Pakistan: Forced Displacement and Climate Change
In the space of little more than 3 weeks, more than 5 million people in Pakistan have been displaced from their homes, their farms, their villages, their communities, and their livelihoods. Predictions are that over the course of the next few weeks, the situation could become even worse and hundreds of thousands more people could be displaced. It will be many months, or even years, before we are able to assess the full extent of the human wastage and damage done, but already a number of assumptions can be made that call for urgent action.
The first of these assumptions is that many families will have been disrupted and that many community structures will have been disorganised. In the case of the current situation in Pakistan, this means that millions of families are being affected in ways that will make coping all the more precarious and that will limit the capacity of individuals and groups to begin the difficult, but necessary, process of recovery and reconstruction.
The second assumption is that most of the communities or locations where people are moving to, or being moved to, are ill-prepared to deal with this influx of women, men, and children of all ages. The load this will place on the healthcare system in these locations will be huge, and it is unlikely that in the absence of massive external assistance, they will be able to respond to the needs of this new population of displaced people.
The third assumption that can be made is that within the ranks of these displaced people, many were already in poor health even before the crisis happened. Pakistan has never been a wealthy country, and as many as a third of its people were struggling to live on less than $1 per day. Malnutrition was widespread, tuberculosis was rampant, and malaria common. Maternal and infant death rates were among the highest in Asia, and life expectancy among the poor was very short. Many of the diseases and health conditions these populations suffered from, now risk being aggravated and spread to other parts of Pakistan.
From a psychosocial perspective, the process of displacement will also have affected millions of people in far-reaching ways. Many, irrespective of age or gender, will have been traumatised to such an extent that their capacity to cope will have been lessened. Losing homes, farms, communities, and local cultures will inevitably have introduced a sense of hopelessness and despair that could debilitate the capacity to cope and prepare for a new life. Tragically, there is also reason to believe that the incidence of rape and other forms of gender-based violence will have gone up as well.
All these problems will be made worse by the fact that many of the people concerned are poorly educated and unfamiliar with disease prevention principles and with the healthcare systems that hopefully will become available to them in the coming months. Unless comprehensive and well-coordinated relief and recovery programmes are put into place quickly, Pakistan could be faced with a complex range of new and worsened old health problems.
Tragically, the crisis in Pakistan may be a foretaste of things to come on an equally large scale, and over a wider geographical region. For no matter what global warming and climate change is due to, the fact remains that extreme weather conditions, including heavy and seasonally unpredictable rains, are becoming more common in some parts of the world, while in others, extreme drought and lack of water are becoming common.
The response to the crisis in Pakistan has been slow in coming. Even now, it is clear that more funding is being proposed from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and regional banks, than is coming from voluntary contributions. These loans will have to be paid back, and for the foreseeable future, Pakistan will move into a process of long-term indebtedness that will undermine the country’s economy even more so, and place vast numbers of people into greater poverty.
If the international community cannot respond in a more forceful fashion than it has done to date, this will bode ill for Pakistan’s people and their health. It will bode equally ill for all the other countries and the hundreds of millions of people who could be exposed to equally disastrous climatic events in the future.
- Clinton Links Pakistan Floods to Climate Change (foxnews.com)
- Is the Flooding in Pakistan a Climate Change Disaster? (scientificamerican.com)
- NASA images capture extent of Pakistan flooding (photos) (news.cnet.com)
- Pakistan flood health crisis talks to be held (BBC)