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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Pakistan on verge of public health disaster – Guterres

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, in his remarks to the General Assembly on Pakistan floods at UN Headquarters in New York on Friday, October 7, 2022, laments that the country is paying a supersized price for manmade climate change

Antonio Guterres
UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres

The people of Pakistan are the victims of a grim calculus of climate injustice. Pakistan is responsible for less than 1 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet it is paying a supersized price for manmade climate change.

One month ago, I travelled there and saw a level of climate carnage beyond imagination: flood waters covering a landmass three times the total area of my own country, Portugal.

Many have lost everything – their homes, their livestock, their crops, their futures. Lives were washed away.

The most vulnerable of the vulnerable – children – accounted for fully one-third of all deaths and injuries. While the rains may have ceased and water is beginning to recede, many areas in the south of Pakistan remain inundated.

And as winter approaches in Pakistan, even darker clouds loom. The situation is going from bad to worse. Pakistan is on the verge of a public health disaster.

The risk of a cholera outbreak, malaria and dengue fever threaten to claim far more lives than the floods. Nearly 1,500 health facilities have been devastated, greatly hindering the ability to detect and respond to outbreaks.

More than 2 million homes were damaged or destroyed. That is more than 2 million families who have lost their possessions. Many have no shelter as winter approaches.

At the same time, the scale of crop and livestock destruction is creating a food crisis today and putting the planting season in jeopardy tomorrow.

Severe hunger is spiking. Malnutrition among children and pregnant lactating women is rising. The number of children out of school is growing. Heartache and hardship – especially for women and girls – is mounting. More than 15 million people could be pushed into poverty.

For so many with so little, the effects of these floods will be felt not just for days or even months. These cascading calamities in Pakistan will linger for years to come.

Massive needs require massive support. We are working with the Government of Pakistan to convene a Pledging Conference to bring together donors at the highest level to provide concrete support for rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts.

I urge donor countries, international financial institutions and relevant international organisations, along with the private sector and civil society to fully support these efforts.

In between, we launched the Pakistan Floods Response Plan. The revised UN Plan now calls for $816 million – a surge of $656 million from the initial appeal – to respond to the most urgent needs through next May. But this pales in comparison to what is needed on every front – including food, water, sanitation, shelter, emergency education, protection, and health support.

The central question remains the climate crisis. The calendar is fast moving forward to COP27 – but the world is moving backwards. Greenhouse gas emissions are rising along with climate calamities.

COP27 must be the place where these trends are reversed. COP27 must be the place for serious action on loss and damage. COP27 must be the place for clarity on vital funding for adaptation and resilience.

In particular, wealthier countries bear a moral responsibility to help places such as Pakistan recover, adapt and build resilience to disasters supercharged by the climate crisis. Let’s not forget that 80% of emissions driving this type of climate destruction are from the G20.

A third of Pakistan was deluged by this latest climate crisis. Many small island developing states face the very real prospect of their entire homeland going under.

Communities everywhere are looking down the barrel of climate-driven destruction. We must act – and we must act now.

When I visited Pakistan, I saw the best of humanity. I saw the immense generosity and solidarity of neighbours and strangers helping one another. I saw people who put themselves at risk and lost all their worldly possessions to rescue others. I saw people providing what little that they had to share with a person in need.

But I also saw the future we might face.

Today, it is Pakistan. Tomorrow, it could be your country and your communities. Climate chaos is knocking on everyone’s door, right now.

We must step up and answer the call for the people of Pakistan. This global crisis demands global solidarity and a global response. 

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