Pakistan Faces Political, Economic and Natural Disaster all at Once

Image of a flooded street.

Image by Sadiq Nafee.

When Pakistan’s Sutlej River burst its banks on Sunday, it forced a mass evacuation of around 100,000 people in the Punjab province. According to at least one report, the head of Punjab’s government, Mohsin Naqvi, said the flooding was caused by India “releasing excess reservoir water into the Sutlej river, causing flooding downstream on the Pakistani side of the border.” More than 200 people have died in Pakistan in rain-related incidents since the monsoon season began in late June, according to Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority.

The disastrous flooding in Pakistan is not new. Many areas of Pakistan are still
recovering from the devastation of extreme monsoon rains in 2022, which inundated nearly one-third of the country after flooding caused by record monsoon rains and melting glaciers in the northern regions killed nearly 1,600 people – many of whom were children – and impacted an estimated 33 million more.

The force of the floodwater washed away homes in over 90 districts, leaving tens of thousands stranded without any food to eat or clean water to drink. According to a UN Appeal launched in October 2022, 20.6 million people required immediate humanitarian assistance.

According to UNICEF, a year after the last major flooding, “there are still 8 million people, around half of whom are children, that continue to live without access to safe water in flood-affected areas. Over 1.5 million children require lifesaving nutrition interventions in flood-affected districts. Low-birth-weight babies continue to be born to mothers who themselves are malnourished. Poverty has increased after the floods, further perpetuating the cycle of intergenerational poverty and worsening outcomes.”

In this predominantly poor region of Pakistan, a family’s financial well-being is intricately tied to agricultural success. But their mud houses now sit dilapidated and crumbling, full of stagnant water. The nearby fields, once thriving with sesame and rice crops, are now submerged and unyielding. With
their livelihoods eradicated, thousands of families must now subsist on government handouts, which, unfortunately, are not forthcoming.

UNICEF has been able to step in and provide much-needed support and services, but it falls far short of what is actually needed. Since August 2022, UNICEF and its partners assisted “3.6 million people with primary healthcare services, 1.7 million with safe water, and over 545,000 children and caregivers with mental health and psychosocial support.” The UN agency also “screened 2.1 million children for severe acute malnutrition and admitted 172,000 children for lifesaving treatment.”

This is impressive of course, however, this is not enough. UNICEF’s appeal of $173.5 million to provide life-saving support to about 6.4 million
people
, including 4.4 million children, remains underfunded and much more must be done to stave off utter catastrophe in this corner of the world.

NASA published photos of the swollen river and readers can view the interactive image to understand the extent of the flooding. It is clear that the region received vast amounts of water beyond the norm in just a short period of time. Now, it is incumbent upon Pakistan’s government to work with humanitarian aid agencies to allow in as much aid as possible to assist the millions of Pakistani citizens who require immediate help.

Since last year’s devastating flood and over the course of the year, international donors pledged more than £7.4bn. According to the BBC, “The Islamic Development Bank, the World Bank and Saudi Arabia were some of the biggest donors. The European Union, the US, China, and France also made contributions.”

The floods come during an already turbulent time for Pakistan. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is in custody for two weeks on charges of leaking state secrets. During his imprisonment, Pakistan’s parliament was dissolved at the request of his successor Shehbaz Sharif and a caretaker government was formed to hold national elections.

Furthermore, on August 23, the World Health Organization (WHO) decided to extend travel restrictions on Pakistan for an additional three months due to the ongoing risk of a polio outbreak.

If this weren’t enough, Pakistan is in heavy debt and is waiting for an influx of
approximately $3 Billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help its economic reform program which, according to IMF, “aims to support immediate efforts to stabilize the economy and guard against shocks while creating the space for social and development spending to help the people of Pakistan.”

Pakistan had enough troubles as it is. Now, this year’s flood combined with last year’s flood has brought total calamity to an already politically and economically unstable country. Time and patience are sure to help, but real leadership and hard cash are what is truly necessary to help Pakistan pull itself out of its morass.

Chloe Atkinson is a climate change activist and consultant on global climate affairs.