as the country gets caught in a cycle of recurring disasters without respite. It is estimated that the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance globally as a result of climate-induced disasters could go beyond 200m annually by 2030. Under a pessimistic scenario, the price tag for financial assistance could go as high as $20bn per year by 2030. The unexpected acceleration in climate change could displace 140m people within countries by 2050, adding stressors on urban centres and making cities unlivable and unsafe.
As the fifth most vulnerable country to climate shocks, Pakistan’s current population of 225m, with an estimated 40pc living in areas at risk of 4pc to 5pc decline in quality of life by 2030, stands on the edge of a precipice. Climate changes will increase rural poverty and cause significant losses to GDP, setting in motion a series of cascading impacts that will destroy livelihoods and have a crippling effect on the economy and supply chains.
Vulnerability is the result of a constellation of factors that push a country towards the tipping point. Climate calamities, hitting us at a time when we are politically fragmented, socially polarised and economically weak, are compounding the crisis and increasing vulnerability. Keeping an eye on the current crisis and future fragilities, it is important to plot a stabilisation strategy. We live in an interconnected world where independence is only a theoretical construct that defines the geographical boundaries of a country. For transformative resilience, we need critical shifts in perspective to integrate co-dependence, connectivity and communication into planning within and across borders. It is time to take stock of past performance and future preparedness to cope with challenges that include physical risks, economic uncertainties, declining social indicators and climate hazards.
The monster floods of 2022 should serve as a wake-up call for course correction. The existential threat is at our doorstep and we need to take both spatial and temporal time scales into consideration for planning a safe future.
The writer is chief executive of Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change.
Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2022