Pakistan is facing a “drought” of funding as it struggles to recover from the catastrophic floods this summer that have caused widespread devastation across the country, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has warned.
Described as “a monsoon on steroids” by the United Nations chief António Gueterres, the flooding in Pakistan this summer left more than one-third of the country submerged at its peak, with heavy rains which began in June washing away houses, crops, infrastructure and livestock.
Months on since the flood emergency was declared, millions of people still have little or no access to safe water, health services, food or any form of social protection, Xavier Castellanos, IFRC under-secretary general for national society development and operations coordination, told Geneva Solutions.
“We are doing as much as we can, but it is a drop in the ocean because the humanitarian needs are massive,” said Castellanos, who recently returned from a visit to Pakistan, where the IFRC has been working to provide essential food, health and sanitation services in the wake of the floods.
The unprecedented rainfall has affected more than 33 million people – more than the populations of Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Slovakia combined. To understand the scale of the destruction, Castellanos said, one would have to imagine the entire population of those countries having “lost all agricultural capacity, their livelihoods and conditions to live a dignified life”.
Over 1,700 people have been killed by the floods to date, according to the latest government data, including 643 children. Many villages in the worst-hit regions remain under water, with two million houses destroyed and eight million people displaced.
In areas where floods are receding, the health and hygiene situation remains critical, with millions still lacking access to safe drinking water and sanitation services as water sources are largely contaminated. Stagnant flood waters have also prompted a surge in water-borne diseases such as cholera, dengue and skin diseases threatening thousands of lives, particularly children, pregnant women and other vulnerable groups.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that over 10 per cent of the country’s health facilities have been damaged in the floods while the IFRC said around 1,400 facilities have been destroyed entirely, cutting off vital access to health services.
The deluge has destroyed local markets and left communities unable to access food sources, with thousands of miles of road networks and railway tracks damaged.
“It’s a huge journey to access basic, essential food items,” said Castellanos, who visited some of the worst affected communities in the southern provinces of Balochistan and Sindh province.
“I was in the car for four hours and I didn't see any place where communities could access a local market because they were completely flooded or completely destroyed. For those communities, the living conditions are absolutely disastrous. The way they are living right now is terrible.”
Hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural land and swathes of livestock have also been destroyed, depriving communities of their livelihoods and driving up hunger and malnutrition in a country already facing food insecurity.
“We have thousands of children who are not well fed, mothers and fathers that are not well fed and eat whatever is available,” Castellanos said. “What is going to happen in the coming months, in a country that already has levels of food insecurity, is this is likely to increase significantly.”
The restricted access to basic services as well as adequate social protection means millions of the most vulnerable people are highly dependent on support from humanitarian organisations such as the IFRC.
However, Castellanos said the organisation was grappling with a lack of funding for its emergency response in Pakistan, which could limit its operations. “This is a flooding disaster but we are having a drought of funding,” he said, relating it to a wider funding deficit humanitarian organisations are currently facing.
Earlier this month, the organisation increased its emergency appeal to CHF 55 million to assist three times more people than initially targeted. However, so far it has raised less than CHF 15m. That compares with CHF 80m collected in response to disastrous floods in Pakistan in 2010, which were considerably less severe.
“That gives a perspective of the drought of financial resources for humanitarian crises that, if we don’t address today, we are later going to feel the pain for the many people who are lost, for the lives of people under threats, for the population movement increase and the living conditions of people worsening.”
The UN also increased its initial emergency aid appeal earlier this month from $160m to $816m to support the Pakistan government to bolster health, nutrition and water and sanitation services, and avert what it called a “second wave of death and destruction”. The UN is thought to have received just $90m in aid for the country so far, according to reports from Reuters.
Pakistan to raise its plight at Cop27
Pakistan announced plans last week to host an international donors’ conference to raise funds to help it recover from the floods, which have caused at least $40bn in damages, according to the latest estimate from the World Bank.
Some officials in the country have called on richer countries to provide not only immediate aid for Pakistan but compensation for the damage, emphasising the role of climate change in intensifying the floods.
“Global warming is the existential crisis facing the world and Pakistan is ground zero – yet we have contributed less than one per cent to [greenhouse gas] emissions,” Pakistan’s climate minister Sherry Rehman told the Guardian last month. “We all know that the pledges made in multilateral forums have not been fulfilled.”
Pakistan is expected to raise its plight at the upcoming Cop27 conference held in Egypt in November, where government officials are due to discuss the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable countries, including how countries can finance the growing costs of loss and damage.
However, the idea of setting up some sort of compensation fund has been met with little enthusiasm from rich countries due to the liabilities that they could potentially face.
Coincidentally, Pakistan chairs the Group of 77 (G77) at the UN climate negotiations this year, a coalition of 134 developing countries, which called in Glasgow for a finance facility to support victims of climate-related disasters.
In a statement last week, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also emphasised the need to improve risk mapping and disaster preparedness in the face of increased climate threats, as well as capacity building to access climate finance.
The IFRC’s Castellanos said that, with extreme weather events caused by climate change only likely to become more frequent in recent years, greater investment both nationally and internationally was needed to help the country build resilience.
“Otherwise cyclically, we will have disasters like this all the time,” he said.