Pakistan: the floods, climate change & colonialism.

Pakistan has a population of over 220 million people, making it the worlds fifth most populated country. The country itself is quite new, achieving independence from Britain and separation from India in 1947, to become the worlds second largest Muslim country. However the land is rich with history from ancient civilizations and cultures as far back as the Bronze Age. Pakistan is divided into five provinces: Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (also known as North-West Frontier), Punjab, Sindh and  Giglit-Baltistan. It also has has control over Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), which is a self-governing state. Incidentally I’m from Azad (free) Kashmir.

A Map of Pakistan highlighting the five provinces as well as AJK.

The areas worst affected by the recent floods are the Sindh and Balochistan although the northern region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has also been affected. Earlier in the year Pakistan experienced an unprecedented heatwave, in fact Jacobabad, a city in the Sindh hit a record breaking temperature of 51°C, the hottest temperature on the planet so far this year, according to international meteorological experts. This intense heatwave contributed to the glaciers in the Himalayas and Hindu Kush region, to melt faster. These feed the Indus river, a river that runs the entire length of Pakistan. This was followed by a record rainfall during the monsoon season. Rainfall amounts from mid-June through August were 430 percent of normal in Baluchistan and 460 percent of normal in Sindh. This extreme weather has led to flash floods and has had devastating consequences on Pakistan, with an estimated 1/3 of the country currently under water. The floods have killed over 1,200 people, which is an extremely conservative estimate, and 800,000 livestock. Over 100 bridges have collapsed and thousands of kilometres of road have been destroyed.  As it stands, more than 33 million people have been affected. After a certain number of zeros numbers begin to loose their power, but to put 33 million into perspective it is almost the entire population of Canada, or half the population of the United Kingdom. Its a staggeringly large number of people and lives affected. And unfortunately this is only the beginning.

It is estimated that 90% of crops are ruined in the Sindh region, which produces half of the countries food. Entire villages and agricultural fields as well as livestock have been swept away. Around 40 to 45 percent of the country’s cotton crops have been wiped away. Pakistan is the fifth largest cotton producer in the world and a key garment manufacturer. These floods will have an impact on peoples livelihoods for years to come as well as an impact on global markets.

It is an insult to our collective intelligence to call these extreme weather events “natural disasters”. They have been caused by climate change, which is man made and is very much the creation of the Global North. Countries like Pakistan are extremely vulnerable to the effects of global warming. For example Pakistan has more than 7,200 glaciers – more than anywhere outside the poles – and the increase in global temperatures will continue to have a catastrophic effect as these melt at an increasingly rapid rate. The worlds most vulnerable communities are paying the price for climate change. Pakistan for example has contributed to less than 1% of the global greenhouse gas emission . Since 1959, Pakistan is responsible for only 0.4% of the worlds historic CO2 emissions. America is responsible for 21.5%, China for 16.5% and the EU for 15%

Cumulative CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion worldwide 1750-2020, by country

The image above shows the cumulative CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion worldwide from 1750-2020. America is by far the biggest contributor of emissions and therefore has a greater responsibility, due to its huge contribution to the issue, of helping the countries suffering the consequences of essentially its development. Yet America has only pledged $30 million towards the relief efforts. That’s less than a dollar per displaced person. It’s estimated that damage from the floods will cost over $10 billion dollars. This is not something Pakistan is responsible for, yet it is paying a heavy price. The Global North has proactively avoided its responsibilities to the Global South, by avoiding meaningful discussions and refusing  reparations. Pakistan’s climate minister, Sherry Rehman, told the Guardian, “Global warming is the existential crisis facing the world and Pakistan is ground zero – yet we have contributed less than 1% to [greenhouse gas] emissions. We all know that the pledges made in multilateral forums have not been fulfilled. There is so much loss and damage with so little reparations to countries that contributed so little to the world’s carbon footprint that obviously the bargain made between the global north and global south is not working. We need to be pressing very hard for a reset of the targets because climate change is accelerating much faster than predicted, on the ground, that is very clear.”

Climate change is a global justice issue. The worlds poorest, and least responsible for the damage to the climate and with the lowest carbon footprints are paying the highest price. From cyclones in Mozambique, to droughts in Madagascar and Somalia, to the more recent floods and heatwaves, millions of lives are being impacted by climate change now. This is not only an environmental issue, it intersects with social systems, privileges and longstanding injustices. It affects people of different ages, races, class, gender and over geographical locations. Trusha Reddy, head of energy and climate justice at the WoMin African Alliance says “Climate justice is also heavily interconnected with historical injustices, it relates to how the climate crisis came about, who caused it, and so ultimately, who really needs to take the biggest amount of action.”

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have just his year included colonialism into their report and acknowledge the historical and on-going consequences of colonialism on climate change. This is the first time in its 30 year history that this link has been made. Climate activists however have been saying for years that climate change is the outcome of white western colonialism. Many people argue that climate change started with the industrial revolution, but it would be more accurate to say that it started with conquest, genocide, slavery and colonialism. I don’t need to tell you that slavery and empire were racist, but its important to highlight this link between colonialism and the climate crisis. Britain stole land and labour and used these, along with the natural resources of other countries, to pay for its industrialisation. When slavery was finally abolished in 1833, the British compensated slave owners rather than the slaves. Records, which have only been made available since 2013, show that the total amount of compensation was equivalent to 5% of its GDP at the time. This was such a vast amount that it was only fully paid off in 2015, meaning that any one of us who has paid taxes in Britain during that period, has contributed to paying off slave owners. Let that sink in.

Slave owners, for their part were busy building museums, churches, stately homes ad other key infrastructures. Bristol Zoo, Thorpe Park and Clifton Suspension Bridge are just some of the places associated with the money of slave owners. Others invested in shipping, manufacturing and banking. All of these institutions are built on the back of colonialism with stolen labour, stolen land and stolen resources. Not a penny of reparations have ever been paid. And of course, its not just Britain: Spain Portugal, France, Germany, Belgium and Italy all profited by plundering the resources and labour of other lands. America was built on genocide, land theft and slavery. The Global North has pillaged and raped the rest of the world for centuries now, and continues to do so by not accepting the extent of its responsibility to the countries now suffering the consequence of climate change.

For decades poorer counties have been penalised by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund who wrote international rules to favour richer nations. Poorer countries were advised to open up their markets to foreign investment and denationalise prize assets. They were forbidden from subsidising farmers or industries (remember Brexit and how important subsidises to fishing and farming are) as a condition of development aid. So first they steal from countries in the Global South, then they refuse to pay reparations or any compensation for what they have stolen, and continue to steal by not returning many of their looted treasures, which now live in western museums. AND they continue to steal from them under the guise of international aid!!! Its mind blowing how evil all of this is. It feeds into climate change because now these countries are at the forefront of the climate battle and don’t have the recourses or infrastructure, after centuries of being exploited by the Global North, to deal with the catastrophic ramifications of climate change, which is also not of their making.

Climate Change is Racist by Jeremy Williams

The book, Climate Change is Racist by Jeremy Williams, has been a powerful eye opener for me to the extent of the relationship between climate change and colonialism. I can’t recommend this book enough to you all. So much of this post has been prompted and learnt through its pages. We all need to take action now in order to prevent the extinction level damage the rise in global temperatures could amount to. I love this books so much that I will be hosting a giveaway over on my Instagram account, hopefully next week. It really is a must read.

There are a number of ways you can donate to Pakistan’s flood relief efforts, below are a few charities I have used.

Islamic Relief

British Red Cross

Penny Appeal

Muslim Aid

Muslim Hands

Save the Children

Sources: The Washington Post The Red Cross Fashion United The Guardian The Guardian

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