A United Nations conference on Monday drummed up funds and other support to help Pakistan cope with the fallout of last summer’s devastating flooding, which the U.N. chief called a “climate disaster of monumental scale” that killed more than 1,700 people in the immediate aftermath. Millions are still living near contaminated and stagnant flood waters.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres attended in-person, while world leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took part virtually, as many countries chipped in to better help Pakistan pull together an estimated $16.3 billion that’s needed to help the country rebuild and recover.
Authorities in Pakistan hope about half of that funding need will come from the international community.
The conference has shaped up as a test case of just how much the rich world will pitch in to help developing-world nations like Pakistan manage the impact of climatic swoons, and brace for other disasters.
“We need to be honest about the brutal injustice of loss and damage suffered by developing countries because of climate change,” Guterres told the gathering. “If there is any doubt about loss and damage — go to Pakistan. There is loss. There is damage. The devastation of climate change is real.”
Guterres said that people in South Asia are 15 times more likely to die from climate impacts than elsewhere, and his “heart broke” when he saw the devastation left behind from Pakistan’s floods.
“No country deserves to endure what happened to Pakistan,” he said. “But it was especially bitter to watch that country’s generous spirit being repaid with a climate disaster of monumental scale.”
In November’s U.N. climate talks, countries agreed to set up a fund for loss and damage caused by climate change. The details of the fund will be worked out by a committee this year. Vulnerable nations like Pakistan would be expected to receive compensation from the fund.
Many scientists, policymakers and others say emissions of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, mostly by industrialized countries, over generations are largely to blame for a warming global climate.
Many countries already doled out cash, supplies and other support for Pakistan in the immediate follow-up to the flooding. On Monday, Macron said France was injecting some 360 million euros into the French development agency to help Pakistan to rebuild and adapt to climate change, in addition to another 10 million euros for emergency aid. The EU announced tens of millions in new aid.
Thousands of Pakistanis are still living in open areas in makeshift homes and tents near the stagnant water in southern Sindh and in some areas in southwestern Baluchistan, the two worst-flood hit provinces in Pakistan.
UNICEF warned Monday that up to 4 million children are still living near contaminated and stagnant flood waters, risking their survival and well-being, more than four months after a national state of emergency was declared in Pakistan.
The Pakistani prime minister likened the flooding to “a tsunami from the sky.” He said the flooding immediately affected 33 million people and destroyed more than 2 million homes, adding that the ferocity of the flowing water damaged over 8,000 kilometers of roads (nearly 5,000 miles), and more than 3,100 kilometers of railway track.
“Today’s meeting is an attempt to give my people another chance at getting back on their feet,” Sharif said. “We are racing again time” to help the victims amid a harsh winter, and in the worst-affected areas where schools and health systems have collapsed, he added.
Alluding to a catchphrase often used in military contexts, he said: “Pakistan needs a new ‘coalition of the willing’: One that can save lives and put them on a path to responsible global citizenship.”
Pakistan has played down initial expectations of big-ticket contributions, and has downgraded what was originally billed as a pledging conference to a “support” conference — in anticipation that not just funding will be offered up by donors.
Organizers hope the conference will underpin a recovery and build resilience after the punishing floods between June and October, which also damaged 2 million houses and washed away 13,000 kilometers (8,000 miles) of roads. At one point, a third of the country was submerged.
Pakistani authorities last week cited a U.N.-backed assessment that the total damage amounted to more than $30 billion.
The world body says funding raised so far for Pakistan’s flood victims will run out this month, and an emergency appeal launched in October has garnered only about a third of the $816 million sought for food, medicines and other supplies for Pakistanis.
Pakistan plays a negligible role in global warming and emits less than 1% of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, but like other developing countries, it has been vulnerable to climate-induced devastation, experts say. The country has seen extreme heat, glacial melt and rising sea levels in recent years.
Climate scientists found that the floods in Pakistan were worsened by global heating although economic, societal and construction-oriented factors also played a role.