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Climate and Environment

A Third Of Pakistan Is Underwater. Want To Help Flood Victims? Consider Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

Aerial view of trees and homes engulfed by murky water.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Texas' 18th district, was part of a delegation that went to assess the damage in Pakistan. “As far as the eye could see, I saw water,” she wrote on Twitter, attaching this photo.
(Courtesy Sheila Jackson Lee)
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Record-breaking monsoon rains and extreme flooding have killed nearly 1,430 people in Pakistan since June, including hundreds of children. The disaster has also decimated scores of homes, schools and health clinics.

A third of Pakistan is underwater and more than half a million homes have been destroyed, according to the country’s National Disaster Management Authority. The floods have also wreaked havoc on roads and bridges, making it hard for people to find safety and for emergency workers to deliver aid to affected areas. The United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that at least 22,000 schools have been damaged, interrupting the education of over 3.5 million children.

In response, Angelenos are pitching in for relief. But some say that people can do more than just give money.

Asim Bharwani, whose family hails from Pakistan and India, co-runs Paratta, a South Asian restaurant in the Arts District, with his wife. They readily donated to relief efforts. Still, Bharwani maintains that, to help Pakistan’s flood survivors in the long run, Angelenos should work on reducing greenhouse gas emissions — everything from how often we drive to how much meat we consume.

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Read more: Understanding The Climate Emergency May Help You Feel Less Helpless

Pakistan is the fifth-most populated country. It accounts for 1.02% of global greenhouse emissions, according to U.N. data. That total is more than most countries but far less on a per capita basis. And that number is markedly lower than wealthier nations like the United States, which accounts for 12.74%.

Per-Capita Carbon Footprints

“Climate change is obviously real,” said Bharwani, “and when climate change happens to countries that kind of are creating it, it’s one thing. But when it happens to a country that is doing nothing to affect it, you’re just beating someone while they’re down already.”

In August, the California Air Resources Board responded to pressure from Gov. Gavin Newsom and others by proposing more stringent targets for reducing the state's emissions. State leaders have set a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2045. But many challenges remain — for instance, in August, an Associated Press report found that state officials aren't counting methane emissions from idle oil and gas wells.

What’s Ahead For Pakistan

Today, about 541,000 survivors are living in relief camps, and the crisis is expected to worsen in the coming weeks.

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The flooding has also killed hundreds of thousands of livestock and ravaged millions of acres of crops. As a result, the cost of milk, meat and eggs is expected to rise. Plus, damage to the country’s sewage systems has made access to safe drinking water a serious issue. Health officials report a rise in water-borne diseases and respiratory infections.

According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department, the monsoon season is already the country's wettest since records began in 1961 — and it still has a month more to go.

Pakistani officials and aid workers have called on the international community for support, signaling that it will cost billions of dollars for the country to recover.

Fatimah Asghar, a South Asian American poet and screenwriter who’s worked on shows like Ms. Marvel on Disney+, used their social media platform to draw attention to relief efforts.

The devastation will require ongoing support, they told LAist, encouraging donors to ask employers to match their contributions.

Still, Asghar also underscored that part of the loss is “not quantifiable.”

“Indigenous communities, tribal communities, people who have lived in Pakistan for generations and have a reciprocal relationship with the land are also suffering a spiritual crisis,” they said.

Scientists have linked climate change to an increased chance of catastrophic flooding, signaling that global warming causes air and sea temperatures to rise, leading to more evaporation. Warmer air can hold more moisture, making rainfall more intense.

Aside from monsoons, Pakistan is also grappling with rapidly melting glaciers in its northern mountains, this, too, as a result of global warming. As the BBC reported, this melted glacial ice has created thousands of lakes, and many are on the verge of bursting.

Pointing to the nation’s comparatively low carbon footprint, Pakistani officials say wealthier nations have a moral obligation to pitch in for relief. On Twitter, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called on global agencies to help, referring to the flood-induced death toll as “one of the worst climate-induced calamities.”

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s Climate Change Minister, has echoed the sentiment in multiple interviews, including one with The Guardian.

“I wince when I hear people say these are natural disasters,” said Rehman. “[T]hese are man-made.”

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Updated September 15, 2022 at 5:06 PM PDT
This article has been updated to include Fatimah Asghar’s comments and to reflect the rising death toll in Pakistan, along with the decreasing number of people living in relief camps. (As flooding recedes in some parts of the country, survivors are making their way back home.)
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