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Expert explains reasons behind world’s tepid response to this year’s floods

Published September 20, 2022
Michael Kugelman, Director of South Asia Institute at Wilson Center, in conversation with Aaj News
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KARACHI: The international community’s response to Pakistan’s floods has been much less when compared with the aftermath situation in 2010, argued Michael Kugelman – a leading specialist on Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India, and their relations with the United States – stressing that there are several reasons for the tepid reaction including “donor fatigue” in the face of rising challenges in the world.

Record monsoon rains in south and southwest Pakistan along with glacial melt in northern areas have triggered flooding that has affected nearly 33 million people, sweeping away homes, crops, bridges, roads and livestock, and causing an estimated $30 billion of damage.

The death toll from the catastrophe since June 14 has gone beyond 1,545, including 552 women and 315 children, according to a daily situation report posted on September 18 by the government’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

The losses will also slash Pakistan’s GDP growth to around 3% from the estimated target of 5% set in the budget, and force the government to divert limited funds to fighting the aftershocks of what the scientists say is a once-in-a-century event likely made more intense by climate change. The situation also prompted Finance Minister Miftah Ismail to say “absolutely not” to concerns over Pakistan meeting its upcoming debt obligations, even as credit default risk goes up and bond prices fall.

With floods creating havoc in an already fragile economy, many question whether there is a need for international agencies to ‘do more’ to help the country of roughly 220 million.

“You did have immediate, large-scale responses from the international community in both cases (2010 and 2022), but the big difference, a troubling one, is that the response was much larger in 2010,” Kugelman, director of the newly-created South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington D.C., told Aaj News in an exclusive interview that aired on Monday.

Post-flood challenges: Govt won’t opt for debt rescheduling or moratorium: MoEA

“We have not had as many countries responding with pledges and assistance — and there are several reasons for that.

“Back in 2010, the US was in Afghanistan, fighting a war there. It was easy for it to deploy military helicopters and help evacuate stranded people. It’s not as easy for it to mobilise the military aircraft, even though it is happening this time, but not as much.

“There are so many other major humanitarian crises going on right now that we didn’t have as much of back in 2010. The war in Ukraine has triggered a horrific humanitarian crisis, Afghanistan has a terrible humanitarian crisis, Yemen as well, and others.

“Donor fatigue is much more an issue now than it was in 2010".

Kugelman, who has served as deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Asia Program from 2018 to 2022 and the Wilson Center’s senior associate for South Asia from 2013 to 2022, according to information available on the Wilson Center website, said major shocks being experienced by the global economy, including those induced by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, have resulted in an “unfavourable environment for a large-scale international response to these floods”.

“This is problematic because these floods are so much worse than the ones in 2010.”

Children, women suffer from water-borne diseases, death toll crosses 1,500

Kugelman stressed that no government could have “prevented these floods”.

“However, what we have seen in previous decades is that a number of governments in Pakistan have not taken the type of steps needed to reduce at least the most serious consequences of these floods and other major weather events.

“If there had been more efforts to better regulate constructions along rivers – encroachments as they are described here – that could have reduced some of the damage. The rate of deforestation has slowed, but it’s still a major problem.”

Kugelman said efforts to repair and maintain water infrastructure could have “at least reduced some of the catastrophic implications of these floods”.

The foreign policy expert also argued countries that have had “polluting policies for so long do owe it to climate-vulnerable places” like Pakistan.

According to World Bank data for 2019, Pakistan has been responsible for CO2 emissions of 0.9 metric tons per capita compared with the global average of 4.5 metric tons. However, it remains among the more vulnerable to climate change due to its geography.

“This debate should take place, but in terms of how the world can provide more long-term climate adaptation and mitigation assistance to Pakistan and other countries. This is a realistic and important goal.

Floods to weigh on agri production: Fitch

“Unfortunately, in the next few weeks, media coverage will reduce a bit, and immediate relief from the international donor community will end as well. But Pakistan needs help — not just now, but over the long-term. There needs to be a conversation on how the US, China, and the west can think of ways to help Pakistan more climate-resilient.”

On the importance of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session

Kugelman said the upcoming UNGA session would provide a major platform for Pakistan to make a major plea for more flood assistance.

“At this point, Pakistan’s main foreign policy priority has to be to work with partners to convince them to provide as much assistance as possible.

“It’s not the most advanced, sophisticated foreign policy, but given Pakistan’s needs that go beyond flood assistance and economic needs, that IMF package will not be nearly enough.

Pakistan floods' death toll nears 1,500 as authorities look to step up relief efforts

“I think the foreign minister (Bilawal Bhutto Zardari) will have to wear the hat of both a foreign minister and a finance minister.

“There has never been a more important time for Pakistan to solidify its key partnerships, and try to improve relations with key donor countries in the west to ensure that you can have economic cooperation needed to help the country get through these difficult times.”

Pakistan Fellowship

Meanwhile, Kugelman also encouraged people to apply for the new Pakistan Fellowship launched by the Wilson Center.

The fellowship provides a nine-month funded residency for research and writing on public policy issues in Pakistan and/or U.S.-Pakistan relations. The competition for this Fellowship is now open and will close on October 1, according to information on the Wilson Center website.

“It’s open to everyone — journalists, scholars, business people, as long as you have eight years of relevant experience in your field.

“We see it as an opportunity to bring new Pakistani voices to Washington to contribute to policy debates on the country and US-Pakistan relations at a time when they are a bit unsettled.”

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

Bilal Memon

Bilal Memon is the Head of Digital Content at Business Recorder. His Twitter handle is @bilalahmadmemon


Comments are closed.

Kashif ALI Sep 20, 2022 11:59am
A very enlightening and informative discussion Mr. Kugelman. I couldn't help agree with him.
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