Rich countries caused the catastrophic floods in Pakistan. Their response ? Inertia and apathy | Mustafa Nawaz Khokar

OWhat we have witnessed this summer in Pakistan is nothing less than a climate catastrophe. It was first the first heat waves that put an end to the spring, reducing crop yields and accelerating the melting of the ice. Then came the monsoon showers that lasted for days and wreaked havoc across the country. A third of Pakistan is now under water. Over 1,200 people have been killed and over 33 million people affected. And the monstrous monsoon is not over yet.

Experts say the heavy rainfall was caused by above-average warming in the Arabian Sea. In the province of Sindh, which produces half of the country’s food, 90% of the crops are ruined. More than 75% of Balochistan, which covers half of Pakistan, is partially or totally damaged. Homes and plots of land are flooded. Of the 650,000 pregnant women who have been directly affected in flood-affected areas, 73,000 will give birth this month. The scale of destruction into which these children will be born is unimaginable.

The “Third Pole”, as it is often called, is a vast mountainous region stretching from Myanmar to Afghanistan. This icy wall of ice separates China and seven South Asian countries, including Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. The region is home to the highest peaks in the world and countless glaciers. Flights from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, to the northern cities Gilgit and Skardu take just an hour. In the good old days, before Pakistan’s national airline ran into financial difficulties, it also ran a weekly flight called air safari. If you were lucky enough to have a window seat, the trip was a visual treat.

The flight would give passengers a tour of the snow-capped “eight thousand” (mountaineers lingo for peaks above 8,000 meters) and glaciers from the comfort of their seats. Five of these peaks are in Pakistan; our country also has the largest number of glaciers outside the polar regions. The air safari was an impressive and comfortable alternative to months of training, weeks of trekking in dangerous terrain and frostbite.

Few grow at such altitude. But the third pole functions as a water reserve whose 10 main rivers flow downstream from these mountains and support more than 1.5 billion people. When you understand this, you begin to see the mountains, the valleys, and the continuously flowing streams and rivers in a different light. The prediction that this beautiful and awe-inspiring landscape will turn into bare rock over time is terrifying.

By 2100, a third of the ice caps in this region will have disappeared, even if the world is limited to the global warming target of 1.5°C. Temperatures rise more than that, bringing the apocalypse closer. It’s a crisis that hardly anyone talks about. The floods that Pakistan has experienced are one of the first signs of this crisis. The climate catastrophe is now in plain sight, for all to see.

Despite this, major economies have failed to reach consensus on emission cuts. There have been countless international summits and meetings, and yet we are still not on track to reach net zero by 2050. For countries like Pakistan, which falls into the unfortunate category of “most vulnerable climate change,” every failed climate summit is bad news. It is frustrating for us to see wealthy countries haggling with each other over emissions reductions while we continue to pay the price in lives and livelihoods with far greater frequency than before.

The results of the inertia and apathy of Western economies are now evident. Pakistan contributes less than 1% of global emissions and yet it is one of the countries most at risk due to climate change and global warming. We can only hope that the COP27, which will be held this year in Egypt, will not live up to expectations. But we have already been there: at COP26, the response of major polluters was not up to the climate crisis.

If this happens again, the message for countries like Pakistan will be clear: the biggest polluters, despite growing evidence of deadly weather events such as heat waves, droughts and floods, are still unwilling to do trade-offs on a trade-off between economic growth and saving the planet. If so, countries like Pakistan, along with other vulnerable countries that are responsible for a fraction of greenhouse gas emissions but are most exposed to climate change, should consider forming their own coalition. within Cop to shine a light on their plight and pressure wealthy polluters to create a fund that would help them cope with the consequences of climate disasters.

The northern hemisphere has long resisted these calls to create a fund to help poor countries cope with the effects of the climate emergency and pay for the damages. This may be because it would be interpreted as an admission of guilt. Following the recent climatic disaster in Pakistan, millions of lives have been destroyed. It is likely that thousands of people will be pushed below the poverty line. Children will drop out of school and many mothers will die in childbirth. The effects of flooding will be long term and catastrophic. We are now living through a crisis that is not of our making.

  • Mustafa Nawaz Khokar is a senator in Pakistan. From 2009 to 2013, he served as an adviser to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on human rights

  • Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 300 words to be considered for publication, email it to us at guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Rich countries caused the catastrophic floods in Pakistan. Their response ? Inertia and apathy | Mustafa Nawaz Khokar

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