Sat Jul 13, 2024
July 13, 2024

Pakistan | Nature’s response to the ruling classes’ greed

In the last few decades, nature has been taking its revenge for the violence done by the oppressor class. There have been many warnings about the consequences of global warming, which we already see and feel, including floods, droughts, hurricanes, storms and forest fires. Such are the consequences which, in a brief span of time, have taken to the world stage, and which are part of the one and only global crisis. If we do not defeat capitalism, Nature may defeat it for us, annihilating us in the process.

(Mehnatkash Tehreek Pakistan)

The humanitarian situation in Pakistan has further deteriorated over the past three weeks as heavy rains continue to cause flooding and landslides, resulting in displacement and damage across the country. Sixty-six districts have been officially declared to be ‘calamity hit’: 31 in Balochistan, 23 in Sindh, nine in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and three in Punjab. The situation remains dynamic, and many more districts have been affected; the number of calamity hit districts is expected to rise as the rain continues.

The adverse weather conditions have incurred significant human and livestock casualties and widespread damage to private homes and public infrastructure, especially in the Balochistan and Sindh provinces. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) reports approximately 33 million people in Pakistan have been affected. As of August 25, Pakistan has experienced 375.4 mm of rainfall – 2.87 times higher than the national 30-year average of 130.8 mm. The rain has primarily fallen on Balochistan, Sindh and parts of Punjab, with Balochistan receiving five times its 30-year average rainfall and Sindh receiving 5.7 times its 30-year average.

Over 218,000 houses have been destroyed and 452,000 have been damaged since June 14, according to the NDMA. Livelihoods have also been heavily impacted – more than 793,900 livestock – a critical source of sustenance and livelihoods for many families – have died, of which around 63 percent are in Balochistan and 25 percent are in Punjab. Around 2 million acres of crops and orchards have also been impacted, including at least 304,000 acres in Balochistan, 178,000 acres in Punjab and around 1.54 million acres in Sindh. Damage to infrastructure has further worsened the humanitarian situation, as the partial or complete destruction of over 3,000 km of roads and 145 bridges impedes people’s ability to flee to safer areas or to travel to access markets, healthcare, or other vital services, and restricts the delivery of aid to people in need. Internet outages have also been reported, with the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority attributing widespread internet cuts in central and northern Pakistan on August 19 to technical faults in the fibre-optic network due to heavy rains and floods.

Provisional data from provincial Education Departments show that at least 17,566 schools have been damaged or destroyed: 15,842 schools in Sindh, 544 in Balochistan and 1,180 in Punjab. Additionally, at least 5,492 schools are reportedly being used to accommodate displaced people. A rapid needs assessment (RNA) conducted in 10 districts of Balochistan found that 977 classrooms were completely destroyed (304 in Khuzdar, 193 in Lasbela and 167 in Jhal Magsi), while minor damage was reported in 975 classrooms (304 in Khuzdar, 156 in Lasbela and 174 in Jhal Magsi), and 577 schools were being used as shelter (254 in Killa Saifullah, 105 in Jhal Magsi and 84 in Lasbela).

Near incessant rainfall is compounded by flash floods and rain-induced landslides. Dam reservoirs are filling up rapidly, posing further risk to people in the vicinity and downstream. On the Indus River, which traverses the length of Pakistan, the KP province’s Tarbela Dam – the world’s largest earth-filled dam – has already reached its maximum conservation level of 1,550 feet (472 meters), while the Chashma Barrage in Punjab province only has seven feet (2.13 meters) remaining before it also reaches its 649 foot (197 meter) maximum conservation level. On August 26, the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) Flood Forecasting Division (FFD) issued a warning that very high to exceptionally high levels of flooding are expected on the Kabul River at Nowshera in KP province, as well as in tributaries of the Kabul and Indus Rivers until August. The FFS also warned of high to very high flood levels at Kalabagh and Chashma along the Indus River between August 27 and 28.

According to the 2021 Climate Change Risk Index, despite contributing less than one percent to global carbon emissions, Pakistan is ranked eighth among countries most vulnerable to climate crises and continues to suffer from the vagaries of weather beyond any imaginable magnitude. Since the beginning of this year’s monsoon season in mid-June, around 1800 people have died across the country and hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. There is no respite from torrential rains and biblical floods in sight as these calamities combined continue to wreak havoc with people’s lives and properties. Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest and most impoverished province, has been hit the hardest by the surging torrents caused by heavy rains. According to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), more than 200 people have died in Balochistan, 58 of them children, and more than 10,000 people were displaced from their homes. Balochistan authorities say the floods have damaged more than 40,000 houses, 22,000 of which were destroyed. Nearly 700,000 acres (280,000 hectares) of crops across the province were lost, with officials appraising the total value of losses incurred at well over $10m. But the devastation is not limited to Balochistan alone, as almost all of Pakistan faces extraordinary amounts of rain this year. NDMA data suggests that this year’s average rainfall was 267mm, compared with the 30-year average of 119mm – an increase of 124 percent. Baluchistan’s 30-year average was only 55mm; this year’s 200mm average represents a dramatic 289 percent increase. The neighboring Sindh province’s 30-year average was 107mm, but this year, its rainfall has reached 375mm. The province has reported more than 150 flood-related deaths, including at least 66 children. While the federal and provincial governments and rescue authorities constantly claim that they are doing their best under the circumstances, people are still hopelessly pleading for relief and sharing videos of their distress on social media.

Since June, flash floods from heavy monsoon showers have been on a killing spree, inundating crops, leaving millions without shelter or food. The nation is short on relief goods. The calamity comes at a troubling time when the government is already coping with one of Asia’s fastest inflation rates and attempting to end a dollar shortage. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is expected to resume a $6 billion loan program while Qatar plans to invest $3 billion in Pakistan’s fragile economy. Flooding has already damaged millions of acres of farmland, including cotton. The country’s central bank has warned that heavy rains could severely impact agricultural output. The regulator already expects economic growth to fall from 3% last year to 2% to 3% in the year starting in July. The death toll is rising, with the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan badly hit. The situation is similarly grim in southern Punjab. Television footage shows people in flood-affected districts wading through water, carrying their belongings on their heads. Generally, masses are making all-out efforts to rescue flood victims, using boats and trucks to evacuate people to higher ground as some railways suspended operations due to flooded tracks.

Compounding the damage caused by the flash floods, thousands of those rescued by local disaster workers and volunteers are now homeless, living in tents, or even without them, miles away from their inundated towns. The flooding has further exacerbated Pakistan’s economic crisis. The federal government has issued an appeal, urging philanthropists to help flood-affected areas. After inundating much of southwestern Baluchistan and southern Punjab province, flash floods have now also started to affect the southern Sindh province. Likewise, torrential rains and heavy floods have taken a very toll on the beauteous northern areas of Hazara Division of KP, from Swat to Kalam. Similarly, in some parts of Dera Ismail Khan, the situation has worsened. Sensing more danger ahead, authorities closed schools in Sindh and Baluchistan. Heart-wrenching footage from these areas has gone viral on social media. In some places, families have struggled to bury their loved ones as local graveyards were inundated. The harrowing footage shows mourners carrying coffins through flooded areas to bury the dead away from submerged homes.
Experts say climate change has caused erratic weather conditions in Pakistan, resulting in cloudbursts, and the melting of glaciers that have swelled rivers. They propound that limiting planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions will help curb more drastic weather events around the world.

It is high time to devise a pragmatic plan to control the collateral damage. Keeping in view the vast areas involved, surveillance is of immense importance to promptly identify disease outbreaks, food and supply shortages, and the nutritional status of affected populations. Early disease outbreak surveillance is of the essence in this crisis. Use of geographic information systems software such as Google Earth can be particularly effective. They should be used to target interventions where there is high disease incidence and vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women, newborns, disabled and elderly people. Evidence-based strategies known to save lives in such complex emergencies need to be implemented by field operators and policy-makers. WHO’s handbook, “Communicable Disease Control in Emergencies: a Field Manual,” includes measures that can be taken to minimize the risk of infectious diseases in emergencies. The Cochrane Library has also released water-safety and water-related disease reviews for the development of appropriate guidelines, free for Pakistani users. Preventing infectious disease transmission must be a relief effort priority. For diarrheal disease prevention, adequate hygiene and sanitation are of primary importance. Flood victims need safe water, information about the benefits of maintaining hygienic practices, such as hand washing with soap, and mass vaccination for children against measles and cholera. We need public awareness to put pressure on governments to define the modern international health and development landscape.

The roles of the public and private sectors in disaster capitalism

Disasters provide opportunities: for some, this can mean positive societal change; for others, it is the ideal time for profit, resource extraction, and reinforcing the status quo. In recent years, the latter has become known as ‘disaster capitalism.’ This paper demonstrates that disaster capitalism manifests in public and private sectors alike, through the interplay between times of disaster and neoliberal reforms. There has been limited exploration of the role and the contribution of the public and private sectors in the (re)production and accumulation of disaster risks from a disaster capitalism optic, both in the academic literature and in the policy realm. This study responds to this gap in scholarship, providing a preliminary international overview of the root causes, behaviors, and consequences of disaster capitalism, as well as its contribution to disaster risk creation, and its role in the systemic nature of risk. The study analyzes diverse ex-ante and ex-post experiences of disaster capitalism in Pakistan, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, India, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, and the United States, from European colonial times up to the present-day flood. This is done through secondary data sources and literature review, grounded in a social constructionist approach to. We show that when disasters are not addressed with strategies for positive social change, the space is occupied by self-interested actors who pose a challenge to all disaster risk reduction and resilience efforts made by citizens, national and local governments, and international organizations. Moreover, interconnected neoliberal reforms and practices, such as profiteering from the disaster victims in Chile, privatization of essential public services in Italy, and deregulation of environmental protection in Brazil, to name a few, may lead to an exacerbation and creation of new risks. Through the series of disaster capitalism experiences around the world, we indicate why we must be very cautious when designing solutions without challenging the pre-existing socio-cultural and politico-economic conditions that helped to create the problem in the first place. Instead of resigning ourselves to the status quo and believing in “pretty” words and in the “Solidarity Corps”, we have to organize and prepare to seize control over society, out of the hands of irresponsible actors who would lead us down a path of environmental destruction.

The masses must demand the following from their Rulers:

  1. Cuts on official privileges!
  2. For the next 10 years: forgive all debts from the IMF and other financial agencies!
  3. Cuts on defense budgets!
  4. Shift tax burdens onto the higher socioeconomic classes!
  5. Nationalize all agricultural land and handover to small holders!
  6. No more taxes on people in the name of Flood relief!
  7. Publicly release all foreign aid documentation!
  8. Stop the Nonsense of so-called “permission procedures” from Authorities for flood relief victims in the name of Security!
  9. Stop leaving housing to realtors and real estate tycoons!
  10. Public transparency of all official relief activities
  11. Distribute all relief and construction through villages and towns via people’s assemblies!
  12. These are necessary and effective long-term means to provide the economic support required to rehabilitate the flooded population. There is a pressing need to broaden the economic and public base. The time to act is now!
    International Appeal!
    We appeal to comrades and friends to stay alert regarding the situation in Pakistan, express solidarity, and extend support to our members and sympathizing groups, who are currently coordinating and supporting relief and rehabilitation efforts.

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