Making flood losses good
The United Nations (UN) Annual Climate Change Conference, 27th in the series of ‘Conference of the Parties’ or ‘COP’ was held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, from 6-20th November, 2022. One of the breakthrough agreements in this event was to provide Loss and Damage Funding for vulnerable countries hit by climate disasters. In the wake of COP28, which is scheduled from November 30 to December 12, 2023, in the UAE, it is high time to look at the impact of the historic decision on the most vulnerable and out of sight area called Chitral, in the farthest northern end of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.
Pakistan was declared to be one the most affected countries after the monsoon floods of 2022. Therefore, the news of agreement in the conference to provide Loss and Damage funding, being timely, came as a source of relief for the affected communities all over the country. The initial assessment of damages was estimated to be around 30 billion dollars.
However, UNEP’s Pakistan chapter of adaptation gap report has fears that the poor communication of loss and damage data collection might result into escalation of cost leaving less time for rebuilding. This scenario gives rise to doubts that assessment of losses and damages in the far-flung areas such as Chitral in the far north of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa might have more flaws to it.
After long waiting, the flood affected people of Brep, which is one of the hard-hit villages, have been paid in cash, which the recipients say is like a drop in the ocean. There might be something seriously lacking either in the initial assessment of losses, valuation of assets or in the distribution process.
In Chitral as much as 45 villages have been hit by the disastrous floods from 2001 to 2022, extreme temperatures have given rise to Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs). Some of the valleys such as Shishikuh, Kalash valleys, Lotkuh, Golen, Gohkir, Muzhgol, Reshun, Buni, Sonoghur, Laspur Shaidass, Brep, are receiving repeated floods during the Moonsoon season.
The affected people have either lost their houses, or landed property including fruit orchards, livestock and crops or all. Those who lost dwelling houses are either living in tents provided by the humanitarian organizations or with relatives for temporary shelter.
In Brep village alone, 35 households have been relocated in Khotanlasht, a barren land across Yarkhun River, where shelters have been provided with support from the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat. The provincial government has allotted 130 plots to the most vulnerable families of Brep in the Khotanlasht but the people have not been able to rebuild their houses for want of financial resources. The aid received is so little that they simply cannot decide whether to rebuild their houses or rehabilitate the damaged crop fields or buy food with the meagre amount.
The village of Brep alone has reportedly lost about 2500 chakawarums,equivalent to 5000 kanals or 625 acres of productive land to the floods. The people in all the flood affected villages cannot rehabilitate the damaged lands as the fear of repeated floods looms large in their minds, and it is truly so, since the GLOFs have become regular occurrence due to prolonged extreme temperatures that prevail even in the high elevations.
The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres visited the flood affected areas of Pakistan in September, 2022 and saw for himself the flood water accumulation in the plains but not the mountains where from these floods emanated. GLOFs not only destroy, they are apocalyptic, ghastly and horrible carrying and leaving enormous amount of debris on the fields of subsistence farmers and burying their houses, animal sheds, orchards within minutes and nothing remains for the survivors.
The Secretary General’s following remarks still echo the ears, ‘Pakistan needs and deserves massive support from the international community. The country is responsible for less than 1 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions – but its people are 15 times more likely to die from climate-related impacts than people elsewhere.’
It is gratifying to note that one year after the floods the Secretary General again reminded the General Assembly about the pathetic condition of floods affected parts of Pakistan. He said, ‘We are here for the people of Pakistan. A year has passed since apocalyptic flooding submerged a third of their country…. Overall, some 1,700 people died; eight million were displaced and 33 million were affected.
While much of the water has receded, the needs have not. More than eight million people in flood-affected areas lack access to clean water.Millions depend on humanitarian aid. And more than two million homes, 30,000 schools and 2,000 health facilities were damaged or destroyed – and reconstruction has just begun.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s economy is in enormous difficulties. Food price inflation is approaching 40 per cent. And the floods devastated agriculture, raising prices and reducing incomes.Some eight million additional people have been pushed into poverty; and millions more have been forced to move in search of work’.
The above statement of the UN top ranking official is reassuring for Pakistan. The commencement of proceedings by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to give guidance on the obligation of states in respect of climate change also infuses hope that the most vulnerable countries would get climate justice in the not distant a future. This being the scenario the onus now lies on the caretaker government of Pakistan how effectively they make their case before the COP28 conference to be held in Dubai from November 30-December 12, 2023.
What international support has so far received on account of COP27 decision to make flood losses and damages good,and how honestly and effectively it has been spent in the different regions of Pakistan after the floods of last year is yet to be known. The flood affected communities of Chitral still cherish the hope that the outcome of COP28 deliberations will bring forth good news regarding the implementation of the decision reached at COP27 last year.
(The writer is a retired rural development professional).