Climate catastrophe in South Asia and Canada’s role
Climate catastrophe in South Asia and Canada’s role
2022 Pakistan floods – a snapshot:
- 1350 people killed
- 50M people displaced
- 900K livestock deaths
- 1M houses washed away
- 40+ reservoirs breached
- 220+ bridges collapsed
- 90% cropped damaged
- $10B loss to economy
- 1/3 country underwater
The devastating floods in Pakistan in summer 2022 clearly bore the fingerprints of climate change. The extreme high temperatures in April, which reached up to 49 degree Celsius, and the excessive and continuous rainfall for two months were unprecedented.
According to the Red Cross UK, “the 2022 monsoon rainfall in Pakistan is nearly three times higher than the 30-year average and rains and consequent flash floods continued throughout July and August. […] Extreme weather events are happening more frequently all over the world, putting more and more people in danger.”
In July 2022, we saw unprecedented flooding in Pakistan and extreme heat episodes across the northern plains in India and Pakistan, with birds falling dead of heat. Then in November at the COP 27 global climate summit, we saw some modest gains, but countries like Canada continued to resist committing to targets that would impose actual financial commitments. All of this highlights the urgent need to bring attention to the role of emissions tied to patterns of extraction, production, and consumption in Canada and other countries of the Global North in contributing to such disasters.
It is important to carry out education and take action about the responsibility of Canadians for what appear to be distant events in other parts of the world.
The climate catastrophe is in fact not only in South Asia – as we know, it is planetary, and we are seeing the effects in the fires and floods on the west coast of this continent, in BC and California. It is, however, important for climate activists here in Canada to gain a better understanding of the particular contours of the crisis in South Asia, recognizing the role of an unequal global economic order, and of local and regional geographies and political economies, rather than making blanket generalizations about the nature and scope of the problem. There is no doubt about the urgency and catastrophic nature of what we are witnessing, and yet it is crucial that we not have catastrophist approaches or solutions. Without an understanding of the social impacts of these solutions, without tying them to political economies of work, livelihood, and production, they only exacerbate the problem for the most vulnerable.
Solutions to climate change have become an industry in themselves, with aid increasingly tied to such schemes as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD+), conservation areas, or bunds and coastal walls that hold back the rising sea levels. But these solutions often result in excluding and displacing the inhabitants of these fragile ecologies who depend on them for their livelihoods and create their own problems and new dependencies. Questions of global and local inequity remain unaddressed. Nor is there questioning of the models of growth and development that cause a range of environmental problems, such as the rapid highway and other construction work in the Himalayas that has created the terrifying subsidence of mountainsides and towns, as in Joshimath in Uttarakhand. Nor of the authoritarian governments who use climate justice claims on the global stage, while actively suppressing and withholding data, disregarding science, and criminalizing communities resisting crisis, dispossession, and displacement. We need a complex analysis of the catastrophe that takes all this into account.
We also need to build relationships with people and movements that pose questions of social and economic justice and of the climate crisis together – we must work in solidarity and alliance with those who are engaged in confronting these interlocking systems and processes, and collaborate with their struggles.
Working with people who are deeply rooted in their contexts and can speak to the transformations of those contexts and of the struggles on the ground in local, regional, and national spaces, and who can also address questions of global political economy and social justice then becomes vital.
This text is an adaptation of the introduction to the panel discussion entitled Climate Catastrophe in South Asia: Taking Action in Canada on January 21, 2023. The event was organized by Seniors for Climate Action Now! (SCAN!), Committee of Progressive Pakistani-Canadians (CPPC) and India Civil Watch International (ICWI). The recording of the event is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tr8WoA15F4s
Building resilience to extreme weather in South Asia
Red Cross UK: Climate change and Pakistan - flooding affecting millions https://www.redcross.org.uk/stories/disasters-and-emergencies/world/climate-change-and-pakistan-flooding-affecting-millions
Devastating Monsoon Flooding in Pakistan: A photo essay https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2022/08/photos-monsoon-flooding-in-pakistan/671278
NPR: Climate change likely helped cause deadly Pakistan floods, scientists find https://www.npr.org/2022/09/19/1123798981/climate-change-likely-helped-cause-deadly-pakistan-floods-scientists-find
Flooding In Pakistan: A Climate Disaster That Keeps Unfolding https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/flooding-pakistan-climate-disaster-keeps-unfolding
Dawn: Climate change and health https://www.dawn.com/news/1718787
How the Climate Crisis Is Impacting Bangladesh https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/how-climate-crisis-impacting-bangladesh
A Quarter of Bangladesh Is Flooded. Millions Have Lost Everything https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/30/climate/bangladesh-floods.html
Facing floods: What the world can learn from Bangladesh's climate solutions https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2023/03/26/1165779335/facing-floods-what-the-world-can-learn-from-bangladeshs-climate-solutions
Watch: Part Of Hill Crashes In Massive Landslide In Uttarakhand https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRqBVjVcw_0