Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has said that Pakistan should not be forced to go to rich polluting countries with “begging bowls” after floods ravaged the country and called for “climate change” from the international community. will demand justice.
Speaking from his home in Lahore, Sharif warned that Pakistan was facing an unprecedented crisis of health, food security and internal displacement following the “political” monsoon, which left a third of Pakistan’s territory under water. Some areas received 1.7 meters of rain, the highest on record.
Scientists have determined that the floods were caused by climate change. But with Pakistan responsible for 0.8% of global carbon emissions, Sharif said it was “the responsibility of developed countries, which cause these emissions, to stand with us”.
Sharif said, “I have never seen such destruction, water and suffering of our people in my lifetime. “Millions of people have been displaced, they have become climate refugees in their own country.”
Although the international community has provided billions in funds and donations and commitments for further assistance, Sharif was clear that it was “not enough”. “The magnitude of this climate-induced disaster is beyond our financial means,” he said. “The gap between what we need and what’s available is very wide and it’s getting wider every day.”
The official death toll from the floods is 1,600, although many estimates on the ground are higher. More than 9 million people have been displaced and more than 2 million houses have been destroyed, and millions of families are forced to live in makeshift tents or shelters on roadsides.
Damage has been put at between $30 billion and $35 billion but Sharif said it was “a rough estimate, it could be more”, with more than 30,000 kilometers of bridges, railways and power lines damaged. Roads are destroyed. As 4m hectares (10m acres) of crops were washed away.
“Let me be clear, this is about climate justice,” Sharif said. “We are not blaming anyone, we are not blaming, what we are saying is not our business but we have been victimized. Should I be asked to throw my appeal into the begging bowl? This is a double jeopardy. It is unfair, unfair.”
Even before the floods, Pakistan was facing economic disaster, with rising inflation, rising foreign debt repayments and rapidly depleting foreign exchange reserves. Sharif’s government, which took power in April after previous Prime Minister Imran Khan fell in a no-confidence vote, revived the program with the International Monetary Fund to provide the country with some economic stability, but the funds have come with a painful backlash. and unpopular positions.
Sharif was adamant that despite billions in foreign debt payments coming due, and now billions more in flood damage, the country has avoided default despite the IMF deal, and still has to pay off the rest of its foreign debt. will be able to total about $22bn for next year. “No way. We will not default,” he said.
Sharif confirmed that he would talk to “everyone” – including China and the Paris Club – about the possibility of a foreign debt moratorium. “What we are asking for is fiscal space but not through more debt burden,” he said.
But the newly appointed finance minister, Ishaq Dar, said in a separate interview that he was reluctant to turn to the Paris Club, a group of countries including the US, UK, Australia and France that help countries struggling with debt.
“If the global community cooperates, donates and helps rebuild, I think we can survive this,” Dar said. “Going to a Paris club doesn’t feel very comfortable so I hope we don’t have to resort to it.”
Although the rains have stopped, many areas of Pakistan – especially in the Sindh region – are still flooded. The humanitarian crisis in Pakistan continues to worsen as stagnant water spreads diseases like malaria and dengue, sickening large numbers of children and overwhelming hospitals.
Sharif’s government has faced criticism because aid and assistance have not yet reached large sections of the affected people in the Sindh and Balochistan regions who are living without access to clean water, food and shelter. “I believe that because of the enormity of the problem, we have not been able to do what we should have done so far,” Sharif said. “But look at the distances alone. Some of these areas were completely cut off.”
With corruption rampant at the local level in Pakistan, many have also expressed concern that while billions are flowing into the country, it could end up in the pockets of some local administrators and leaders. Sharif was emphasizing that the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP), which is used to distribute flood relief funds, is known for its transparency.
Pakistan’s plight has drawn the attention of the international community, with the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, calling the floods a “climate massacre” the likes of which he has never seen before. Last month, President Biden used his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York to urge countries to help Pakistan, and leaders from the UK, France, Saudi Arabia, China and many others donated millions. and have promised further assistance.
Sharif said that while he was grateful for the “very touching words and statements”, it was “all very well but it is more important to put these statements into practice”.
He said: “Although they are doing a great job, and we appreciate it, it is not enough. They must come up with a better and far greater plan to rescue and rehabilitate us and get us back on our feet.
Sharif pointed to an unfulfilled promise a decade ago by rich countries to pledge $100 billion a year in a climate fund for least developed countries at the forefront of the climate crisis. “Where’s that money?” Sharif asked. “It is high time we question and remind these countries to fulfill their pledges and commitments.”
However, while many Pakistani commentators, as well as Sharif’s own climate minister, are calling not for aid but for climate compensation from rich polluting countries, Sharif quickly pushed back on the suggestion.
“We are not asking for compensation,” he said. “No, we’re not. I do not think it is appropriate to talk about compensation at this time. What I am saying is that they must take notice of the situation, take responsibility and act before it is too late, before the damage becomes irreparable – not only to Pakistan, but for the world.