Floods in Pakistan are due to climate change and political challenges

The floods that have hit Pakistan this year are the result of a climate crisis a century of preparation. Climate specialists predict that Pakistan will experience devastating floods more frequently, interspersed with periods of extreme heat and drought.

While some studies suggest that this year’s floods are unique, experts say warning signs of increasingly intense monsoons have been repeatedly ignored. And while climate change is the main villain of this saga, the intense flooding is also the result of challenges endemic to the political institutions of Pakistan.

It is no coincidence that the areas most affected by floods today are also the poorest and least developed in the country. A 2015 district map with the lowest level of education in the country practically overlaps that of the United Nations Status report from the beginning of September. Weak governance and underinvestment in citizens seem to predict “natural disasterstoo.

Urban flooding has everything to do with real estate corruption

The floods are just part of the wider water and environmental crisis in Pakistan

In addition to frequent flooding, my research suggests that Pakistan also faces a very different kind of water crisis. In a study conducted in January in the city of Karachi, my co-author and I found that low-income households spent up to 12% of their monthly income on a few jerrycans of unsafe brackish water.

Nearly 30% of people surveyed in this study said they live with less than 30 liters of water a day – well below the UN threshold from 50 to 100 liters of water per person. The mismanagement of water and drainage systems across the country shows deep inequalities in access to basic needs and serious under-investment by national and local governments.

These kinds of inequalities are also found in other vital services. my work on privatization of electricity in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, suggests that large urban neighborhoods are collectively punished with scheduled blackouts when individuals fail to pay their mounting electricity bills on time. As studies in India, South Africa and elsewhere, the liberalization of service provision can sometimes provide elites with a unfair advantage shape the rules according to their own needs. And political elites in Pakistan, and elsewhere, are reluctant to relinquish power.

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In the absence of investment in education, infrastructure and institutions, it is common to see votes traded for basic needs, such as access to water or electricity. Meanwhile, studies indicate a failure of the Pakistani government to invest in a national community-centred environmental protection plan, choosing to focus solely on disaster mitigation.

Good governance at the local level offers a way forward

Are there best practices that could inform policy changes? Local communities can have considerable success in maintain infrastructure projects, such as roads and irrigation canals.

Recent work finds that communities in the semi-autonomous region of Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan enjoy very high levels of education, strong community organizations and deep commitments to ecological sustainability.

In 1997, a community in this region created a conservation trust, run by villagers, in the face of government attempts to turn the area into a tourist destination. Today, the region faces a existential threat intensive logging and encroachment by hotels and guesthouses along the water canals – much of which is government-sanctioned. Nonetheless, the conservation trust has continued its work amid these threats, and this region continues to be one of the most climate-resilient, with its communities working independently on adaptation.

Pakistan asks for flood aid – but no foreign NGOs

What role will international aid play?

Political institutions in Pakistan are the result of complex national and local factors, but they also reflect international influences. Pakistan has long occupied a central role in the foreign policy of the United States and Europe, for strategic reasons. In the aftermath of this year’s floods, many inside and outside Pakistan have stressed the need for accountability from the national government. Others focused on international aid requests, loan cancellations and even climatic repairs.

Pakistan continues to depend on loans and technical assistance from global donors to stabilize its economy. Last year a Report of the United Nations Environment Program said the inability of countries like Pakistan to adapt to climate change was at least partly due to a global failure of climate resilience funding.

In Pakistan and elsewhere, the window for climate adaptation is rapidly shrinking, according to this UN report. Any hope Pakistan has of preparing for the future depends on strong and urgent action commitments towards climate resilience on the part of international and national decision-makers.

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Erum Haider (@erumrum) is an assistant professor of political science and environmental studies at the College of Wooster in Ohio.

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