Mon Apr 22, 2024
April 22, 2024

A Tale of Two Floods : India and Pakistan, Climate Disaster in South Asia and Capitalism

Last year Pakistan was witness to the worst flooding in its recent history, with over a tenth of the country submerged under water, and over 1700 people killed. In addition, millions of people were displaced and tens of billions were lost on account of damage caused by the flooding. These floods came only two years after the costliest standalone disaster in 2020 when most of South Asia suffered flooding during monsoon season, at a time when the region was already in the grips of the Covid-19 pandemic. The floods in Pakistan were a blow to the already faltering economy of the beleaguered South Asian nation, which had been suffering for years due to the war in Afghanistan and gross economic mismanagement by its corrupt ruling class.  

However, the case of Pakistan is not an isolated case. Pakistan, like most of the world, and especially the peripheral semi-colonial countries of the world, have been the worst sufferers of climate crisis, despite having done little to contribute to causing the problem. The story is not different in Bangladesh, Nepal, or Sri Lanka. India has emerged as one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gasses, being the fourth largest source of the same, yet contributing to around 4% of total historical carbon emissions worldwide. It too has been ravaged by climate-change-induced disasters, having lost hundreds of people during the 2020 South Asian floods, suffering increasing droughts and losing land along the coastline. 

Climate crisis in Pakistan : 

Pakistan has been considered one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to warming temperatures. Its position in South Asia, means it would be affected by the warming of the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. The Indian Ocean is experiencing one of the fastest rises in surface temperatures which in turn contributes to more intense rainfalls during the monsoon season and greater frequency of cyclones and extreme weather phenomena. This is directly linked to global warming caused by carbon emissions. 

About half of Pakistan is arid, and like most arid climates, it is experiencing faster increases in surface temperature than most places in the world. Add to this the effect of extreme weather phenomena, and we have a recipe for disaster, making Pakistan one of the most vulnerable countries in the world. The situation has been made worse by rampant deforestation, particularly in Balochistan, whose forests have been destroyed to provide timber and fuel. Pakistan stands today as one of the most deforested nations in the world, having only 6% forest cover. 

Despite this, Pakistan’s own contribution to global warming is minuscule, adding less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Pakistan’s contribution is dwarfed by neighboring India which has the fourth highest greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Where the two are matched, is in the ruling government’s apathy towards the issue, and by extension, its complete disregard for the people who inevitably become the victims of climate disasters. This was revealed most tellingly in the scale of the death and destruction from the floods last year.

The numbers alone reveal the staggering scale of the disaster. Sindh has been the worst affected district suffering over 800 deaths, including dozens of children. In addition to this, millions of hectares of farmland, and thousands of cattle have been lost, crippling the rural population which relies heavily on agriculture. Balochistan, another hilly and largely arid country, with little past history of flooding, has also suffered tremendously, with over four hundred deaths. The destruction of livelihoods of it’s largely rural population is just as staggering, with half a million cattle gone, and millions of hectares of farmland destroyed. Punjab lost 1.8 million acres of farmland, and 233 people dead, while Khyber Pakhutnkhwa lost 309 people, and over half a million people displaced. With the two most important states of Pakistan (Punjab and Sindh) its economy has been crippled, and it appears today on the brink of economic collapse. 

One of the main causes of these floods is Pakistan’s unsustainable canal system, which relies on embankments and dykes which funnel water inland and connect the river systems of the Punjab. Much of the existing system was built in the 20th century under the British Raj, with a view to increasing the production of cash crops. Lands were allotted based on who was more loyal to the colonial regime, creating a system of entrenched rural elites, which still hold sway over Pakistan. The elites had control over the most fertile patches of the irrigation system, which they have used and abused to their benefit, leaving poorer farmers and agro-pastoralists to make do with less fertile land. During the floods, they took steps to make sure flood waters would be directed away from their lands, and to the lands of the poorer farmers. The destruction of the embankments that was necessary for this only exacerbated the impact of the flood. 

The narrative in Pakistan, is not different from the rest of South Asia. As is the case for most developing nations of the world, these countries cannot be asked to do their part to fight climate change because they contribute little to it. Some take it further, stating that it is necessary for ‘developing countries’ to freely adopt unsustainable development models which add to global warming and pollution, in order to ‘catch up’ with the rest of the advanced world. This is false! Being victims of climate-change-induced disasters is one of the key symptoms of capitalist and imperialist exploitation. We cannot fight against this without fighting against the capitalist system as well!  

Climate crisis in India : 

In recent years, India has emerged as one of the major emitters of greenhouse gases, ranking third in terms of total emissions. In 2019 India emitted 2,310 million metric tonnes of greenhouse gasses, ranking third in the world after China (9,877 mmt) and the USA (4,745 mmt). 

Despite having legislation designed to protect the environment and curb pollution, India has seen an almost runaway increase in emissions and global warming. The key to understanding this paradox lies in the political system of India, and its institutionalized corruption. The Indian bourgeoisie always seeks to ruthlessly maximize its profits, for which it is more than willing to destroy the environment. Against this, the people (primarily the peasantry and working class with petty bourgeois leadership) resist through environmental movements and activism. The government sometimes concedes but ensures that behind-the-scenes regulations are either poorly enforced or outright thrown away. 

One can see a brazen example of this in the present BJP government’s loosening of environmental regulations to favor infrastructure and energy projects by the Adani Group, one of the largest and richest Indian industrial conglomerates. In one example of cronyism, the Modi government legalized a massive Special Economic Zone project by the Adani group, which had earlier been declared illegal by the Gujarat High Court for not getting proper environmental clearance. This was done within two months of Modi winning the national elections when environmental clearances which had previously been denied were suddenly allowed. Adani’s land grabbing and polluting practices are well documented, despite this, the government which is hand in gloves with the conglomerate will take no steps to curb them. 

Adani is one company that profits greatly from a pro-fossil fuel energy policy. Despite rising pollution and warming temperatures causing havoc with every heatwave or monsoon flood that has become a regular feature of life in South Asia, the government of the big capitalists cares first and foremost about the profit of the billionaires whose wealth only keeps increasing with the passing time. Never mind the fact that hundreds of Indians die from calamitous floods, droughts, and heat waves. Never mind the millions of livelihoods lost from these extreme weather events, or the thousands of avoidable deaths caused by rising pollution, and shortened lifespans. 

During the 2020 floods in India, up to $86 billion was lost due to property damage caused by flooding, primarily in Eastern and Southern India. The most affected were the rural poor and working people of the region, who have to face disasters with little to no safety net.  Two and a half million people were displaced in Eastern India during the cyclone Amphan, while a similar number were displaced in Bangladesh during the same time. The vulnerable North Eastern state of Assam which suffers floods every year, saw a quarter of all villages inundated during the monsoon flood in 2020. A large portion of neighboring Bangladesh was submerged as well. The cyclone was the largest and most intense to strike the Bay of Bengal coastline, and part of a trend of more intense and frequent extreme weather events, caused by rising ocean surface temperatures which is linked directly to climate change caused by global warming. 

India is uniquely positioned among South Asian nations as both a victim of climate change and one of the major polluters which cause climate change. One of the most telling examples of this is the consequence of India’s exploitation of the riverine resources of the Himalayan range. This includes building dams and barrages to harness hydro-electric power, with dire consequences to those living downstream and in the immediate vicinity of the construction zone of these dams. India and China are both locked in a scramble to exploit the Himalayas in this way, with China exploiting the Tibetan plateau, while India exploits the regions of the Southern Himalayas from Kashmir, through Nepal and Bhutan, to the North Eastern states of India. 

As a result of dam projects, often constructed without taking the will of those living near them, thousands get displaced, like in the case of the Tehri Dam project which destroyed the historic town of Tehri. The effects down river are often chaotic, with rivers drying up in the summers, or flooding uncontrollably during the monsoons. In Bangladesh, farmers in the Northwest and Western provinces face the effects of drying rivers on account of the interruption of the natural flow of water due to the Farakka barrage. 

What must be done? 

Environmental movements in India, especially in the urban sphere, are largely led by the petty bourgeois and intelligentsia. The masses are either apathetic to it or oblivious to the root causes of their own suffering caused by environmental degradation due to capitalism. The movements are often ad hoc and limited in their scope, and do not raise the awareness of the working class, nor is there a mass element to it. Examples of mass movements include those such as the Chipko Movement, which succeeded in mobilizing the peasantry in the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh and forced the government to delay the construction of the Tehri dam and stopped government-backed logging activity. These victories, though important and encouraging, are temporary. Ultimately, the seat of the movement, Tehri, was submerged by the Tehri dam. 

It is important, while respecting the struggle, to acknowledge its limitations. It is equally important to acknowledge what lies at the root of the disasters caused by the wanton exploitation of nature. The capitalist system will always prioritize the accumulation of wealth and profit, over sustainability and environmental protection. The link between capitalism and environmental damage is becoming clearer with every passing day to the point it is almost unavoidable to speak of climate change without criticizing capitalism.  This is no different in India than it is anywhere else where the bourgeoisie runs things. The limits of apolitical environmental movements, led by NGOs, civil society, and ad hoc mobilizations, is that they do not question capitalism. They do not challenge capitalism. 

As the world looks at a disastrous tipping point where runaway global warming would become irreversible, we must be ready to expropriate capitalism fully. This requires a socialist revolution. 

The socialist solution to the environmental crisis : 

The Socialist revolution would have an immediate impact by simply overturning the political power of the bourgeoisie and installing the democracy of the working class, through the dictatorship of the proletariat. This would end the unscientific and brazen exploitation of nature, done without any democratic consent or will of the people affected by deforestation, infrastructure projects, and reckless dam building. There would never be another example like the destruction of Tehri under the rule of the working class. 

The transition to socialism, would require the fullest nationalization of the highest order of the economy, this includes the nationalization of mines, energy companies, and vital infrastructure. Shutting down polluting industries, moving them, or simply cleaning them up where possible would be the order of the day. Under a socialist planned economy, the shift away from fossil fuels wouldn’t just be a platitude to repeat at conferences and meetings to be forgotten the next day. This would be the target of every five-year plan, to shift away from thermal power to wind and solar energy, or even hydroelectric energy, powered by dams built on a more scientific basis, with both water flow and the public interest in mind. 

The Socialist revolution would mobilize hitherto untapped forces of the working class and its peasant allies, directing collective energy into transforming not just the social and political order, but the environment itself, to cleaning the pollution that plagues our cities, prematurely killing thousands. 

Capitalism in South Asia works to privilege the elite with the money and ability to withstand the effects of climate change and avoid pollution while leaving the rest of the masses to suffer. Many of these comforts are themselves the cause of pollution, be it car-centric urban planning, or excessive consumption of electricity. Hidden behind the statistic of per capita carbon pollution is the fact that most of this is caused by the elite, who control the vast numbers of factories and polluting industries that contribute the most to climate change and cause climate disasters. 

The Socialist revolution would put an end to the power of the bourgeoisie, and distribute the resources of the nation equitably. The inequality which saw the land, livesm and livelihoods of the poorest peasants in Pakistan swept away in the floods, would be ended. Measures would be undertaken to ensure protection and preparedness for all, while the expropriated wealth of the rich would be used to rebuild the lost livelihoods of the many. 

To achieve this, is not an easy task, but the road ahead is simple. The crisis of the present age is first and foremost a crisis of revolutionary leadership. To secure the Socialist revolution, we need a revolutionary party. In South Asia, we had a revolutionary party, the Bolshevik Leninist Party of India, Burma, and Ceylon. Now is the time to bring it back ! 




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