THE UNITED NATIONS - The people of Pakistan are the victims of “a grim calculus of climate injustice”, Secretary-General António Guterres told the UN General Assembly on Friday, reminding that while the country was responsible for less than one per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is paying a “supersized price for man-made climate change”.
During a full session of the UN’s most representative body on the country’s devastating floods, he recalled last month’s visit where he saw “a level of climate carnage beyond imagination”.
He described flood waters covering a landmass three times the total area of his own country, Portugal, saying that many lost their homes, livestock, crops and “their futures”.
“Lives were washed away”, he spelled out.
Worse to come
While the rains have ceased and water is beginning to recede, many areas in the south remain inundated and, with winter approaching, the situation is going from bad to worse.
“Pakistan is on the verge of a public health disaster”, warned the top UN official, pointing to threats of cholera, malaria and dengue fever claiming “far more lives than the floods”.
He painted a picture of nearly 1,500 devastated health facilities, two million damaged or destroyed homes and more than two million families without their possessions.
“Many have no shelter as winter approaches”.
At the same time, the scale of crop and livestock destruction is “creating a food crisis today and putting the planting season in jeopardy tomorrow”, continued Mr. Guterres.
“Severe hunger is spiking. Malnutrition among children and pregnant lactating women is rising. The number of children out of school is growing. Heartache and hardship – especially for women and girls – is mounting,” he elaborated.
Moreover, more than 15 million people could be pushed into poverty.
The effects of the floods will be felt not just for days or months but will linger in Pakistan for years to come.
Massive support needed
Working with the Pakistan Government to convene a pledging conference to provide rehabilitation and reconstruction support, the UN chief urged donor countries, international organizations, the private sector and civil society to fully support these efforts.
Meanwhile, the Organization launched the Pakistan Floods Response Plan calling for $816 million – a surge of $656 million from the initial appeal – to respond to the most urgent needs through next May.
“But this pales in comparison to what is needed on every front – including food, water, sanitation…and health support”, said the Secretary-General.
G20’s ‘Moral responsibility’
As the calendar moves quickly to next UN climate conference (COP27) in November, he said “the world is moving backwards [as] greenhouse gas emissions are rising along with climate calamities”.
The UN chief stressed that COP 27 must be the place where these trends are reversed, serious action on loss and damage taken, and vital funding found for adaptation and resilience.
Reminding that the G20 leading industrialized nations drive 80 per cent of climate-destroying emissions, he called it their “moral responsibility” to help Pakistan recover, adapt and build resilience to disasters “supercharged by the climate crisis”.
‘We must act now’
Noting that a third of Pakistan had been deluged, Mr. Guterres said that many island States face “the very real prospect of their entire homeland going under”.
“Communities everywhere are looking down the barrel of climate-driven destruction,” he said. “We must act – and we must act now”.
While this time it was Pakistan, the Secretary-General warned that tomorrow, “it could be any of our countries and our communities”.
“Climate chaos is knocking on everyone’s door, right now,” he concluded. “This global crisis demands global solidarity and a global response”.
‘Litmus test of solidarity’
General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi, underscored the importance of time, as “the price we are paying for delays rises each day”.
He said that today, the world faced a “litmus test of solidarity” in how Member States react to Pakistan’s plight.
“This is a tragedy of epic proportions” that requires “immediate interventions,” to prevent a “permanent emergency”.
The Assembly President highlighted the need to be better prepared as droughts and rains return.
More than ever, international relief efforts must focus on transformative solutions, he said. “Adaptation and resilience are the seeds of sustainability”.
Mr. Kőrösi urged the ambassadors to “make use of science and solidarity…to enhance our crisis management capacities…[to] rebuild together”.
Appealing for help
Meanwhile the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is urgently seeking to help more than 650,000 refugees and members of their host communities affected by Pakistan’s calamitous flooding.
Noting that the scale of devastation is “hard to comprehend,” spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh told a press briefing in Geneva on Friday that as Pakistan faces “a colossal challenge” to respond to the climate disaster, more support is need “for the country and its people, who have generously hosted Afghan refugees for over four decades”.
He reported on the latest estimates of the unprecedented rainfall and flooding, recorded at least 1,700 deaths; 12,800 injured, including at least 4,000 children; some 7.9 million displacements; and nearly 600,000 living in relief sites.
On ‘the frontlines’
“Pakistan is on the frontlines of the climate emergency,” said Mr. Saltmarsh.
UNHCR seeks additional funds to address immediate needs and assist in early recovery processes.
“It could take months for flood waters to recede in the hardest-hit areas, as fears rise over threats of waterborne diseases and the safety of millions of affected people, 70 per cent of whom are women and children,” he said, reminding that “environmental sustainability will remain central to the response”.