Pakistan’s Floods Add to Climate Change Payments Debate

11 October 2022

In Pakistan, every part of Rajul Noor's life has been wrecked by this summer's huge floods. The 12-year-old girl's family home was destroyed, as was the school that she loved. The friends she used to walk to school and play with have fled to other areas.

"Our whole world is underwater, and nobody has helped us," Noor told The Associated Press. Her family now lives in a tent in Dadu district in Pakistan's Sindh province.

Almost 100 percent of the district's cotton and rice crops were destroyed. More than half its primary and secondary schools were fully or partially damaged, local officials say. This level of damage is seen in towns and cities across Pakistan.

A girl sits on a cot as she crosses a flooded street at Sohbatpur in Jaffarabad district of Balochistan province on October 4, 2022. (Photo by Fida HUSSAIN / AFP)
A girl sits on a cot as she crosses a flooded street at Sohbatpur in Jaffarabad district of Balochistan province on October 4, 2022. (Photo by Fida HUSSAIN / AFP)

Scientists have said climate change helped increase the monsoon rains this summer. The storms brought three-and-a-half times the normal amount of rain, leaving a third of the country underwater. At least 1,300 people were killed. Another 33 million across Pakistan have been affected by the flooding.

The widespread, costly destruction has led some Pakistani officials to call on other nations to provide financial assistance to help Pakistan deal with the disaster. The officials argue that because richer, developed countries produce more climate-harming pollution, they should be responsible for giving money to poorer countries who suffer because of it.

Estimates have shown that Pakistan added just 0.8 percent to the world's carbon emissions. But it now faces damages estimated at more than $30 billion. This is more than 10 percent of its gross domestic product, or GDP. The amount includes 2 million damaged or destroyed homes, nearly 24,000 schools, about 1,500 health centers and 13,000 kilometers of roads. Many bridges, hotels, dams and other structures were also destroyed.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, said: "These 33 million Pakistanis are paying in the form of their lives and livelihoods for the industrialization of bigger countries."

Developed nations have repeatedly rejected the idea that they owe money to less-developed ones. But Pakistan and other developing countries want the issue to be seriously discussed at COP27, next month's international climate conference in Egypt.

Margeretha Wewerinke-Singh is an assistant professor of international public law at Leiden University in the Netherlands. She noted one argument that supports legal action. International law says states have a duty not to cause harm to the environment of other states. Violations can cause an obligation to either pay money or restore the situation to what it was before the damage.

Wewerinke-Singh said Pakistan could bring cases in national courts against governments or companies that pollute. She compared this to past lawsuits brought against tobacco companies for the harm their smoking products caused. Wewerinke-Singh said the cases involving tobacco seemed unusual and unlikely to succeed at first but were very successful in the end.

Pakistan's prime minister and foreign minister have both made clear that their country is not demanding reparations. Instead, they have said they think rich nations have a moral obligation to help Pakistan as a victim of climate change.

The issue becomes more complex with the question of how much Pakistan's own policies might also have worsened the effects of flooding disasters.

Pakistan approved a national flood protection plan in 2017 but never put it in place. The World Bank offered $200 million in assistance to pay for flood protection projects in the country's Baluchistan province. But the money was suspended because of Pakistan's lack of progress. The projects were supposed to have been completed this month.

In addition, no reforms were put in place after severe flooding in 2010 that killed nearly 2,000 people, said Daanish Mustafa. He helped create Pakistan's first climate change response plan.

Mustafa has suggested that Pakistan take important actions to reduce the damage from future flooding events. These include removing materials that block the natural flow of water and preventing the building of homes in high-risk flood areas.

In Dadu, Noor is trying to push ahead with normal daily life. But many things have changed in her usual routine. "I lived happily at home. I miss everything about it," she said. "It makes me cry."

I'm Andrew Smith.

Riazat Butt and Adil Jawad Khan wrote this story for the Associated Press. Andrew Smith adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

monsoon –n. a period of the year with heavy rain

emission –n. the act of releasing something

gross domestic product –n. the total value of goods produced and services provided by a country in a single year

livelihood –n. jobs or activities which provide the main source of money for a person or family

obligation –n. a duty

reparations –n. money and other forms of support and payment that a state gives to another state or group for damages and injuries they caused, often due to war or historical injustices

routine –n. a series of actions that are repeated in the same way in a given situation