Pakistan floods bring wave of worry for those watching away from home
"[Pakistani] people here in Canada, they need the moral support."
Burnaby resident Ali Najaf has felt helpless watching the floods destroy the homes of his friends back home in Pakistan over the past several weeks.
“A lot of my friends got devastated by these floods,” he told the Beacon.
“They’re safe, but a lot of their stuff … like their fields and for some their homes got washed away.”
The floods are a result of extremely heavy monsoon rains combined with the effects of climate change, as warming has caused Pakistan’s glaciers to melt at an accelerated pace.
Over 33 million people have been impacted by the flooding, destroying nearly one million homes and leaving over 1,600 dead.
Roughly one-third of Pakistan is now underwater.
Najaf is one of many Pakistani-Canadians watching in fear and worry as the chaos and destruction resulting from the floods has erupted from thousands kilometres away.
“I would say it’s a very sad and shocking time right now. I’m still processing a lot, it’s very hard when you’re away from home.”
The floods are one of the latest disasters bringing calls for immediate action against climate change as countries like Pakistan–which contributes less than 1% of the global greenhouse gas emissions– are becoming extremely vulnerable to catastrophic climate events.
“Let’s stop sleepwalking towards the destruction of our planet by climate change,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in late August. “Today, it is Pakistan. Tomorrow, it could be your country.”
Let’s stop sleepwalking towards the destruction of our planet by climate change.
Today, it is Pakistan. Tomorrow, it could be your country.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) August 30, 2022
On Friday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed his anger and anguish at the situation while speaking to the UN General Assembly in New York City.
“No words can describe the shock we are living through or how the face of the country lies transformed,” he said.
“For 40 days and 40 nights, a biblical flood poured down on us, smashing centuries of weather records, challenging everything we knew about disaster and how to manage it. …Nature has unleashed her fury on Pakistan without looking at our carbon footprint, which is next to nothing. Our actions did not contribute to this.”
Zafar Adeel, executive director for the Pacific Water Research Centre at SFU, told the Beacon that the economic and infrastructure recovery process for Pakistan will have a very lengthy timeline.
Prior to the recent flooding, “the economy in Pakistan was in a very severe crunch situation for a number of reasons. And the Pakistani currency was also in a pretty rapid downturn in what we see in terms of the discussions that were already ongoing with the International Monetary Fund and other aid agencies that the government was quite desperate in trying to move towards economic recovery,” he explained.
“And then you get hit over a period of five or six weeks with these really intense floods. And when your economy is tied down, in a large extent to agriculture and its related products, that’s going to have some really long-term impacts on the economy. So the early estimates for about $10 billion of damage, I think the actual long-term impacts might be significantly larger.”
In August, the UN made a call for $160 million USD ($210 million CAD) of aid to be sent to Pakistan for immediate relief. The Canadian government also pledged $25 million in aid and said it would match up to $3 million in donations Canadians made to one of the dozen charities that make up the Humanitarian Aid Coalition. Most recently, the World Bank pledged USD $2 billion for relief efforts.
Adeel said that while aid will “certainly be of help,” the international community must go beyond providing emergency relief, and instead work towards improving infrastructures such as dams and reservoirs in Pakistan.
As well, Adeel hopes to see the Canadian government offer more to help Pakistan on the ground.
“The Canadian government has lots of resources and skills at its disposal that include provisioning of clean water, [and] medical health personnel who have experience working in these emergency situations. So Canada should be doing a lot more in having people on the ground. … It’s not just a money issue, it requires considerable support in more material terms.”
As for Najaf, he’s urging those who know people from Pakistan locally to offer their support.
“[Pakistani] people here in Canada, they need the moral support. [Whether it is] colleagues, peers, … just talk to them. A lot of them have been dealing with a lot of stress, especially back home they can’t do anything. So any kind of moral support, we’d really appreciate it.”