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UN Secretary-General’s Visit to Pakistan

The visit by the senior UN diplomat highlighted the importance of sustained international support for Pakistan through the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase and for building resilience against future climate shocks.

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UN Secretary-General (UNSG) Antonio Guterres arrived in Pakistan on September 9 for a two-day visit to express his solidarity with the government and people devastated by catastrophic floods in the country. Upon his arrival, UNSG was received by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar at the Islamabad International Airport. Shortly after his arrival, the UNSG visited Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s residence, where he was received by the Premier, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and other leaders.

Nearly 1,400 people have died in flooding that covers a third of the country — an area the size of the United Kingdom — wiping out crops and destroying homes, businesses, roads, and bridges, leaving an estimated 33 million people in need of assistance.

During his visit, the UN Secretary-General visited flood-affected areas in the country and called for increased global financial support to help Pakistan in its rehabilitation efforts. “I have arrived in Pakistan to express my deep solidarity with the Pakistani people after the devastating floods here,” said the secretary-general in a tweet. “I appeal for massive support from the international community as Pakistan responds to this climate catastrophe,” he added. UNSG has also actively supported the $160 million UN “Flash Appeal” to fund Pakistan’s Flood Response Plan.

The visit by the senior UN diplomat also highlighted the importance of sustained international support for Pakistan through the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase and for building resilience against future climate shocks.

Read more: Pakistan floods were aggravated by climate change

Guterres said he hoped his visit would galvanize international help, noting Pakistan had always shown generosity towards others, hosting millions of refugees for decades from neighboring Afghanistan at enormous cost.

Climate change needs global attention

The UNSG visited the National Flood Response and Coordination Center, where he was given a comprehensive briefing about the damages and rescue and relief efforts. The UN secretary general called the lack of global attention to climate change “insanity.” “This is insanity, this is collective suicide,” Guterres told a news conference in the federal capital, lamenting the lack of attention the world gave to climate change — particularly the industrialized nations that scientists blame.

Pakistan is responsible for less than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions but is eighth on a list compiled by the NGO German watch of countries most vulnerable to extreme weather caused by climate change. He urged the international community to extend “massive support” to a country with little contribution to the emissions but bore the brunt of climate change.

Guterres also visited Mohenjo Daro, a centuries-old UNESCO-designated world heritage site threatened by the deluge. After concluding his field visits, Guterres told reporters that “I have seen many humanitarian disasters in the world, but I have never seen climate carnage on this scale. I have simply no words to describe what I have seen today: a flooded area that is three times the total area of my own country, Portugal.”

The scale of the devastation seems to have surpassed the “super floods” of 2010, as, at that time, Pakistan suffered losses of close to $10 billion.

Read more: Floods cause around 1,200 deaths in Pakistan

While the government’s revised estimate suggested the direct and indirect losses could be in the range of $20 billion, the UN Secretary-General, at a news conference with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, came up with a figure of a whopping $30 billion. “I want to say a few words to the international community. According to some estimates, I have heard today, Pakistan needs massive financial support to respond to this crisis that has cost about $30 billion and counting,” the UN chief said at the press conference.

The UN chief is no stranger to Pakistan as he has had 17 years long association with the country. He was the UN High Commissioner for refugees during the Afghan war. He acknowledged Pakistan’s enormous generosity in hosting 6 million Afghan refugees.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, in a joint presser, thanked Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for his visit to Pakistan to express his unprecedented support for the flood victims. He did create an awkward moment when he avowed that “every penny” for the flood victims would be spent transparently and go towards humanity’s suffering. Many wondered if there was another option.

Read more: The devastating floods in Pakistan

Note: A slightly different version of this article appears in the 2022 September Magazine.

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