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Thursday, May 16, 2024

Migration, climate change and economic disaster in Pakistan

We need to secure livelihoods by auditing our governments and making them accountable for service delivery to the migrant population or else they starve to death or die of eventual disease due to a lack of equitable distribution of clean drinking water, leading to a major health emergency in the country.

Two years back at Davos, the WEF (World Economic Forum) debates revolved around ‘sustainability’ on planet earth and how we need to unite to make a difference. The theme ‘ Stakeholders for a cohesive and sustainable world’ was not only relevant but quite appropriate considering half the nations globally were battling a common enemy: battling the global climate crisis.

Pakistan currently is the 5th most vulnerable nation across the globe to climate change, with a population explosion that is feared to exceed 300 million before 2050, according to the world survey analysis 2005-2015. The Pakistan delegation at WWF-Davos showcased the country’s ‘Billion Tree Tsunami campaign’ as a game changer on the policy-making table when it came to high-impact nations facing climate emergencies.

Read more: Pakistan economy in long term ICU – Editorial

The world at large took notice and moved on with their lives

Two years later, Pakistan faced one of the most dangerous monsoons and the biggest catastrophic climate crisis, hitting the nation with rain and flash floods taking down 40% of the land mass under water. The impact displaced millions of people, leading to one of the largest migrations since 1947.

Reports by NDMA- National Disaster Management Authority further identified the pathway to destruction. The monsoon rains affected 15% of the population (30 million people) primarily in the twin provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan, receiving 784% and 500% more rains than average this year. The damage assessment included 300,000 kilometers of road, 130 bridges and 495,000 homes. Moreover, with 4.25 million acres of crops damaged and 793995 livestock perished, the livelihoods of millions of people went under siege, raising the biggest challenge of ‘forced migration’, in the aftermath of the disaster.

Despite not being able to meet the millennium development goals of 2015, Pakistan further failed to meet the SDGs 2050, with the entire infrastructure impact affecting major development indicators with many in Pakistan having further limited access to primary healthcare, most of the vulnerable population succumbed to disease epidemic like Dengue virus, malaria and other water-borne diseases that are multiplying as we speak. Hence, Pakistan needs to review its migration policy in line with the climate crisis and focus on human capital planning through ‘climate justice’ as the key agenda point for the policymakers, as the only pathway to economic survival beyond 2022.

Pakistan currently stands to be the most vulnerable nation due to climate change with a population that may cross over 300 million people by the year 2050. With a huge number of displaced migrants inside Pakistan today, the primary healthcare provision and support are less than adequate.

Read more: Did Pakistan economy really progress under PM Khan?

With fresh drinking water supplies contaminated in rural areas due to ravaging floods, the majority of the rural population facing water scarcity is migrating to urban lands, as water supply has been damaged and water-borne diseases are rising drastically. This has resulted in major rural-to-urban migration with floods of people pouring into big cities like Karachi, adding to the already swelling population crisis.

Rivers are the backbone for the entire population and river levels rising across the country have capsized homes and crops. We know about the Indus-water treaty between India and Pakistan, where India majority share of the water resources. With Pakistan going through a ‘water crisis’, failure on that front could further deprive Pakistan of getting fresh water supply via India.

Over 65% of the rural and urban population is below the age of 30. The youth bulge facing such challenges today are contemplating migration as joblessness, food insecurity and poor healthcare is forcing them to either leave the country or resort to petty crimes that are posing a major law enforcement challenge. To fulfill the needs for modern family planning in the post-flood scenario, most developing countries need around $3.6 billion annually.

By investing in primary health care in maternal and newborn healthcare, the country could actually save around $1.5 billion in net savings. Yet, primary healthcare budgets have not been allocated by local governments forcing the emergency crisis to escalate.  Given the rising flood-affected population and migration challenges, the biggest challenge for the country today would be food production. With the agriculture base destroyed by floods, it may be difficult to feed so many people for the next few months as water-levels fall, leaving a desolate land full of disease and contamination.

Optimum food production is imminent today along with the need to secure greater access to clean water. On these SDG goals, Pakistan has fallen way behind and therefore needs support from developing nations to help the ‘scattered youth’ with overseas jobs and opportunities to earn money and send back to their country. The labor costs in Pakistan are cheap therefore cheap labor can be employed overseas to sustain livelihoods.

Read more: Matiari-Lahore transmission line to boost Pakistan economy: China

Past UN reports have identified the rising ‘water crisis’ where over 40% of the global world could be on the brink of a ‘war for water resources’ which could further lead to the breakdown of ecosystems, crop failures, the collapse of industrial production, poverty and disease. Ironically, Pakistan today has all these symptoms, blown to the maximum.

How would the country manage its migration crisis?

How will the youth population have access to jobs? How will they attain primary healthcare to protect themselves and how will they secure access to food and shelter, under the current circumstances?

For big projects like CPEC with China, Pakistan needs to invest in water resources to support the infrastructure demand, as that is where a majority of the unemployed youth can sustain job opportunities and that is where youth migration is headed in the near future. Wasteful agricultural and industrial water resources need to be accounted for. Gender equality must be checked and managed in terms of high poverty rates in the prevailing times with the need to develop green solutions and job creation.

Migration is directly connected to climate change. And lack of climate justice is the leading cause of such climate emergency events that have shaken the country to its core. Furthermore, an increase in flood-drought cycles may lead to larger food and water crisis. To produce more food, we need more water. In South Asia alone, huge migrations are also putting pressure across the region with China, India, Nepal and Pakistan on the verge of a ‘water war’ in the future.

Breaking down the numbers, by 2050, nearly 40% of the global youth will be living in Asia and 50% in Africa, with a population crossing 9 billion people. Today, per day per person water consumption of 100 liters is not enough. Are banks in Pakistan financing water conservation projects? No. Is the corporate water industry getting richer without supplying water to the poor? Yes. Has any past or current government unveiled a comprehensive water policy? No.

Today, with rising migrations to urban centers in most regions, the climate emergency on the water is affecting around 700 million people in almost 43 countries- a phenomenon called water stress. Pakistan may face famine in the near future.

Read more: Pakistan economy to suffer if Afghan peace talks fail

Right now, people are migrating to big cities due to job opportunities but also because of water resources. The provincial governments need to make water affordable for poor populations instead of profiteering and privatizing water resources, at least till the nation is water-secure once again. For the welfare of the rising youth population of migrants, the cost of access to basic resources must be subsidized.

According to a survey conducted almost 10 years back, the number of young street children in urban centers was 1.5 million. In the post-flood crisis within the rural populace, the number of children on the streets today, including the new migrants could be well beyond 6-7 million, on a conservative estimate. One of the major reasons attributed to this rise is the rise in unemployed elder members of the family facing an economic crisis.

Before 2022, the floods of 2010 and 2011 along with the military operations since 2013, collectively forcing families out of their homes, new migration numbers are horrifically rising beyond belief today. Due to the absence of adequate assistance and rehabilitation by governmental departments, migrant families losing their homes and adjusting to a new unchecked environment are resorting to all kinds of crimes which is evident in the rising crime rate in big cities of Pakistan today.

In a migration survey conducted recently, over 70% of respondents affected by the floods reported that they in their communities have no basic information on the services or funding available to them. This is a major question for the government who is securing funding for migrants impacted by the floods? The disparity is shocking. How long will it carry on like this?

Read more: Ready to protect Pakistan economy from virus shock: Governor SBP

We need to secure livelihoods by auditing our governments and making them accountable for service delivery to the migrant population or else they starve to death or die of eventual disease due to a lack of equitable distribution of clean drinking water, leading to a major health emergency in the country.

As the founder of the nation said: the health of the nation is measured by the health of its people. How far we have achieved this is a big question mark as the nation struggles to get out of the woods, with little hope in sight.



The writer works with the health sector and writes on international relations, the environment, the economy and social justice. He is a distinguished broadcaster and writer. He tweets on @zeeshan8244998. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.