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“Pakistan contributes less than one percent of global carbon emissions yet is the eighth most vulnerable nation to impact of climate change”. “Developed economies must be called out for burying their heads in the sand and imposing a new form of colonialism”. These and similar sentiments are being raised with increasingly feverish pitch in the aftermath of the havoc unleashed by monsoon floods. Unfortunately, shaping Pakistan’s appeal for assistance to the world community in this manner may cause more harm than good.

Neither freak weather events nor the contribution of global elite to climate change is disputable. However, as climate experts have repeatedly pointed out, although the scale of torrential rains, flash floods, glacial and cloud outbursts may be unprecedented, the scale of economic loss may not only have been foreseeable, but – in part – also avoidable.

This is not victim blaming. That we have built – and continue to –infrastructure in water’s right of way exacerbated the scale of destruction manifold; terrifyingly memorialized by the haunting footage of a luxury hotel being swept away by a flash flood in Swat River. For years, local geographers and climate scientists have warned against Pakistan’s unsustainable development model that is increasingly hostile to environment, with no lessons learnt from earlier meteorological disasters such as the 2010 and 2011 floods.

Given the sheer scale of destruction, Pakistan needs a bail out in the form of rapid financial and logistical assistance from the global community. But to shape the national narrative as if Pakistanis have had no role to play in this still unfolding disaster is to surrender agency for our poor policy planning and abdication of responsibility for decades of bad governance. From Lai Expressway, Malir Expressway to Margalla Avenue, and RUDA, the state of Pakistan is not only culpable for putting the environment at risk, but is also leading the charge in building monstrosities in the name of infrastructure and development.

Similarly, Pakistani elite’s interest in protecting environment is restricted to paying lip service, just enough to secure subsidized funding from World Bank and IFC in the name of sustainable development. From banks, to textile, cement, and energy, the economic elite of this country continues to finance and sponsor environmentally hostile projects. As for private individuals – including the overseas - many remain happy investors in luxury real estate projects and housing societies built on erstwhile nullahs, mangroves – with zero indignation to their conscience.

As Pakistanis – local, overseas and corporates – loosen their purse strings to dish out financial support to flood affectees, it may a good time to ask ourselves if the national elite is ready to be held unaccountable for the climate injustice it has wreaked on the weakest and most vulnerable? Even if the state somehow manages to negotiate debt forgiveness from world community, what are the chances that the dollar addicted local elite will attempt to fix its ways of unsustainable development? What are the chances that the benefits will in fact flow to the most vulnerable communities?

All at-risk communities – including victims of 2022 monsoon floods - deserve climate justice, both from local and global elite. Demanding reparations instead is an easy cop out to putting our house in order first.


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