This is a photo taken by my uncle, Irfan Shahmiri. He is the founder of an organization called CHINAR International which provides humanitarian and disaster relief to Kashmiri families. (Irfan Shahmir)
Essay | Why the Pakistan floods affect all of us
Close to my motherland of Kashmir, disaster struck the country of Pakistan this summer: Torrential flooding has impacted millions of people, including my friends and family. These issues in Kashmir and Pakistan represent a deeper implication of environmental racism that becomes more evident every time a climate disaster strikes a developing country.
I can recall when the floods occurred in Kashmir in 2014. The damage was so severe that when I visited in 2016, you could still see the water seeping through the walls. More than 700 villages in just the city of Srinigar were submerged in floodwater, and more than 300 people lost their lives, 53,082 people were sickened or injured, and 226,000 were evacuated, according to a report in the International Journal of Commerce and Management.
In 2014 I was only 10 years old, so I did not particularly understand how large the predicament was for my family. When I was younger I would often visit Kashmir once every other year. That year I hadn’t, but I remember that my other family members who were visiting were forced to scramble to get back home to the U.S. or find a safe place to evacuate to. Power lines were down, so my mother had no clue what situation her parents or other family members were in, but in truth, this is a normal year for Kashmir.
Whether it has to do with natural disasters or political uprisings (being that Kashmir is right between Pakistan and India, so there are many political tensions), there are often times when my family in the U.S. is cut off from communicating with my family in Kashmir. Floods are a frequent occurrence and when they happen in Kashmir, they also affect surrounding areas, like Pakistan. Unfortunately, when these things happen, there is often a severe lack of western media coverage and aid to these eastern countries because these problems are not seen as relevant to the average person in the U.S. We are now seeing the same thing happen with the ongoing flooding in Pakistan since June.
With the growth of social media as a tool for advocacy, many people’s perceptions of international issues have changed. However, we still need to pay more attention to how developing countries are disproportionately affected by climate change issues because of a lack of resources and frequently inept governments.
What is happening in Pakistan?
As of September 2022, about one-third of Pakistan’s area was still submerged in water due to constant flooding that began in June. Given the geographic location of Pakistan, it has always been susceptible to monsoons. However, a study mentioned in a 2022 article written by Raymond Zhong for The New York Times found global warming likely worsened the amount of rainfall that Pakistan received during its most recent monsoon season. The main issue is that since Pakistan is a vulnerable area, small changes in climate make a big difference.
Additionally, a study done by the World Weather Attribution found that climate change made rainfall 50 percent more intense in Pakistan’s Sindh and Balochistan provinces. Jacob Kurtzer of the Center for Strategic & International Studies stated that, on top of climate change, the devastating effects of the floods are largely due to the Pakistani government “paying the price for years of delays in addressing the problem.”
This includes mismanagement of the country’s water resources, like illegally or poorly built structures that cannot withstand the forces of floods or rainfall. Of course, this means that those on the bottom of the economic class will suffer the most, which is, unfortunately, most of Pakistan’s population. As a result of the June 2022 disaster, as Kurtzer reported, 4.2 million people have been affected, nearly 1,400 people have died, more than 1,600 are injured, half a million are displaced, and more than one million homes are damaged. Authorities say the water could take up to six months to recede. The financial damage of the floods in Pakistan has exceeded $30 billion, causing the United Nations to “(launch) a flash appeal of $160 million to help flood victims,” according to a Bloomberg article. The U.S. and other countries have also pledged to give large amounts of money, but donations cannot entirely fix all infrastructural and systemic problems.
Why this is OUR problem
Due to the fact that the global north is far more industrialized than many other parts of the world, we end up being responsible for a majority of carbon emissions and global pollution. These emissions lead to climate change that affects areas in the global south, like Pakistan. Corporate America ignores the consequences of their actions especially when it comes to environmental regulations for their own economic gain. Many S&P 500 companies (the largest publicly traded companies in the U.S.) claim that they are “accelerating efforts to reduce the climate crisis,” but the New York Times reports, marketing and investor presentations reveal they fail to take into account the largest source of carbon emissions, and if left ignored, these emissions could triple what they should be in 2050.
Pakistan is home to 2.6 percent of the world’s population, but, according to Kurtzer’s report, the country is only responsible for 0.4 percent of global carbon emissions since 1959, while the U.S. has 4 percent of the world’s population and is responsible for 13 percent of global carbon emissions.
Countries in the global north have exceeded their global emissions quotas by more than 90 percent with 100 companies responsible for 71 percent of emissions, according to a 2017 report. So while the monsoons in Pakistan are a natural occurrence, the effects have clearly worsened due to climate change with Pakistan seeing 190 percent more rain than the 30-year average, Reuters reported. First world countries like the U.S. have accelerated the effects of climate change in other countries, which makes it our responsibility to stay informed and fix our own failed environmental regulations that are causing harm all over the globe.
The bigger issue
It’s equally important to address that, because climate change primarily affects marginalized communities, it often seems that many people in the global north display a lack of care and empathy when reacting to these increasingly frequent disasters. The U.N. secretary-general António Guterres himself has said that he “never [has] seen climate carnage” at this scale and has warned that tomorrow this (in reference to the floods) could be happening to your country. Guterres has called on the world to stop “sleepwalking” through this crisis and to be more aware of what is happening in Pakistan, the Associated Press reported in September.
Essentially, if this was happening to your country, or your people, you would care. However, since many in the U.S. lack an interest in the rest of the world and popular media tends to focus on domestic issues, it’s easy to stay blissfully ignorant of what’s happening elsewhere. Western media and its people typically lack empathy for what is happening in Pakistan because it’s an underdeveloped, non-white, and non-majority Christian society, therefore people can immediately write it off as a place they can’t relate or connect to. And while Pakistan has received a great deal of international humanitarian care, it pales in comparison to the response aid that some European countries have recently received.
How to help
I know I would have appreciated awareness and empathy when Kashmir was hit with its disaster in 2014. So if you want to help aid in this crisis it’s likely that your school has a Pakistani Student Association or other related South Asian organizations where you can find fundraisers or places to donate. It will take time for governments globally to make systemic change and effectively lessen the effects of climate change, but you can make an impact by starting small. Simply volunteering and working with your local organizers/politicians to enact policies that will aid vulnerable communities can make a big difference for the families that are affected. The intersections of race and class with climate change are important and complex issues, hence why they should never be ignored whenever we talk about the climate crisis.