The catastrophic climate change-related floods that have ravaged Pakistan since June and peaked in late August continue to inundate large swathes of the country.
Torrents of water produced by melting glaciers in the Himalayas combined with an unusually heavy rainy season have devastated significant parts of the country. Millions of people have been displaced, often with their homes completely destroyed, and tens of millions more are affected by the destruction of crops and livestock and much of the country’s limited infrastructure.
Since mid-June, more than 1,700 people have officially lost their lives due to the floods, including 615 children. Another 12,000 are reported injured.
More than 33 million people are variously affected by the floods. As grim as these official figures are, they provide only a pale reflection of the true human toll.
Aid workers are warning of an explosion of disease and hunger in the coming weeks and months, but Pakistan’s ruling elite and major imperialist powers are doing next to nothing to provide emergency aid.
Despite the urgent need for billions of dollars to tackle the social catastrophe and help people rebuild their lives, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has rejected any easing of the tough austerity conditions it attached to the release of the latest $1.16 billion tranche of its loan program with Islamabad in September. “The policy commitments made by the Pakistani authorities under the seventh and eighth reviews under their IMF support program continue to apply,” its resident in Islamabad, Esther Pérez Ruiz, told Reuters last Monday.
The government’s “policy commitments” mean it must reduce remaining price subsidies, increase the prices of energy products and impose taxes on hitherto exempt products, including basic necessities and medicines. In addition, provincial governments must generate a budget surplus. The unstated assumption behind these strict orders is that the government should not spend on relief programs, as these would violate IMF stipulations.
Aid from the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)-led government has been limited to payments of 25,000 rupees (less than $115) to 2.6 million families, the Dawn earlier this week.
Officially, 7.6 million people are listed as displaced. Yet, according to UN data, only 600,000 live in official relief camps. While some have been able to find refuge with relatives or friends, millions are left on their own, living in makeshift camps and often in the open air, without drinking water or sanitation facilities.
The lack of toilets forced the displaced people to defecate in the open air. After losing what little they had, many flood victims are now threatened by diseases such as malaria, dengue and scabies, child morbidity and malnutrition.
In a sign of the authorities’ disorganized and indifferent response to the human tragedy unfolding in much of the world’s fifth most populous country, there is no systematic government collection of data on the floods and the health and the welfare of its victims with a view to mobilizing and distributing desperately needed resources.
Newspaper reports are largely limited to harrowing accounts of victims and aid workers. The BBC spoke to Dr Ammara Gohar, part of a medical team who visited several villages in rural Sindh, still cut off by floodwaters, by wooden boat. She spoke of caring for a ‘severely malnourished’ nine-month-old, adding: ‘there are so many people like this baby’.
AFP spoke to the parents of an unresponsive seven-year-old child who is being treated for suspected malaria in a “desperately run-down emergency clinic”. The child’s mother described the squalid conditions in the camp where they live. “From early evening until dawn, all night long, the mosquitoes are overwhelming,” she said. They and other flood victims drink from a well suspected of being contaminated by flood waters. Due to the rising waters, the family had to flee twice before settling in the current relief camp. According to the AFP report, Sindh reported 208,000 malaria cases in 2022, a substantial increase from last year.
The estimated damage caused by the floods has already exceeded $40 billion. Over 750,000 homes were destroyed and 1.3 million damaged. 13,000 kilometers of roads, 410 bridges, 2,000 hospitals and health facilities and 25,000 schools were reportedly destroyed or damaged.
The floods have also devastated the country’s crops, with Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman estimating that 50% of the country’s breadbasket has been destroyed. The Guardian reported on October 12 that four million acres of crops had been destroyed nationwide, including rice and cotton. The destruction of crops will directly aggravate the food supply crisis and will hit Pakistan’s textile industry hard. Textiles are one of the country’s most important exports.
The disruption of agriculture will continue for years. In addition to the destruction of this year’s crops, farmers report that they cannot sow wheat, rice and other crops for next year because water levels have not yet receded. “[W]We have no more dry land,” said a landowner in Sohbatpur district in Balochistan. Guardian. Another farmer from Sindh province added, “People lost their crops and some also lost their wheat seeds, which they had saved for new seasons in warehouses and factories.”
Amid a slew of reports of widespread disease, hunger and poverty, all to be expected for an impoverished country like Pakistan, the United Nations has increased the meager target of “urgent” relief funds fivefold. ‘they had fixed last month, going from $160 million to $816 million. . In an October 5 press release, the UN said it was doing so in response to the “increasing vital needs of the population.” According to Reuters, the UN was only able to raise $90 million by the time it renewed the appeal, just over half of the woefully insufficient initial sum.
Even before the floods, Pakistan was reeling from the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the US-NATO proxy war against Russia in Ukraine. Decades of IMF austerity and “structural adjustment” programs implemented by all Pakistan’s elite parties, including the PML(N), the Pakistan People’s Party and Imran Khan’s PTI, have placed the overwhelming majority of Pakistan’s 225 million people in poverty or crisis far from it.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned that a public health catastrophe is brewing. “The water has stopped rising, but the danger has not,” he said last week. “Many more lives than those lost in the floods could be lost in the weeks to come if we do not mobilize greater support for Pakistan.”
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has warned that 5.7 million flood survivors will face a severe food crisis between September and November. This is in addition to some 38 million Pakistanis – more than 16 percent of the population – estimated by the WHO to be moderately to severely food insecure even before the floods.
Aid agency Save the Children has estimated that 3.4 million children in Pakistan face chronic hunger. Its country director in Pakistan, Khuram Gondal, said: “In addition to dealing with the wreckage, the country is now facing a real hunger crisis. We simply cannot allow a situation where children are starving because we have not acted quickly enough.
The World Bank, which is working hand in hand with the IMF and the Islamabad elite to push forward privatization, including in the energy and education sectors, has warned of a sharp increase in poverty following the floods. He noted that “without decisive relief and recovery efforts to help the poor”, between 5.8 and 9 million people will be pushed into poverty – which he defines as living on less than $1.90 a day.
While the warning is certainly valid, the projections are underestimated.
General Zafar Iqbal, coordinator of the National Flood Response and Coordination Center set up by the government and military to coordinate relief efforts, said the aid received so far was ” a drop in the ocean… If you send 100 planes, they would take 1,600 tons, or 2,000 tons or maybe 2,500 tons of aid material, but we need 300 to 400 tons of food each day.
In other words, most of those affected are hungry, sick and in desperate need of help, but almost nothing happens to them.
Total aid provided by the United States so far this year to Pakistan, its Cold War-era ally and still a major non-NATO partner, amounts to a paltry $56 million. .
Between 2002 and 2017, the United States paid Islamabad a whopping $33.4 billion for the dirty work it did in support of the disastrous invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. While a tiny fraction of that amount was disbursed in the form of humanitarian aid, the vast majority went to pay for various war-related expenses, including fattening the pockets of the country’s most important decision-maker, the Pakistani military. . Washington used these large sums of aid as leverage to pressure Islamabad into serving as a US satrap to strengthen the position of US imperialism in Central Asia.
The military aid provided to Pakistan over a 15-year period is dwarfed by the vast amounts of advanced weapons, military equipment and financial aid that Washington has flooded into Ukraine. The latest October 4 delivery alone cost the United States $625 million, bringing the Biden administration’s direct “military assistance” to Kyiv to $17.5 billion. The US president, who has authorized more than $66 billion to Ukraine to escalate the war against Russia, recently warned an audience of billionaires to prepare for nuclear Armageddon.
Pakistan’s nuclear-armed PML(N)-PPP coalition government has allocated $7.5 billion, or 16% of its total budget, to defense for the financial year 2022-23, a 12% increase over the previous year. While pursuing its own reactionary military-strategic rivalry with India, Pakistan’s ruling elite relies on the military as a bulwark of the capitalist state machine that maintains its privileges and ruthlessly suppresses democratic, social and political aspirations. economies of the working class and rural workers.