IGP Stories

Drowning Pakistan

Dr Sumrin Kalia

22 September 2022

Pakistan is drowning. The country has been hit with extreme flooding due to rapidly melting glaciers, which Pakistan is home to, more than other country outside the polar regions. With 95,000 square meters of land submerged under water, and 33 million directly affected, the country is literally, and not only metaphorically ‘in deep waters’. While flood water stands, food and health crisis are expanding the impact of floods to its 220 million population. Inflation was reported at 27% in the month of August and many water and air borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, diarrhoea, are spreading at an unprecedent rate. The law-and-order situation has also worsened with the country’s big cities witnessing a sudden increase in crime. Key infrastructures such as bridges, road networks and dams have been destroyed which will require many resources to rebuild. Pakistan is drowning and the world is watching.

As the world gets back to normal after two years of Covid, we seem to be forgetting that crises such as these are caused by human activity, and they cannot be contained within borders. Instead, there is an apathy towards impending climate induced crisis, not only among the policy makers but also the people. In summers this year, European airports were so crowded that they became choke points for travellers. The war in Ukraine has induced energy issue which is giving way to use of coal plants in Germany. A recent study on global inequality of carbon emissions by World Inequality Lab shows that rich countries of the global north are responsible for half of the total carbon emissions. The United States has emitted more carbon than any other country to date and is responsible for 25 percent of historical emissions. Privileged lifestyles of the people in the Global North, produce 100 times more carbon footprint that than people of the poor countries. Another study has shown, that if these trends continue, they will leave 350 million people in extreme poverty by 2030. Climate change is leading to increasing global inequality.

‘Colonial science’ of climate change:

Despite these realities, the current global climate agenda, is largely set by post-industrialized countries of the Global North, which focuses on mitigation (reducing CO2 emissions) rather than adaptation (addressing the effects). Countries like Pakistan which have less than one percent of contribution to global carbon emissions and yet face disproportionate effects of climate change because of its geography, need support in adaptation, not mitigation. Yet the global climate policies emphasise building climate change resilience among developing nations while efforts to adapt lifestyles and policies in the developed world appear to be missing. The global inequalities are not only evident in economic terms but also in terms of knowledge production. A study by Ayesha Tandon from 2021 shows that climate change academics from the worst-hit regions find it hard to be published, resulting in what the authors term ‘colonial science’ of climate change.

The term ‘colonial science’ is a reminder that the roots of today’s inequalities lie in the history of colonialism. Among the nations of the Global North, there seems to be no memory of the historical fact that the industrialization of the Global North and the creation of the modern European welfare states rests on centuries of colonial extraction and exploitation. In a 2017 study Utsa Patnaik, quantified that the British colonial extraction from the Indian state estimated up to 45 trillion dollars in today’s money. Others argue that 55 million Indians died from famine during the British Raj in India. Colonialism also left an imprint of elite-capture and social polarization which continue to hamper inclusive development in postcolonial nations.

Needs-based approach to climate policy:

As floods push the people into further misery in Pakistan, media, and policy makers in the Global North are attributing this to the failures of local governance and the inability of the country to strategize climate adaptation. What remains forgotten in this greenwashing narrative is that Pakistan is a postcolonial nation, with weak infrastructure, cyclical debts, and low levels of human development such as education, health, and income. Pakistani currency has seen 10% devaluation in just three months and the flood recovery seems to be a long uphill battle. While it is tempting to delve into a blame game, it will not lead to any better solution. Instead, it will result in increasing polarization. In Pakistan, there is a strong sense of discontent seething among the young people of the country, and populist voices are gaining advantage.

Instead of shifting blames, policy makers of the world need to reflect and act responsibly. The current global climate crisis demands responsible action and policies which cater to the different needs of countries. One solution can be a climate-related and justice-based global tax which can fund the payments for damages and distribute the burden of climate change. If we wish to see a better world in the future, it is important to incorporate voices from the Global South and collectively reflect on the pathways to prosperity. It is only through a cultural dialogue that we agree on a shared ‘ethics’ of prosperity that both respects and protects the planet and its inhabitants.

Dr. Sumrin Kalia is a post-doctoral fellow at the ERC funded Takhayyul Project working on South Asia. Her work at Takhayyul focuses on the socio-political processes which feed Islamist populist politics in Pakistan

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