We need to act now

Thaiba Akhter on why the global community needs to support the people on the frontline of the climate crisis.

Last summer, a third of Pakistan was left underwater. My country, home to the Indus Valley – one of the world’s oldest societies – was left submerged after some of the heaviest rains in its history, destroying the homes, schools and livelihoods of millions of children and their families. UN secretary general António Guterres described it as a “monsoon on steroids” and as “climate carnage”. 

A combination of melted glaciers and unprecedented rains created monstrous super flooding, leading to the deaths of more than 1,700 people including hundreds of children. Thousands of kilometres of roads were rendered unusable, a million livestock killed, hospitals and schools destroyed, and 50 million people left internally displaced – with women and girls making up the highest number of those affected.

One year on, and the pressing humanitarian needs of children and families are still prevalent. No one in Pakistan is responsible for this catastrophe, yet Pakistani children continue to pay the heaviest price.

What we know is that this was no ordinary disaster, but climate change making landfall in a country with almost no climate footprint. The numbers of those impacted are too staggering for any country to face alone, yet the international community has simply not done enough.

It is almost certain that Pakistan will continue to face the accelerated attacks of the climate crisis with more frequency and greater force. This is not just a Pakistan crisis but a global one.

I was in Pakistan last year, and I had the awful privilege of seeing first-hand levels of vulnerability almost impossible to describe. I visited Sindh, one of Pakistan’s worst-affected provinces, and spoke with children whose eyes were still vacant with the shock. I met with our partners working on the ground, including the Pakistani government, to assess the needs of affected populations to better understand how we can respond.

Unlike other crises, the world did not react with fervour to support the needs of Pakistan. Whilst it has been touching to see ordinary people from all over the world donate to flood relief efforts through fundraising appeals, the overall support from the wider international community and the western media has been disheartening.

And yet, optimism resonates from every person I encountered in Pakistan. From Imam* and his younger brother Nazam* who lost everything when floodwaters swept through their village. Amongst the backdrop of this uncertainty, they have re-discovered their love for playing cricket. Both boys attend a Save the Children temporary learning centre, and diligently organise cricket games for the children in what remains of their village during the day. Childhood goes on, even in the harshest of settings.

To four-year-old Zoya and her mother Fatima – when the floodwaters came, Fatima let go of her daughter Zoya’s hand for one moment, and she fell into the water.  Fortunately, Fatima was able to save Zoya. She was brought back to life through multiple chest compressions and eventually back to full health after weeks of medical care. Fatima who has lost other family members, her home and belongings, holds onto her daughter tightly exclaiming ‘I have everything I will ever need, now I know my little girl is safe’.

“Unless we address the existential threat of climate change, we will be responding to emergencies like this, and worse, more often.”

Now more than ever, there is a shared consensus that the problems facing humanity and the planet such as poverty, healthcare, and the climate crisis, are too large to be tackled by individuals and specific sectors alone. There is a tacit understanding on the interconnectivity of these issues amongst change makers and wider society, and to begin to address these a whole-scale approach including investment across all sectors is needed.

Save the Children, which has a global presence across 120 countries, has been operational in Pakistan since 1979. By working closely with the Pakistani government and utilising the expertise and knowledge of our local partners, we were the first INGO to respond to the devastating flooding last year and to-date, we have helped more than half a million children and their families.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that this humanitarian response is seriously underfunded, which has limited our ability to reach many of those in desperate need of support.

Now is the time for philanthropists, partners across the private and public sector, international organisations, and governments to collaborate and utilise their unique capabilities to develop long-term sustainable solutions to support communities most susceptible to climate-related disasters. 

Unless we address the existential threat of climate change, we will be responding to emergencies like this, and worse, more often.

During my time in Pakistan, I had a glimpse into the future, and it wasn’t pretty. The children of Pakistan are bearing the brunt of the world’s in-action to face up to the climate crisis. If we do not act, it is a stain on our conscience internationally.