While the United Nations has been dithering in other political storm-centres of the world ~ such as the Arab bloc ~ it has acted quite speedily to seek $160 million in emergency aid for flood-ravaged Pakistan. The emergency funding is expected to help millions affected by what they call “record-breaking floods” that have killed more than 1160 people since the middle of June. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has said that Pakistan’s flooding, caused by weeks of unprecedented monsoon rains, were a signal to the world to step up action against climate change. Rightly has he effected a link between climate change and mortal floods to the west of the Radcliffe Line. “Let’s stop sleepwalking towards the destruction of our planet by climate change,” he said in a video message to an Islamabad ceremony launching the funding appeal. “Today, it’s Pakistan. Tomorrow, it could be your country.”
Guterres will visit Pakistan on 9 September to meet flood victims and express solidarity with them, according to a statement released by his office. It said Guterres will also “witness how we are working, in collaboration with our humanitarian partners, to support the government’s relief efforts and provide assistance to millions of people.” Regretfully, such an effort is yet to make appreciable headway. It is a measure of the enormity of the national tragedy that more than 33 million people, or one in 7 Pakistanis, have been affected by the catastrophic flooding, which has devastated a country already trying to revive a struggling economy.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif said the floods had damaged crops, and his government was considering importing wheat to avoid any shortage of food. Pakistan, he said, was witnessing the worst flooding in its history and any inadvertent delay by the international community in helping victims “will be devastating for the people of Pakistan.” In a word, therefore, the collective conscience of the international community is on test. Meteorologists have warned of more rains in coming weeks. “The situation is likely to deteriorate even further as heavy rains continue over areas already inundated by more than two months of storms and flooding. For us, this is no less than a national emergency,” Pakistan’s foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, said while urging the international community to respond generously to the UN appeal.
Pakistan says it has already received aid from some countries, and more is coming. On Tuesday, the US government said it would provide $30 million in assistance to help victims of the flood through the US Agency for International Development. According to initial government estimates, the flooding has caused $10 billion in damage to the economy. In response to suggestions that relief funds might be mis-spent or worse, the Prime Minister has promised that funds would be spent in a transparent manner and would reach those in need.
“This is my commitment,” he told reporters, saying his country is “facing the toughest moment of its history.” Unfortunately, though, not even relief efforts have escaped political sparring with former Prime Minister Imran Khan making parallel efforts to mobilise donations that his party claims will actually reach the needy.
A version of this story appears in the print edition of the September 4, 2022, issue.