Pakistan cannot afford to spend more on recovering from devastating floods blamed on climate change, Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman said on Tuesday, as she called for faster international help.
The UN revised up its humanitarian appeal for Pakistan five-fold, to $816 million from $160 million, as a surge of water-borne diseases and fear of growing hunger posed new dangers after weeks of unprecedented flooding.
Latest data and estimates show nearly 1,700 people have been killed in the floods and their aftermath caused by heavy monsoon rains and melting glaciers. Thousands more have been displaced and the UN has sounded the alarm on the rise of water-borne diseases in the country, particularly among the flood-hit population.
The government estimates the cost of the damage at $30 billion, and both the government and UN have blamed the catastrophe on climate change.
Editorial: Health catastrophe
Speaking on the occasion, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organisation, told the meeting Pakistan was “on the verge of a public health disaster”.
“The water has stopped rising, but the danger has not, we are on the verge of a public health disaster. Many more lives than were lost in the floods could be lost in the coming weeks if we don’t mobilise greater support for Pakistan,” he said.
The director general promised that the WHO will do everything it can to support the people of Pakistan now, and “in the coming months and years as you recover and rebuild”.
“And even as we respond to the emergency in Pakistan, we must remember that unless we address the existential threat of climate change, we will be responding to emergencies like this and worse more often,” Tedros added.
‘Climate event of the century’
Meanwhile, Rehman told the conference that the world was facing an “accelerated” global warming attack with great force.
“It is becoming clear to all that this is the climate event of the century.”
She said that recent research had shown how millions had been affected at one time. “The scale of the catastrophe is more than existential. We are gathered here to reboot your compassion simply because the numbers are too staggering to serve any country alone,” Rehman stressed.
“Imagine rescuing, feeding, sheltering, resettling, sometimes what feels like three countries — it’s beyond resources for many of us.
“Just to pick up the pieces, we will literally need a new coalition. It can be done to save lives. One-third of all reported deaths and injured are children. We are still in the longest rescue and relief, and life-saving phase crossing 16 nightmarish weeks,” the minister said.
Rehman pointed out that it was a “real race against time” for Pakistan.
“Winter is fast approaching, people are left at the mercy of open skies, shelters have been made available for 598,000 while 7.9m are still scrambling for dry land.”
Subsequently, the minister requested the world to share Pakistan’s burden. “Meeting the needs on the ground, even for the relief phase, is beyond the overstretched capacities of any one country, especially the one that is already paying for climate losses at about 9.1pc of the GDP.
“Our export crops are almost all wiped out, particularly in Sindh. We will even need to now import a huge quantum of food to feed our population,” she said, adding that with the debt payments looming, farmers were demanding compensation for their losses.
“While we brace for a cascade of medium and long-term impacts, all we are saying is that don’t leave us alone to face the frontline of what the UN secretary general said was the outcome of mankind’s war on nature. We have fought enough in another 20-year-long militarised war next door to us and lost 80,000 people,” the minister concluded.
‘Absolutely not enough’
Julien Harneis, the UN resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan, said the $816 million target for the appeal was “absolutely not enough”.
“We are now entering a second wave of death and destruction due to the floods.”
He added that the new funds will go towards food security, health care, clean drinking water, and sanitation.
The ministerial-level participation from the government at today’s event included Rehman, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Economic Affairs Minister Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar.
Among them, Rehman attended the meeting in person in Geneva and the rest will participate virtually from Islamabad.
Prior to the appeal launch, Harneis said while speaking about Pakistan’s floods in Geneva on Monday that “we are now entering a second wave of death and destruction”.
“There will be an increase in child morbidity and it will be pretty terrible unless we act rapidly to support the government in increasing the provision of health, nutrition and water and sanitation services across the affected areas,” he said.