Pakistan appeals for flood aid ahead of Geneva conference

People retrieve belongings they kept on the higher ground still surrounded by floodwaters in a village in Sohbat Pur, a district of Baluchistan province, Pakistan, October 2022. Several areas of Pakistan remain under water following the devastating floods last summer. (Keystone/AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

Pakistan will appeal for international support at a high-level gathering in Geneva on Monday as it struggles to recover from last summer’s devastating floods.

Jointly hosted by the United Nations and Pakistan, the conference hopes to drum-up international solidarity for the country as it struggles to recover from the unprecedented flooding, which killed 1,739 people and affected 33 million Pakistanis.

At one point, one third of the country’s territory was under water after unprecedented flooding began in June 2022. Over two million homes were destroyed and eight million people displaced by the disaster, which experts have partly attributed to climate change.

The prime minister of Pakistan Shehbaz Sharif will attend the gathering alongside UN secretary general Antonio Guterres and other world leaders, international organisations and civil society representatives.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN told Geneva Solutions that countries including China, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and Qatar would be sending dignitaries. While a list of attendees has yet to be shared, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said that several heads of state had already been confirmed.

Addressing reporters in Geneva on Thursday, Syed Haider Shah, head of the UN division at Pakistan’s foreign affairs ministry, said he hoped the conference would “serve as a demonstration of international solidarity with the people of Pakistan as we start this journey towards rebuilding our lives and livelihoods in a climate resilient manner”.

Funding shortfall

The UN has warned that international funding for Pakistan’s flood recovery will run out on 15 January, as the organisation has so far received only one third of the $816 million in emergency aid it sought last October for food, medicines and other supplies for survivors. 

Pakistan has suffered more than $30 billion in damages from the flooding, according to a post-disaster needs assessment supported by experts including the UN and the World Bank – nearly a tenth of Pakistan’s GDP. That includes $14.9bn in flood damages and $15.2bn in economic losses. Added to that are $16.3bn in reconstruction costs.

During the conference, Pakistan and the UN are due to unveil a strategy for rehabilitation and reconstruction in the country which prioritises building resilience for future climate-related disasters, dubbed the Resilient Recovery, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction Framework (4RF).

Representatives stressed that Monday’s meeting is not a pledging conference as it was originally billed, but instead will be used to sound the alarm about the situation in Pakistan and promote “solidarity” within the international community. However, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, Khalil Hashmi, told reporters in Geneva that those wanting to announce pledges at the event would be welcome to do so.

There have been some allegations of corruption in recent months surrounding how international funds have been distributed in the wake of the floods. Reports surfaced in October that less than a quarter of the $160 million in international aid that had been sent to Pakistan at that time had been dedicated to on-the-ground relief efforts. 

The US sent around $56.5m in aid and $10m in food security assistance to Pakistan in the immediate aftermath of the floods, according to the OCCRP. Responding to the corruption allegations, the US state department said it was taking the reports “very seriously”. 

Appeal for help

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Pakistan’s foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari issued an emotional appeal to the international community not to forget the victims of the floods.

“There was no fault of innocent Pakistanis, but they paid a heavy price because of climate-induced floods,” Bhutto-Zardari said in televised remarks on Tuesday from Badin, one of the worst flood-hit areas in the southern Sindh province.

Knut Ostby, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) coordinator in Pakistan said several areas of Pakistan remain flooded, leaving many people unable to return to their homes and livelihoods. More than 13,000 km of roads have been destroyed along with 4.4 million acres of agricultural land and over one million livestock, according to the UN.

The country’s poorest regions have been the worst hit. The disaster is expected to push an additional nine million people into poverty partly due to the fall in agricultural production, with crops destroyed last season and planting most likely affected for the coming season. Food prices have skyrocketed and the number of people in food insecurity has doubled to 14.6 million.

Speaking to Geneva Solutions, Ostby said both urgent support and building long-term resilience were crucial as it was difficult to predict whether the next monsoon season this summer would bring more extreme weather.

“It can happen again,” he said. “We are six months away from the monsoon season and we cannot predict how bad that will be. But of course, because of climate change, predictably there will be more of this kind of thing in the future.”

Loss and damage

Pakistani officials have consistently stressed that the country will not be able to recover from the floods and prepare for future climate-related disasters without significant international aid, which they hope will be spurred on by the conference.

Despite Pakistan playing a minimal role in global warming, responsible for less than one percent of carbon emissions, it is one of the countries most affected by climate-induced disasters.

A number of scientific studies released after the flooding have emphasised the impact of climate change. For example, a study published in the wake of the disaster found that human-caused global warming likely increased the two-month rainfall amount by up to 50 per cent, and up to 75 percent in two of the worst-hit areas.

“This is a climate induced disaster,” UNDP’s Ostby told reporters in Geneva. “It's caused by the accelerating climate change across the world, and therefore it's a global problem.”

Pakistan’s climate change minister, Sherry Rehman, has been among a number of senior government officials to reiterate that Pakistan is owed financial compensation from those countries that have contributed the most to climate change to help it deal with climate-related disasters. 

“Historic injustices have to be heard and there must be some level of climate equation so that the brunt of the irresponsible carbon consumption is not being laid on nations near the equator which are obviously unable to create resilient infrastructure on their own,” she said ahead of the Cop27 climate summit last November.

The deadly floods have helped galvanise international support for finding a way to compensate poorer countries who bear the brunt of climate change. The disaster was a focus at Cop27, where Pakistan led other developing nations in negotiations to secure a deal on the contentious issue of loss and damage compensation following a years-long push to have the topic on the agenda.

Loss and damage relates to the impacts of climate change in less developed countries which have contributed comparably little to the problem but are nevertheless suffering the worst consequences.

After two weeks of reportedly fraught discussions at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh, diplomats finally agreed to a two-year process of talks to establish a loss and damage fund through which developed nations would pay developing nations for climate damage.

In a statement following Cop27, foreign minister Butto Zardari said: “It may be too late for the victims of the floods in Pakistan, but it is my fervent hope that the loss and damage facility will be in place to assist the next county to be devastated.”