"I have just completed three days of an invaluable visit to Pakistan. The country is important not just to its own citizens and to the region, but as an avatar for the way humanitarian and climate crises intersect. At a time when there is a lot of rhetoric about the climate crisis, I am proud of the way 1,500 IRC staff and volunteers are working with imagination, innovation and dedication to meet humanitarian need, some of it caused by climate change-induced extreme weather events. Just six months since the devastating and unprecedented floods that left a third of the country underwater, caused $40 billion in economic damage and affected 33 million people, Pakistan is a crushing storm of combined crises.
“Less than a year since the floods, 20 million people still require humanitarian assistance. Millions of girls and boys are as a result fighting a losing battle against preventable waterborne diseases and malnutrition. Already associated with half of child deaths in Pakistan, malnutrition has increased by over 50% since the floods according to the World Food Programme.
“IRC staff and clients provided telling testimony about what they are facing. They spoke to me about the way climate change is here, now, and is today’s, not tomorrow’s problem. They referred to the scars that still exist from the floods, even after the water has drained away. They reflected on the challenges for Afghans arriving from across the border, joining those - who I met - who have been here for over thirty years. They talked about 40% food price inflation, plus energy price hikes.
"I met leaders from across the political spectrum, civil society pioneers, provincial and local government leaders, academics and journalists, diplomats and donors, crisis responders and international agencies. All spoke about the multiple challenges that Pakistan faces, the need for the country to pull together to surmount the challenges, and the need for external support. They also spoke about the need to anticipate future crises, not just respond to them.
"The IRC is calling for an urgent boost in international support to meet the ongoing needs of Pakistani civilians and millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The current United Nations appeal is barely 50% funded, leaving humanitarian actors trying to meet great and growing need overstretched and underserved. The IRC is stressing the need for multi-year, multi-sectoral rehabilitation programmes that meet critical gaps in health, water, and food security, lest these result in long-term consequences for the population and the resilience of Pakistan as a whole.
“For too long the global community has neglected the mounting cost of the climate crisis on the world’s most vulnerable who have done the least to contribute to it. The meetings in Washington of the international financial institutions need to hear the message. A report by 55 countries at COP27 estimated their combined climate-linked losses over the past 20 years at $525 billion - a cost destined to grow without sufficient support for the communities on the front lines of the crisis. Climate adaptation funding tailored to the present - not projected - reality of extreme weather is indispensable. And yet, according to the UNDP, the more fragile a country is, the less climate finance it will receive, with a mere fraction destined for adaptation. At least 50% of the commitment for climate financing should be devoted to adaptation to ensure countries like Pakistan are not left behind.
“In the immediate term, the IRC is calling for early action to stem the impact of the predicted and predictable extreme climate events in Pakistan as we approach the summer. Anticipatory cash transfers help address food shortfalls, urgent medical needs and sourcing water while building resilience to future shocks. The evidence clearly shows that families who receive cash days before predictable disasters were over one-third less likely to go hungry - and all this before traditional humanitarian response even arrives.
“Pakistani civilians are having to fight on too many fronts. There are too many who have not recovered from last year’s crisis. They need help before the next crisis strikes.”
The IRC in Pakistan
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) began operations in Pakistan in 1980 in response to the growing number of Afghan refugees.We currently have over 1,500 staff and volunteers, and our teams delivered food, shelter, safety, primary healthcare, education, vocational training, water supply systems, sanitation facilities, and other essential services to the Afghan refugees and host communities. Since then, the IRC now serves a wide group of marginalised, vulnerable, and impoverished groups across the country with public health, environmental health, education, disaster risk reduction, community services, and livelihoods support. In 2020, our teams met the needs of 43 million people under its COVID-19 emergency response. During the floods, the IRC delivered emergency assistance both directly and with partners in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh. Services have included the distribution of emergency non-food items, dignity and hygiene kits, food baskets, and the establishment of medical camps and safe spaces.