Long term solidarity needed for flood victims: Pakistan’s UN ambassador

Pakistan's ambassador to the UN, Khalil Hashmi, speaks about the International Conference on Climate Resilient Pakistan to be held at the UN in Geneva, 5 January 2023. (Keystone/Martial Trezzini)

Six months after record flooding inundated much of Pakistan, an international conference is expected to take place in Geneva on Monday aiming to muster support from the international community to help rebuild the country.

United Nations secretary general António Guterres referred to it as a “monsoon on steroids”. Between June and October 2022, heavier than usual monsoon rains and melting glaciers driven by an extensive heat wave caused massive flooding and landslides in Pakistan. A third of the country remained submerged for months, affecting 33 million people and leaving at least 1,739 people dead.

Eight million still remain homeless, according to the UN.

The country, already struggling from an economic crisis, suffered $30 billion in economic losses and damages, according to a UN-backed assessment.

In December, a high-level conference was announced to mobilise international support for Pakistan. Geneva Solutions spoke to Khalil-ur-Rahman Hashmi, the country’s representative in Geneva on what to expect from the talks.

Read more: Pakistan appeals for flood aid ahead of Geneva conference

Geneva Solutions: What was the reason for organising the meeting?

Khalil-ur-Rahman Hashmi: During his visit to Pakistan in September 2022, the UN secretary general noted that he had never seen climate carnage on this scale. Eighty-four districts nationwide have been identified as “calamity hit” by the government. National efforts to support people affected by the climate disaster clearly require effective international solidarity in the long run.

Why is the conference taking place in Geneva? Was the choice of the venue made on the request of Pakistan or was it suggested by the office of the UN secretary general?

It was a bit of both. When Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif went to New York for the General Assembly session [ in September 2022], he met António Guterres and other leaders. At the time, a suggestion was made to hold such a conference in Geneva because it is an international city, geographically convenient for people travelling from Asia, Africa, the Gulf region or the Americas. We all agreed on that.

Could you tell us more about the participants?

There will be more than 200 participants as heads of states and governments, UN agencies as well as leaders from the private sector, civil society, international development and financial institutions. Dignitaries from China, Germany, Greece, Japan, Qatar, the UK, the UAE and the United States will be attending.

How will Pakistan implement the reconstruction plan it is expected to present at the conference?

The Resilient Recovery, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction Framework (4RF) document suggests effective coordination and participation arrangements among federal and provincial governments, development partners, donors, international and national NGOs, academia, private sector, and communities. A recovery and reconstruction unit will be housed at the ministry of planning and development to provide overall coordination at the national level. The UN system will provide advice on monitoring and support for implementation where appropriate.

According to Transparency International’s 2021 report, Pakistan was ranked the lowest in its history in the  Corruption Perception Index. Will a specific mechanism exist to ensure the good management of the international funds?

Absolutely. The 4RF provides details on the planning, the implementation, the financing, the monitoring, and the evaluation of the process. Mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability are also listed in the documents available on the UNDP and the ministry of planning websites. The whole idea is to make sure that the funding and financing, both generated from Pakistan and from outside the country, reach the affected people.

What are the government’s expectations vis-à-vis the international community, given that the conference is not being called as a pledging event?

The objective is to secure international support for the 4RF, which include institutional, financial and implementation arrangements for post-flood recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction. The conference will help us forge long-term partnerships to strengthen Pakistan's climate resilience and adaptation.

Pakistan hosts the world’s fourth largest number of refugees on its territory, having welcomed over 100,000 people who have fled Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power in mid-August 2021. Do you expect that the international community may take this into consideration during the Geneva conference?

That's an additional factor of course. Pakistan has been hosting Afghan refugees for more than four decades. An estimated 3.5 million Afghan refugees have been present in the country since the 1980s.  Nearly 1.3 million of them are registered, including over 421,000 who live in the worst flood affected districts. The impacts of climate change do not discriminate between citizens and refugees.

The Taliban has prohibited women’s and girls education and female workers from being employed in NGOs. Is Pakistan involved in helping to resolve discussions on these issues?

Of course, these are matters that have been addressed since the Taliban’s ban came into force. Countries outside the region may decide to get involved or not. We are an immediate neighbour; we must engage with whoever is in Afghanistan in terms of command or control. We do not have a choice. Our discussions also included the issue of respect for women and all the fundamental rights and freedoms that are contained in the Afghan constitution.

Is prime minister Shehbaz Sharif planning any specific bilaterals during his stay in Geneva?

So far, there are requests coming in such as  from the Swiss foreign affairs minister, Ignazio Cassis, as well as the president of the Islamic Development Bank and from other dignitaries who will be in town. It's being worked on.