''When the Indus breathes, as rivers do, the lives and livelihoods on the floodplains are quietly absorbed by the water''.
The following text is a shortened version of an article by Ameera Adil and Faraz Haider. It was published by the Council on Strategic Risks on 25 October. The full article contains a timeline on flooding, governance and climate security in Pakistan. Read it here.
Last year, Pakistan faced the most devastating floods in the history of the country, which is notable because the country lies on a geographical floodplain. The Indus is an ancient and powerful river. The floodplain of the river covers nearly half of Pakistan, where most of the country’s population resides. When the Indus breathes, as rivers do, the lives and livelihoods on the floodplains are quietly absorbed by the water.
Climate change had a significant role to play in the 2022 floods. The affected areas received 900mm of rainfall between June to August, which is nearly 350 percent more than the long-term average. Nevertheless, the disaster that happened should not have been a surprise since climate-induced disaster projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been repeatedly stating the increase in frequency and severity of floods. Climate change alone was not the only cause of the devastation, however. Poor governance also played a role in creating a cascade of security impacts that can still be witnessed at the moment of writing and have now been conjoined with other dynamics of political instability, resulting in a chasm of insecurities. To unpack this, it is crucial to consider the dynamics of inequalities and discrepancies of governance in Pakistan, and the chain of events from before, during and after the 2022 floods.
Anyone wishing to understand climate injustice needs only to look at Pakistan. The homes that housed the poor were washed away while those that housed the wealthy stood their ground. As a result of these floods, an additional 8.4 to 9.1 million people will now be pushed into poverty, on top of the existing 47 million. As the worsening socioeconomic situation intersects with political instability and recent protests, that have now decreased due to a strict clampdown by the Pakistani government, the conditions are ripe for further social unrest.
Though climate change caused the extreme rains, the subsequent inequality of the impact of these rains is evidence of the deep underlying socioeconomic disparity and complex issues of governance that are revealed with every climate-induced calamity that Pakistanis endure. Climate change hazards interact with the fault lines in Pakistan’s governance system and practices to multiply threats. Therefore, to attribute all of this only to climate change would be inappropriate and lacking a comprehensive view.
Building resilience to climate change is not a short-term task. Without stability in governance, Pakistan’s efforts towards climate resilience can only be planned in independent 5-year projects. Debilitating debt and socioeconomic inequality aside, until the political parties of Pakistan cease to fixate on their incessant drive to be in power over a crumbling nation, climate insecurity in Pakistan is going to worsen exponentially. More leaders must recognize the threat climate change poses to national security in the societal, political, and economic sectors if the country is going to manage these risks successfully.