Pakistanis living in Canada have watched the flooding of their homeland in horror, and worked to create solidarity initiatives to provide relief. Now, some are asking bigger questions about Canada’s contribution to the root causes; and echoing calls for wealth transfers from heavy carbon emitters to those most impacted by climate change.
“We are utterly shocked at the enormity of the devastation caused by the floods and the ongoing rain in Pakistan,” said Safwan Choudhry, a Pakistani-Canadian based in Ontario. “Many members of our community still have roots in Pakistan and it is an utter travesty to witness what the country is currently undergoing.”
The flooding, which began in June, has killed over 1500 people and left more than 20 million homeless. One third of the country remains underwater, and there are reports of children drinking contaminated water. According to Alarabiya News, malaria cases are rising so fast that medics are in dire need of new testing kits and medicines.
On August 25th, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif declared a national state of emergency and appealed to the international community for aid in disaster relief efforts. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bhutto Zardari told VOA News the reconstruction efforts will be “colossal.”
“There is so much loss and damage with so little reparations to countries that contributed so little to the world’s carbon footprint,” Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s climate minister, told the Guardian. “We all know that the pledges made in multilateral forums have not been fulfilled.”
The extreme weather event is the result of heavier than usual monsoon rains caused by the melting of glaciers attributed to climate change.
According to Our World in Data, in 2020, Canada’s CO2 emissions per capita was 14.2 tonnes, much higher than emissions per capita in Pakistan, which are estimated at 1.06 tonnes. The flooding bears the hallmark of climate injustice: while Pakistanis have a carbon footprint less than 10 times smaller than Canadians, they are the ones under water.
Grassroots support for flood victims
Choudhry says some of the hardest hit areas are still unreachable by rescue teams. Makeshift tent cities have sprouted up where access to clean water and dry shelter is difficult.
“Due to electricity and telecommunications outages caused by the floods, many of us remain unable to connect with our loved ones back home,” said Choudhry, noting that family members he’s been in touch with to date are safe. There are over 200,000 members of the Pakistani diaspora in Canada.
This dire situation has motivated Choudhry to get his organization Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Canada involved in relief efforts. On August 30th, it launched a Canada-wide fund appeal which has raised tens of thousands of dollars.
“We have had many members of the community who have stepped forward in making unprecedented contributions. Others want to know how they can help from Canada,” he told The Breach. “So we partnered with Humanity First Canada, a relief organization based right here that has direct links to various relief organizations in Pakistan.”
Thus far, damages from flooding are estimated at 30 billion dollars. Ottawa has pledged 30 million dollars in assistance and has committed to match individual donations—to a maximum of three million dollars.
Reconstruction is crucial, but so are reparations and mitigation of future climate disasters.
“Lofty climate pledges make for good media headlines. But what we’re hoping to see is countries fulfilling these pledges of commitment,” said Choudhry. “If you are a polluter who is hurting society and the planet, you should be held to account. There are still no real penalties for polluters, even if they’re the greatest threat to our civilization.”
“I don’t think we are at the stage where we are talking about a new funding mechanism to be created,” then-newly-appointed environment minister Steven Guilbeault told reporters last November during climate negotiations in Glasgow.
In an interview in May of this year, Guilbeault softened his rhetoric slightly, urging developing countries to move away from the language of climate-related liability, risk and damages, and toward the language of international development.
Reports released earlier this year show that Canada is accelerating fossil fuel extraction. Globally, export Development Canada was the single largest provider of trade and development finance for fossil fuels, Oil Change International found. And data compiled by a group of environmental organizations showed that Canada’s five biggest banks had increased their fossil fuel investments by 70 per cent last year.
Climate justice, not charity
Choudhry is not alone in being fed up with climate injustice.
Mahnoor Syed, a feminist Pakistani-Canadian activist, says recent floods are a classic example of how the worst consequences of the climate crisis are borne by the Global South. “Climate justice is the only way to move forward because consequences of climate change are not going to get better over time—they’re only going to get worse,” she told The Breach.
“When it comes to reparations, I think it should have less to do with charity about the flooding and more to do with investments in structures which can support sustainable improvement over time.” Rebuilding roads and irrigation systems, she says, are key to sustaining the population and weathering future climate disasters.
Syed says she hopes the most marginalized people, including women and LGBTQ+ folks in the Global South who are most impacted by climate change, will have a seat at the table in global climate action going forward.
The flooding in Pakistan has brought up urgent concerns about pregnant women and about the lack of reproductive health products to those most impacted.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that nearly 650,000 pregnant women in flood-affected areas require maternal health services. More than 1,000 health facilities are either partially or fully damaged in the hard hit provinces of Sindh and Balochistan, and widespread infrastructure damage has compromised access to these facilities.
Spread the Word—of which Syed is the founder and executive director—has spearheaded efforts to make menstrual products available to people who menstruate who have been displaced by the flood.
“A lot of relief efforts didn’t account for the need for menstrual products,” she said. “This unmet need was highlighted by women in flood-affected areas to female volunteers working there.”
“People who are not in Pakistan right now can definitely help by having conversations, fundraising, and sharing resources,” said Syed. “Wherever it’s happening, we need to act as a global community.”