Many people imagine Pakistan as a hot country, with a powerful sun beaming down on an expansive, largely rural plain, juxtaposed by large and humid urban cities like Islamabad and Lahore. The reality, geographically and topographically speaking, could not be more different.
Pakistan’s North-West Frontier, far from being a place of warmth and sun, is actually home to hundreds of breathtaking snow-capped mountains and more than 7,000 glaciers. Come winter, temperatures in this region regularly drop below zero Celsius.
While it provides beautiful scenery, this geography means the impacts of climate change are acutely felt in Pakistan. For those unaware, Pakistan is currently in the midst of its latest natural catastrophe: mass flooding.
Record rainfall during the monsoon season triggered this flooding. In an average year, Pakistan may see one or maybe two monsoons at most. Recently, it has experienced around four times more rainfall than the 30-year average.
This adverse weather has impacted all four of Pakistan’s provinces. It has affected 33 million people, and sadly taken the lives of over 1,000 and counting, with many more injured. An unbelievable 700,000 homes have been destroyed because of this extreme monsoon rainfall. At this moment in time, one-third of the country is under water.
Simply put, this flooding is the direct result of climate change and points to a wider issue: governments around the world are not and have not been serious about confronting this problem.
The international community must step up and support Pakistan in such a troubling time. The UK is providing £15m, an increase of its initial pledge of £1.5m, but still hardly enough to support one of our closest cultural, political and economic partners. The UN has appealed for $160m, so this barely scratches the surface of what is required.
If Liz Truss wants to live up to the “Global Britain” title she coined as Foreign Secretary, then we must support Pakistan with reactive aid in the short term, but also a proactive approach to addressing the impacts of climate change in the long term.
We must provide immediate practical assistance. Providing £1.5m is, frankly, not good enough and we should be stepping up and leading on the international stage, working with partners in the third sector and other governments as a matter of urgency to deliver food parcels, tents for victims of flooding, and first aid equipment.
However, looking further ahead, we must support Pakistan’s economic development with new income streams. Currently, the UK is yet to sign a free trade agreement with Pakistan, despite the close relations between the two countries. This should be a priority to provide new markets for both Pakistani and British corporations and to help generate growth.
We should also support Pakistan in its attempts to stave off the impacts of climate change. We need to work alongside international partners, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the third sector and academics, to develop and implement policies, practices and infrastructure that will mitigate the risks of climate change.
Specifically, by uniting these stakeholders, Pakistan can develop climate-resilient infrastructure in the form of dams or reservoirs. Reservoirs could provide access to hydroelectric power, drinking water and irrigation, while dams would add to the flooding defences but would also again generate power – both providing a two-pronged benefit. More simple solutions include planting trees on a mass scale, which will help to mitigate the impacts of flooding.
Without such drastic action, the natural progression is all too clear. As global temperatures rise, countries like Pakistan, and much of the Middle East and Indian subcontinent, will become, bluntly, uninhabitable. Drought-ridden summers will be contrasted with melting ice caps and increased flooding. This will likely precipitate mass migratory patterns to the Global North and stands only to cause further strain down the line, directly impacting countries like Britain and others in Western Europe.
Put simply, what happens in Pakistan, impacts us all. But next time it may not be Pakistan. It could be India or Bangladesh. It may be small island states like the Maldives or Kiribati, or even larger island states like Japan, which is most in danger, according to the 2020 Climate Risk Index. It may even be closer to home, such as Germany, third on the Risk Index that year. Indeed, Britain has faced its fair share of flooding, with homes and lives ruined, some even in my own constituency.
We have to grab this moment and lead the way on the diplomatic stage to support our international partners and ensure we mitigate any and all climate risks. If we don’t act now to support states like Pakistan, the issues coming down the track will not just be a distant, far away issue for a developing country, one we can turn a blind eye to, but a problem on our own doorstep. By then, however, it will all be too late.