What is the result when you combine different conflicts, natural disasters, refugee crises, religious extremism and a weak state? Yes, then you are haunting a storm – a large and powerful one with effects far beyond the borders of individual countries. Few places see this better than in Pakistan.
- Was the flood in 2010 really a natural disaster?
- How does the flood contribute to creating a major emergency?
- How will climate change and demographic trends affect Pakistan’s future?
2: Pakistan: a country with great challenges
Pakistan is a complex country with many different challenges . Nuclear tensions with India, military adventures in Afghanistan, political-economic strife with China and the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) on their own soil are some of them. Furthermore, we find great differences between rich and poor, between women and men and between different ethnic and religious groups. The national scene is even more marked by strife and conflict as military and economic elites fight for power over the country’s weak government. This dispute over government power often has particularly unfortunate results for the vulnerable people in the federally administered tribal area (FATA) and for the countryside as a whole.
3: Climate change and nature degradation
Nevertheless, these challenges are small compared to a new threat to Pakistan: climate change and the deterioration of the natural environment that accompanies it. About a year after the devastating flood in the summer of 2010, there may be good reasons to think about what happened and what we have learned from it.
If the international community did not help Pakistan today in trying to get the ship on the right keel, there are few in the west who tomorrow will be unaffected when it really starts to storm. The key to understanding the situation in Pakistan and preventing it from getting even worse is to realize how environmental challenges both exacerbate and exacerbate existing political conflicts in the country.
Long before anyone in the West thought that Osama bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad , the city was characterized by a large presence of both humanitarian and military forces. They were there in response to the great earthquake in 2005 and watched the flood in 2010. In the summer of 2010, the floodwaters covered almost a fifth of the land area in Pakistan and affected nearly 20 million people in just a few months.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put it this way in a speech to the UN General Assembly: Critically important infrastructure (roads, railways, electricity supply, etc.) was destroyed, livestock was washed away and agricultural land was temporarily destroyed.
After the flood itself, public health was challenged through diarrhea, dysentery, cholera and other waterborne diseases that quickly spread to refugee camps and other gathering places for people fleeing the flood. The scale of the disaster became unimaginable in a country that was already under pressure.
4: A dry land
Why did the effects become so catastrophic? A glance at a map of Pakistan wins more than many words. The country is long and relatively narrow. Here we find the mighty Indus River that connects the Himalayan mountains in the north with the Arabian Sea in the south. The Himalayas serve as a watershed for the whole country. It catches water and sends it down through the dry land and into the sea. Much of the countryside in Pakistan is dry – the water from the Indus and tributaries is therefore absolutely necessary for agriculture, which for the most part is irrigated agriculture. Therefore, people in Pakistan live mainly near the rivers .
In the summer of 2010, there was an unusual amount of monsoon rain in mountainous northern Pakistan. The water flow became very fast, were the effects so catastrophic? A glance at a map of Pakistan wins more than many words. The country is long and relatively narrow. Here we find the mighty Indus River that connects the Himalayan mountains in the north with the Arabian Sea in the south. The Himalayas serve as a watershed for the whole country. It catches water and sends it down through the dry land and into the sea.
Much of the countryside in Pakistan is dry – the water from the Indus and tributaries is therefore absolutely necessary for agriculture, which for the most part is irrigated agriculture. Therefore, people in Pakistan live mainly near the rivers.
In the summer of 2010, there was an unusual amount of monsoon rain in mountainous northern Pakistan. The water flow quickly became very large and the river water flooded over the densely populated area by the rivers. Unless drastic action is taken to counteract global climate change, precipitation is likely to increase and floods to become even greater and more severe in the future. If climate change continues in its new track, the monsoon rains will appear more and more man-made.
5: Enormous effects
The effects of these floods are enormous socially, economically and politically. When apparent natural disasters affect tens of millions of people, the effects are profoundly social. Like all major crises, they mean acute shocks that can be technically remedied. In the longer term, they often also mean long-term instability and opportunities for groups to strike political currency at the disaster. Some groups may lose political power while others may win in crises.
Despite the enormous extent of the flood, the international media covered the flood in 2010 as if it were just one in a series of many disasters. Images of flooded houses, destroyed infrastructure and refugees filled the TV screens around the world for a while, but also quickly disappeared as part of the 24-hour fly journalism . The media completely failed to grasp what this disaster really was – namely part of a broader and complex South Asian puzzle.
6: A complex emergency
According to sportsqna.com, the floods in Pakistan in 2010 may be best understood as part of a broader and more complex emergency than more than just a natural disaster. Within emergency aid, this means a situation that involves conflict, extensive relocation of people, vulnerable political institutions and a lack of vital resources. Typical examples of such emergencies are found in war zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Congo. But climate change may lead to more of these scenarios being characterized by also being natural disasters.
In Pakistan, natural disasters are part of a complex emergency situation. Such disasters put the state less able to have full control over its entire territory. The tribal area northwest of Pakistan towards the border with Afghanistan – Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) – is a region with close internal self-government . The local pastoral tribes rule here with a large degree of self-government. Traditionally, the Pakistani government has had to fight for control of this border area.
Reasons for today’s unrest in the tribal area can be found in history. In the 1980s , the United States supported the guerrillas in Afghanistan with weapons and money in their fight against the Soviet occupying forces. A number of refugee camps were then set up in the tribal area of Pakistan – set up to help Afghan refugees. But they also quickly became a source of unrest.
After the end of the Cold War, campaigns in Afghanistan were replaced by a civil war – a war between Afghans. Thus, the flow of refugees continued. In the camps, religious schools were established – mattresses . In some of them, a radical and militant version of Islam was taught. Ironically, some of the guerrilla warriors paid by the United States in the 1980s were active in establishing these schools.
In 1996, the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan. Many young men from the camps in Pakistan then entered the Taliban. There were even more when the Taliban in the autumn of 2001 began recruiting young men from the Pashtun ethnic group to fight against the Americans in Afghanistan. While the dominant Western explanation for the presence is focused on Islamist extremism, others see a clear anti-colonial element in the resistance. Although the ideological foundations have changed over time, young men from the FATA region have been mobilized to fight against the British, Russians and southern Pakistani governments throughout recent history.
In recent years, the same refugee camps have been linked to the emergence of the Pakistani Taliban – Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP). The Pakistani Taliban consists of a number of loosely linked subgroups. Most of them have links to both the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Arab fighters there who have been fighting both the Taliban and al-Qaeda since 2001.
Their goal is to establish a government based on sharia law – very strict and literal Islamic “laws” – in the FATA region and nearby regions. Since 2001, the Taliban have been behind many terrorist acts in FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the rest of Pakistan.
8: On refugees and recruitment to the Taliban
It is difficult to fully establish what connection there is between those who fled the floods in 2010 and recruitment to the Taliban. History has shown that there is a connection. We know that after the earthquake in 2005, Islamist groups tried to conduct their own relief work for the needy, and that they gained new members in this way.
In 2010, the well-known non-governmental organization International Crisis Group claimed that there were then as many as 1.4 million refugees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province – possibly one of the worst flood-prone areas in Pakistan. In these camps gather people who have fled from fighting and other Pakistanis who have fled from floods. And they all have in common that they have lost the income base and are restless.
More than a year after the devastating flood, many of the refugees are still living in the camps. True enough, the international emergency relief organizations have begun to shift their focus from short-term aid to more long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction. Many of the refugees may still be tempted to join forces with the militants if they do not return to normal work soon. For many, it may already be too late.
The combination of poverty, dependence on outside aid and the inability to provide for their families has already led some to apply to militant Islamist groups in FATA.
9: Climate change, population growth, conflicts
In 1911 , 19 million people lived in the area of what in 1947 became Pakistan. Today, about 185 million people live on the same land, and Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world. And a new report from the World Bank states that the population can reach up to 320 million already in 2050 . One does not need to be pessimistic to understand that Pakistan faces colossal challenges . One of them is to gain control of the population explosion and balance this against a relatively even distribution of both natural resources and economic resources.
Strong population growth alone is unlikely to lead to conflicts over the scarce water. On the other hand, it can be the combination of a large population, inefficient, old-fashioned irrigation technology in agriculture and particularly different access to water. In fact, it is expected that Pakistan will become a country that joins the group of officially water-scarce countries as early as 2020. And these figures apply to the total supply of water, not the distribution of water in the country.
In other words, many may have long ago found themselves in a situation with too little water for their crops. Increasing melting of ice and snow in the Himalayas – as a result of climate change – could increase the flow of water in the Indus River in the short term. In the slightly longer term, by all accounts, the lack of water will still be striking.
Disputes between provinces in Pakistan will cause some areas to experience water shortages earlier than others. A report to the US Congress shows how the construction of the Kalabagh dam has led to fighting. The construction is supported by the government in the Pakistani Punjab province. In Sindh province further down the river, there is a fear of water shortages. In a province further up the river, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it is feared that valuable agricultural land will come under water.
Most of the agricultural land in Pakistan is either semi-arid, arid or extremely arid. The conflicts are therefore about much more than making money from selling water-based power – they are about survival and food security. This is especially true for millions of poor people who are already working under very difficult conditions on land controlled by the powerful landowners.
The situation is less and less a question of certainty. Rather, it is a question of when the next natural disaster will strike. Together with ongoing conflicts – both in Pakistan and increasingly with the country’s allies – climate change and the environmental problems associated with them will pose major challenges for Pakistan. If another flood occurs, the international community must respond immediately and with more resources than ever before. The security of both Pakistan, the countries in the region and the western countries will depend on it.