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A resounding success

The recently concluded daylong International Conference on Climate Resilient Pakistan, co-hosted by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and UN Secretary General Antonia Guterres, in Geneva has surpassed the expectations of many optimists.

Given the world’s dismal response to the UN flash flood appeal of $816 million, people were justified in holding their expectations in check. While some people may still say that the amount of over $10 billion committed by the international community at the donors’ conference consists of merely initial pledges, it does point to the success of climate diplomacy led by the prime minister in explaining Pakistan’s post-floods recovery and reconstruction challenges to an otherwise weary world.

Credit should certainly go to the UN secretary general for what PM Shehbaz termed as his “moral clarity and leadership” in relentlessly highlighting the suffering and hardships of the flood affectees of Pakistan.

Ever since unprecedented floods hit Pakistan and caused massive devastation, the UN secretary general has been there for the flood victims. He visited the country and comforted the people who lost everything they had, shared their pain and gave voice to their ordeal and anguish at all global forums.

Pakistan used the Geneva conference to launch the Resilient, Recovery, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Framework (4RF) and place it before friendly countries and multilateral donors. The framework is an action plan for rehabilitation and reconstruction of the areas damaged by the floods and consists of the short-, medium- and long-term climate resilient strategies. It is based on the findings of the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA), which employed a whole-of-government approach and clearly spelled out the extent of the losses caused by the floods and the extent of reconstruction needed.

Ahead of the conference, a UN report on Pakistan floods raised alarm bells. Out of the $816 million funds for which the UN made an appeal, only 30 per cent of the pledged amount could be delivered so far. The UN World Food Programme has warned that it would not have funds to feed 2.7 million people by January 15, 2023.

The UN report is scary. With millions of homes, livestock and livelihoods destroyed by the floods, the spectre of poverty is likely to swallow up more people. The UN fears that 9.1 million people will be pushed below the poverty line in the absence of funding to restore livelihoods.

The same report indicates that about eight million people are “still potentially exposed to flood waters or living close to flooded areas.” Twelve districts in Sindh and Balochistan still report standing water.

As rehabilitation efforts continue and people return to whatever remains of their homes, their access to essential items such as food, health support system and life-saving medicine has been greatly hampered.

Despite the government’s best efforts, hundreds of thousands of children have failed to get their mandatory polio drops because of lack of access to the flood-affected areas. Couple this with massive learning losses as school buildings were washed away, leading to months-long suspension in educational activities. This is unacceptable.

From the United Nations General Assembly to the events at COP27, the prime minister has consistently highlighted the shared challenge of climate change that is capable of upsetting all our growth targets. He has presented the unprecedented flood devastation suffered by Pakistan as a case study to warn the world of what lies ahead.

At COP27 in November last year, Pakistan as chair of G-77 plus China brought countries from the Global North and Global South together to set up a Loss and Damage Fund. This landmark achievement was made possible after 30 years because the world closed ranks and understood the need for concerted action to address what is shaping up to be the biggest challenge of the present century.

Pakistan has consistently made a case for climate justice to help climate-vulnerable countries like Pakistan cope with a problem they have little role in creating. The establishment of a Loss and Damage Fund is good news but it is merely the beginning. A lot of work needs to be done urgently to operationalize the Fund.

Pakistan faces a mammoth challenge of rehabilitation and reconstruction. Restoring the country to the pre-floods level requires relentless efforts and sustained focus over the coming months. And then there is the renewed challenge of climate mitigation and adaptation to make the country climate-resilient.

Along with building back better, Pakistan has to rebuild hopes and dreams of the people whose lives were turned upside down by the floods. The affected children must be assured of a bright, healthy and fulfilling future, one where they can unlock their potential.

It is beyond the capacity of any government to deal with as mammoth a challenge as the post-floods reconstruction. More so the case when the country is already grappling with a serious economic crisis in history, which is exacerbated by a massive surge in the global fuel and energy prices as well as the geo-strategic upheavals.

These are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary response. The failure of inaction has a huge cost. The danger is no more distant. It is very much real, alive and present, knocking on our doors.

The time for academic debates is long gone. The time for action is here. All of our ambitions for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be wiped out if the world does not act fast to help climate-vulnerable countries such as Pakistan survive through the horrors of climate change and build back better. Working in silos is a non-starter. Our civilization requires a collective approach, one rooted in the welfare of humanity over and above all divides.

If the Marshall Plan could be presented to rebuild countries destroyed in world wars, the climate threat is far more urgent, serious and lethal than anything that came before. The developing world threatened by climate change should support the calls for the provision of climate finance from IFIs on the pattern of special packages announced as part of the Covid recovery plans.

It is time we revised the concept of international aid in light of climate adaptation and mitigation challenges. Merely renaming international aid as climate aid under the previous terms will not be sufficient.

Left to themselves, low-income countries will be forced to slash their development budgets, which means more poverty and social backwardness, with implications far beyond our imagination.

Pakistan’s reconstruction and rehabilitation is an acid test for humanity. The world needs to rise to the challenge in a show of compassion and empathy. History shows us that it is human solidarity that has been humanity’s greatest weapon against the heaviest of odds.

The outcome of the Geneva conference has rekindled a ray of hope. It is now on the government to follow through with a carefully calibrated strategy via the whole-of-government approach.

Email: amanatchpk@gmail.com

Amanat Ali Chaudhry, "A resounding success," The News. 2023-01-16.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , International community , Climate diplomacy , Floods , Rehabilitation , Reconstruction , PM Shehbaz Sharif , Antonia Guterres , Geneva , Pakistan , PDNA , SDGs