Climate Change Saga of Pakistan — what does drive the disaster most in the country?

Hasnain Gul
Published in
10 min readJun 21, 2023
A family carries their belongings through floodwaters in Jamshoro, Pakistan. Courtesy: Yasir Rajput/Reuters

“Climate inaction is myopic and can only differ catastrophe,” said the president of COP-26, Alok Sharma, in the opening speech of COP-27.

These words best describe the plight of countries like Pakistan which always picture the worst climatic scenario. In the recent past, Pakistan has remained a landscape of inundated lands, and the makeshift camps bristled with climate victims.

Such a situation triggers questions in mind, why is Pakistan always under the brunt of climate change? What brings the country to the verge of climate disaster? And how detrimental climate-menace is to Pakistan viz-a-viz human, economic, and resource losses? This article attempts to respond to these questions by expounding on the climate change saga of Pakistan.

Pakistan is a climate-hostile region. In line with that, the country also lags in social and economic development. As a result, Pakistan is the 8th most vulnerable to climate change, according to the Climate Risk Index 2021. Amid such a scenario, the lack of capacity-building efforts; at the national and domestic levels; is exacerbating the climate woes in Pakistan. Furthermore, as the climatic chaos escalates, the sentiments of climate injustice are gaining momentum. It is because the lack of recognition and compensation for the climate crisis at the global level is adding to the vulnerability of Pakistan and the likes of Pakistan.

Consequently, the country is endeavoring the brunt of recurring floods, drought, and unprecedented temperature rise. These climatic calamities, in turn, translate into a water crisis and stunted crop productivity, mass migration, and economic loss. In such conditions, addressing socio-economic woes with the help of climate finance followed by a gradual transition to green energy and climate resilience infrastructure would be the base bet to avert the further climate disaster.

As far as reasons for the climate vulnerability are concerned, Pakistan is primarily a climate-hostile region followed by inadequate socioeconomic development. This element is at the back of all the climatic conundrums in Pakistan. The connection between climate vulnerability and socioeconomic development in today’s world is conspicuous. The regions with higher socioeconomic development, such as the global north, are less prone to climate woes. In contrast, the global south; with miserable socioeconomic indicators; continues to be the worst climate-hit region. Pakistan is the point in case. The country is a semiarid region according to Koppen Climate Classification. In addition, the socioeconomic condition of Pakistan portrays an abysmal picture. The country ranks 161 out of 192 on the Human Development Index 2022. It, therefore, can be construed from the case of Pakistan that geographical location and level of socioeconomic development play a central role in determining the scale of climate vulnerability.

Moreover, the lack of capacity-building efforts in Pakistan is wreaking havoc viz-a-viz the climate catastrophe. The absence of an effective early warning system and the dearth of required drainage and storage infrastructure, followed by a poor disaster management system, are the primary factors that add to the scalability of disaster in the country. As the scale of climate calamity goes high capacity-building efforts such as the effective mechanism of disaster predictions and coping strategies take center stage in the global and national climate agenda. However, the regions that lack such farsightedness face the worst consequence of climate change. For instance, recent flash floods in Pakistan inflicted large-scale devastation in more than 110 districts of Pakistan, according to the country’s National Flood Response Coordination Centre (NFRCC). Had there been farsightedness to climate disaster in Pakistan level of damage could have been attenuated.

Furthermore, climate injustice — the lack of recognition and compensation for climate disasters — adds to the climatic woes in countries like Pakistan. It is because industrial economies that emit higher levels of carbon pay less to the worst climate-hit regions. Whether Net Zero targets (cutting emissions to zero as close as possible ) or climate finance, global leaders like the United States, China, European Union, and India show little or no convergence on these climate actions. Furthermore, the ignorant and indifferent behavior of global leaders viz-a-viz climate change is brutal. In this regard, the statements of former American president Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are on the record, who denied climate change a reality. With that climate injustice, countries like Pakistan are bearing the brunt of the worst climatic woes.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Among the worst implications of climate change in Pakistan, floods are contagious.

Since the onset of the 21st century, whenever climate change occurs, it erratically does, hitting Pakistan harshly through and within the water. In the second quarter of the current century, Pakistan suffered three floods. The recent flash flood in 2022 is the point in case that was the climate carnage of the current era. This catastrophe left around 1700 people dead, affecting more than 30,000,000 people across Pakistan. Therefore, in the track record of climate catastrophes, floods are a recurring and ravaging reality in Pakistan.

Devastating floods in Pakistan. Courtesy: UNICEF

After floods, droughts are the worst climatic scenarios that have been sabotaging the human security of Pakistan for decades. Droughts occur because climate change alters the precipitation patterns resulting in a dearth of rainfall. In the entire history of Pakistan, droughts have been a chronic phenomenon. However, in modern times the droughts can be traced back to the early 1990s. Of those, the drought of 2018–2021 is the worst-case scenario. That drought afflicted the Sindh province, the southern part of Pakistan. The drought caused the worst humanitarian crisis in the Tharparkar district, according to the ‘Fast Rural Development Programmes Report of 2018’. Thus, droughts like floods are also death knell to human security in Pakistan.

Furthermore, climate-induced temperature rise is chronically putting human security at risk in Pakistan. Because unprecedently hot summers create health emergencies in the country and affect labor productivity severely. Because in the Pakistani setup, where working conditions for labor are unfavorable, scorching temperatures affect the performance and health of laborers. In this regard, 2022 was the worst year. Because 3 Pakistani cities: Sibi, Nawabshah, and Jacobabad, were ranked as the hottest cities in the world. Therefore, such trends of skyrocketing temperatures are the death knell to human security in Pakistan.

In addition, the damage done by climate change in terms of infrastructure and financial loss in Pakistan is colossal. Floods, droughts, and rising temperatures translate into devastation. Destruction of critical infrastructure, stunted agriculture growth, and reduced labor productivity are epic among the total loss. The country has borne the $10 million loss just in recent flash floods. Whereas the country routinely endures a loss of 3.8 billion dollars annually. Thus, climate-induced loss is another economic concern in Pakistan nowadays.

After that, climate migration is another concern in Pakistan that expedites urbanization. Climate change aspects such as irregular river flow patterns and sea level rise erode riverine areas and coastal belts. These phenomena push people to move towards cities for shelter and economic opportunity. As a result, it has been observed in Pakistan, especially in the South of the country a large chunk of the population living nearby the coastal belt has moved to megacities. According to Islamic Relief Report 2021, 1.2 million people had migrated to Karachi only from Indus Delta. Thus, climate change is an impetus to mass migration, which triggers unsustainable urbanization.

Besides, with the rising scale of climate change, its impacts on the health of Pakistanis are becoming flagrant. The climate-induced health emergencies such as heatstroke, dengue, malaria, and malnutrition start taking center stage. In addition to these conventional climate-caused health emergencies, there are also other health implications of climate change. According to one research conducted by Agha Khan Foundation: ‘the rise in temperature lowers the amount of protein in the human body.’ Moreover, the rising temperatures are decimating people. Its glaring example was the heat wave-2015 in Pakistan which left many dead and hospitalized more than 250,000 people. Thus, climate change is sabotaging the health of people in Pakistan.

A flood-affected woman with her 1-day-old baby boy at a hospital in Sehwan, Pakistan, In September 2022. Courtesy: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters

In addition to that, the water scarcity triggered by climate change is taking a dangerous turn in Pakistan. Because unprecedently hot summers deplete surface water resources due to the increased water demand in the country. Moreover, irregular precipitation patterns do not help recharge the surface and groundwater bodies; that are rainfed at large. Because the rainfall occurs in higher magnitude for a shorter period of time. Therefore, such patterns also do not feed groundwater bodies. Hence, climate-induced reduction in water availability in Pakistani settings, where per capita water availability has shrunk to 900 cubic meters, is exacerbating the water crisis.

Photo by Gyan Shahane on Unsplash

Moreover, with changing climate, its implications on agriculture become vivid, like the other sectors. Because the rising temperatures trigger the phenomena like evapotranspiration which reduce crop yields. Moreover, long and hot summers in Pakistan are altering the crop patterns leading to reduce crop productivity for the main crops. In Pakistan, the main crops are wheat, corn, sugarcane, and cotton. These crops not only feed the country; but also contribute to exports at large. Amid such a scenario, the stunted agriculture growth (reduced to 19% presently) is a great menace to economic and food security in Pakistan.

In the course of climate action, socioeconomic development takes precedence.

Because the level of socioeconomic development determines the scalability of resilience to climate change. It is conspicuous from the susceptibility of Pakistan that a country lacking socioeconomic development stands among the worst climate-hit regions of the world. On the contrary, it, too, can be construed from higher levels of socioeconomic progress in countries like Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway that socioeconomic development reduces climate change susceptibility. Thus, in Pakistan, the incorporation of socioeconomic development in the climate agenda is the need of the hour.

Furthermore, building climate-resilient infrastructure is the pivot that will enhance the climate resilience of Pakistan. Climate resilient infrastructure entails climate-friendly housing, basic health units, and suitable drainage and storage infrastructure. Moreover, using eco-friendly construction materials in buildings can help reduce carbon emissions. Conventionally building construction in Pakistan is carried out with concrete. This material emits a higher amount of carbon. Moreover, concrete structures trap heat at a large scale which, in turn, worsens the climate. Hence, replacing the conventional mechanism with eco-friendly options for building climate-resilient infrastructure must be externalized.

As for climate action, afforestation and green energy projects are the prominent steps taken by Pakistan. Such endeavors include plantation and shift to renewable energy sources such as solar. These efforts have been lauded by the international community. However, being the tiny contributor — below 1% — to global greenhouse gas emissions, Pakistan needs to press more on resilience building. In the mitigation efforts, just to mention a few, the establishment of Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park and Billion Tree Tsunami projects are worth mentioning initiatives. More such initiatives should be brought into the development agenda so as to achieve sustainability.

Photo by Appolinary Kalashnikova on Unsplash

As far as green energy and reduction in carbon imagination are concerned, global compact is the primary requirement. It is because emissions are a universal phenomenon, and excessive emissions in the global north are triggering the climate of the Global South. It has been eight years since global leaders made pledges at Paris Climate Conference in 2015. But no concrete action has been taken to make good on promises. Resultantly while the parties talk at climate conferences, the emissions are rising. Hence, a concrete global compact on the reduction of emissions is the only way to slow the pace of changing climate.

Paris Agreement. Courtesy of: UNFCCC

In order to help Pakistan in building resilience against climate change, financial assistance is an urgent aspect. Ravage by infrastructure and monetary losses, the country needs rehabilitation funds to recover from the humanitarian crisis. Alone in the recent flash floods, Pakistan has suffered a loss of more than 10$ billion. Thus, in light of the devastation caused by the recent floods in Pakistan, the secretary general of the United Nations very well said that “climate finance is not the matter of solidarity, it is the question of justice.” Therefore, funding countries like Pakistan to help recover from the disaster should be the top priority of the global masters.

In the mitigation efforts, a gradual transition to renewable energy sources is the best bet for Pakistan. It is because shifting to green energy would not only help avert environmental pollution but the imports (higher in energy products) will also diminish. Pakistan, though, has significantly completed some successful green energy projects. Yet the country’s reliance on fossil fuels is unabated. Pakistan holds great potential in the sector of renewable energy. For example, Pakistan Atomic Energy Department is making significant progress in the exploitation of nuclear energy to produce electricity. Hence, more green energy projects are required to help build Pakistan green.

Conclusively it can be said that haunted by chronic and severe climate disasters such as floods, droughts, and heatwaves, Pakistan stands among the world’s hit regions by climate change. It is because, with the poor socioeconomic condition, the country pays little heed to capacity-building. Moreover, the lack of recognition and compensation at the global level is adding to the plight of Pakistan. Resultantly, floods, droughts, and scorching temperatures have become the fate of the country. These climate catastrophes, in turn, trigger the health, housing, water, and food crises, putting human security at stake in Pakistan. The country, though, has taken significant steps to mitigate climate attacks. However, much has to be done to enhance the action against climate change. To mention a few, socioeconomic development, followed by a transition to climate-resilient infrastructure and green energy with the help of climate funds, would be the best bet to help avert further climate catastrophes in Pakistan.

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Hasnain Gul

An avid reader and independent thinker who finds magic in words