Pakistan has seen the worst floods of its history this past summer. More than normal monsoon downpour, heatwaves and consequent glacial melt resulting in glacial outburst floods have inundated large swathes of Pakistan. In a country that is one of the most vulnerable to risks associated with climate change, lack of preparedness and delayed response to weather alerts exacerbated the situation. More than 33 million people, including approximately 16 million children, have been affected by the deluge that has caused widespread damage and destruction to life and property, and washed away vital infrastructure. Over two million houses, more than 1400 health facilities, nearly 19000 schools, 372 bridges in addition to 13000 km of roads have been reported damaged or destroyed, and over 6.5 million acres of agricultural land has reportedly been damaged, making the economic cost of the floods unbearable. According to the government, an estimated $30 billion will be required to meet reconstruction costs and economic damage. With lingering effects of the pandemic, difficult economic and political conditions, and inflation, the country faces a grave setback and needs all the help it can get.
While the floodwater is gradually receding, the devastation is growing in magnitude. The worst affected are obviously the most vulnerable, i.e., women and children, who are impacted at the most basic level. Many people are still sleeping under the stars because of a shortage of tents and beds, face food insecurity and malnutrition, do not have access to clean drinking water, and are threatened by outbreaks of water- and vector-borne diseases like cholera, malaria, dengue and skin diseases. Many of the hardest-hit areas were already amongst the most vulnerable in Pakistan, with the winter approaching their plight is sure to intensify. Unhygienic and insanitary living conditions, unavailability/remoteness of basic health facilities, lack of financial resources and damage and destruction of infrastructure is of particular concern in addition to the fact that thousands of schools across the country have been damaged or destroyed due to the floods, compounding the disruption to learning many children experienced during COVID-19 school closures.
Millions are in need of immediate assistance for which there is a huge national and international response to provide humanitarian relief, but the scale of the disaster demands herculean efforts. Life-saving medical and other emergency supplies to support children and women affected by the floods, immediate emergency services including drinking water, water purification tablets, hygiene kits, medicines, vaccines, nutritional supplements for children, pregnant and lactating women, and mosquito nets are in high demand. Medical camps have been established in many areas but there is need for mobile health clinics that provide lifesaving assistance to displaced populations because not everyone can get to a medical camp.
Reconstruction and rehabilitation will have to be expedited but unfortunately that cannot be done without financial aid from foreign governments and aid agencies. But charity begins at home so we have to come together as a nation and contribute in whatever way we can, if not monetarily (because of the high inflation and dire economic straits we find ourselves in) then by providing skills or simply lending a helping hand.
While it is true that the origins of this disaster lie in the global climate change for which Pakistan is hardly responsible, the fact remains that while we cannot avert these climate change-induced natural disasters, we can limit the damage and destruction they cause to a certain degree. Preparedness and investment in climate-resilient infrastructure could have helped the country to limit the devastation so we need to make more of an effort in this regard. If nothing else, this calamity should bring home the realization that while we can appeal all we want to the countries that are doing the most damage to the planet to take responsibility, we cannot rely on it; we have to devise ways and means to deal with the climate crises that they leave us vulnerable to. HH
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