Emmanuel Onwubiko: In Pakistan the world is flooded


 

As a die-hard supporter of the West London based professional football club known as Chelsea fc, there are certain match days that by mere intuition I make up my mind to stay off the soccer channel and to busy myself watching the international news such as sky news, BBC or Al-Jazeera. On such days, I’m full of the nightmarish possibility of losing such a match which often doesn’t sit well with me and emotionally affects my mental health.

That precisely was what happened 48 hours ago when Chelsea FC travelled to face Southampton FC. Even as I watched them arrive at Southampton, Hampshire in the United Kingdom, something inside of me pointed to a negative outcome which made me not want to watch it. Against the innocent protestations of my little Son, I switched over to watch the news on the hour around 8PM our local time which for now coincides with the timing in the UK.

And as I predicted, we lost 2-1 to Southampton FC on that night. Sad as that defeat was, something superseded it for me and my beloved son.

That phenomenon that I said earlier that superseded the defeat of Chelsea football club by Southampton was such a distinguishing and remarkable global event that sadly unfolded in faraway Pakistan which eclipsed my angst at the way my darling football team Chelsea FC lost.

This incident was the massive monsoon rains that washed off millions of houses and predictably led to the deaths in the floods of over a thousand inhabitants who are mostly poor. The most emotionally tormenting moment is exactly what follows this line.

This psychological torture aforementioned was the fact that I was actually seated with my son Naetochukwu who is just seven going to eight years but he actually had protested that I decided to change the television channel from the football channels to news.

But when both of us now saw how children, women, old men were fighting for their survival right inside huge floods in most parts of Pakistan my son and I showed facial expressions of sadness and pity that little babies were literally been swept away to their untimely deaths by floods that came as rains that ought to bring showers of blessing but which has become a huge curse with han fatalities. As my son and myself looked at each other’s faces, what came to my mind was: “what if that was us”? Tragic!

And then on tuning into the Nigerian channels, we similarly heard that President Muhammadu Buhari was as concerned as we were in our bedroom even though his press statement was bereft of intellectual contents and did not state what ways his administration has put in place to address such disasters that could happen here just like it has happened in Pakistan that resulted from consequences of climate change that wasn’t actually precipitated principally by the populace even though certain steps could have been put in place to reduce the damages.

The news reports in a very terse statement not personally signed by the President but as usual it was disclosed that President Buhari had actually pleaded for global wide intervention to give urgent assistance to the victims of the disaster which is linked to climate change but through one of his many spokesmen.

President Buhari reportedly extended sympathies for the flooding of Pakistan, the worst natural disaster in the country’s history.

This is contained in a statement by Mr Buhari’s media aide Garba Shehu, in Abuja.

Floods have damaged half a million homes, affecting about 30 million people and killing over 1,000.

The floods have washed away hundreds of roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

According to the Nigerian leader, Pakistan and its population are in the thoughts and prayers of Nigerians as they confront this humanitarian disaster of epic proportions.

Mr. Buhari appealed to the United Nations and other aid agencies to take urgent steps to assist people without shelter and food and the millions who required urgent humanitarian relief.

The UN Secretary General António Guterres on Tuesday warned that the World is “sleepwalking” into environmental destruction, as he launched a $160 million appeal for flood-ravaged Pakistan.

More than 1,100 people have been killed and 33 million others impacted in one of the country’s worst monsoon seasons in over a decade.

“The Pakistani people are facing a monsoon on steroids — the relentless impact of epochal levels of rain and flooding,” Guterres said during the appeal’s launch.

“As we continue to see more and more extreme weather events around the world, it is outrageous that climate action is being put on the back burner as global emissions of greenhouse gases are still rising, putting all of us — everywhere — in growing danger,” he said.

“Let’s stop sleepwalking towards the destruction of our planet by climate change,” Guterres, who is scheduled to travel to Pakistan on September 9 for a “solidarity visit,” said. “Today, it’s Pakistan. Tomorrow, it could be your country.”

Images of water gushing down streets, swallowing villages and destroying bridges serve as a stark reminder of the inequities of the climate crisis, which impacts the developing world disproportionately. Richer countries also bear a much larger historical responsibility for the crisis in the first place.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Tuesday the current flooding in Pakistan has been “the worst in the country’s history.”

In his first time speaking with international media since becoming prime minister in April, he warned that Pakistan was facing a food shortage due to the crop damage caused by the floods, and that the price of tomatoes and onions had “skyrocketed.”

“Every penny of aid” sent to Pakistan “will reach the needy,” Sharif added.

At the same briefing, planning minister Ahsan Iqbal said that the global north should step up its responsibility to countries affected by climate change.

“All the quality of life that people are enjoying in the west, someone is paying the price in the developing world,” he said.

Pakistan says the Cable News Network last year ranked as the eighth most affected nation by climate change from 2000 to 2019, in the Global Climate Risk Index by non-profit group Germanwatch. People living in hotspots like South Asia are 15 times more likely to die from climate crisis impacts.

“This is a climate crisis,” Abdullah Fadil, UNICEF’s representative in Pakistan told CNN. “A climate that has been mostly done by richer countries, contributing to the crisis, and I think it is time that the world responded to support Pakistan in this time of need.”

The deadly floods are threatening to engulf up to a third of the nation by the end of the monsoon season, taking a high toll on lives but also infrastructure, and wreaking havoc on crops across farmland in the middle of a food crisis.

In a statement Monday, IRC’s Pakistan country director Shabnam Baloch said that Pakistan produced less than 1% of the world’s carbon footprint.

A lack of hygiene facilities and clean drinking water has exacerbated the risk of diseases spreading in flooded areas, with nearly 20,000 people in need of critical food supplies and medical support, Baloch added.

“Our needs assessment showed that we are already seeing a major increase in cases of diarrhea, skin infections, malaria and other illnesses,” she said. “We are urgently requesting donors to step up their support and help us save lives.”

On Tuesday, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) announced it will provide $30 million in humanitarian assistance in response to the flooding in Pakistan.

“With these funds, USAID partners will prioritize urgently needed support for food, nutrition, multi-purpose cash, safe water, improved sanitation and hygiene, and shelter assistance,” the agency said in a press release, adding that a USAID disaster management specialist has already arrived in Islamabad to assess the impact of the floods and to coordinate with partners on the ground.

One-third of Pakistan could be under water soon was actually an emerging reality.

In a statement Tuesday, Pakistan’s military said rescue missions were ongoing and international aid was beginning to arrive in the country, including seven military aircraft from Turkey and three from the United Arab Emirates.

Helicopters had evacuated more than 300 stranded people and distributed over 23 metric tons of relief items, while more than 50 medical camps have been established with over 33,000 patients being treated, the statement said.

Also on Tuesday, China will send two aircraft carrying 3,000 tents and Japan will send tarpaulins and shelters, the statement said, adding that the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Azerbaijan have announced financial assistance.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) provided another lifeline Monday, releasing $1.17 billion in bailout funds to avert a default on the South Asian nation’s debt obligations as it grapples with political and economic turmoil worsened by the unprecedented floods.

Peter Ophoff, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Pakistan told CNN he had not seen anything on the scale of the floods in nearly three decades working for the aid agency. The country was, however, hit with similarly devastating floods in 2010.

“Pakistan is in dire need and the damages are here and we will be in this a very long time,” Ophoff said. “It’s not months but years we are talking about.”

The 33 million people impacted by the floods and rain represent 15% of the population.

Among 1,136 people killed since mid-June were 386 children, the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) said Monday, as the unrelenting rain raised fears of more fatalities to come. Nearly half a million homes have been destroyed, according to NDMA.

“By the time this is over, we could well have one quarter or one third of Pakistan under water,” Pakistan’s climate change minister Sherry Rehman told Turkish news outlet TRT World last week.

Another global media entity dramatised the reporting of this incident and this is not actually their intention to make it appear comical but it was exactly what it was.

The dramatic scenes of disaster have unfolded in Pakistan as floods inundated the country.

It was raining but not heavily, Ali Jan told Reuters Monday, as he stood surrounded by water in Charsadda in northern Pakistan. But that quickly changed.

“Suddenly the outer wall of the compound collapsed and water gushed in,” Jan said. “We barely managed to save ourselves. By the time the women were leaving the house, the water had become almost waist-deep. We evacuated the women and the cattle. The rest is there for you to see. Crops have also been destroyed.”

In videos shared by the Alkhidmat Foundation Pakistan, its volunteers used a bed frame and makeshift pulley system to help a child and elderly man cross rushing floodwaters, according to the NGO’s digital media manager Ihtisham Khaliq Waseer.

More than 3,000 volunteers from the NGO are distributing aid across the country, he said.

“We are getting aid but it’s not enough with what we need on the ground, because the damages are very much higher than expected,” he said, adding that volunteer teams have been stretched thin delivering supplies to hard-to-reach areas for weeks.

Waseer said he hopes that as rains weaken and flood waters recede in the coming week based on weather forecasts, his team would be able to deliver food rations and set up medical centers in remote areas.

However, just like my son Naetochukwu Nnadozie Onwubiko had asked me what I mean by climate change, millions of Nigerians are yet to come to terms with the destructive impacts of climate change. In most public schools, students aren’t being educated about this epochal environment issue of our contemporary times. Also, Policy wise, not much is reported. The federal agencies that deal with these environmental issues are hardly seen or heard from. But Nigerians must be made aware of the disastrous consequences of remaining ignorant of the consequences of climate change because these are global challenges.

What Is Climate Change? Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. These shifts may be natural, such as through variations in the solar cycle. But since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas.

Burning fossil fuels generates greenhouse gas emissions that act like a blanket wrapped around the Earth, trapping the sun’s heat and raising temperatures.

Examples of greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change include carbon dioxide and methane. These come from using gasoline for driving a car or coal for heating a building, for example. Clearing land and forests can also release carbon dioxide. Landfills for garbage are a major source of methane emissions. Energy, industry, transport, buildings, agriculture and land use are among the main emitters.

And emissions continue to rise. As a result, the Earth is now about 1.1°C warmer than it was in the late 1800s. The last decade (2011-2020) was the warmest on record.

Many people think climate change mainly means warmer temperatures. But temperature rise is only the beginning of the story. Because the Earth is a system, where everything is connected, changes in one area can influence changes in all others.

The consequences of climate change now include, among others, intense droughts, water scarcity, severe fires, rising sea levels, flooding, melting polar ice, catastrophic storms and declining biodiversity.

Climate change can affect our health, ability to grow food, housing, safety and work. Some of us are already more vulnerable to climate impacts, such as people living in small island nations and other developing countries. Conditions like sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion have advanced to the point where whole communities have had to relocate, and protracted droughts are putting people at risk of famine. In the future, the number of “climate refugees” is expected to rise.

In a series of UN reports, thousands of scientists and government reviewers agreed that limiting global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C would help us avoid the worst climate impacts and maintain a livable climate. Yet based on current national climate plans, global warming is projected to reach around 3.2°C by the end of the century.

The emissions that cause climate change come from every part of the world and affect everyone, but some countries produce much more than others. The 100 least-emitting countries generate 3 percent of total emissions. The 10 countries with the largest emissions contribute 68 per cent. Everyone must take climate action, but people and countries creating more of the problem have a greater responsibility to act first.

(Reuters) on its own reports that When an ocean surge washed away Mureni Sanni Alakija’s house in 2011, he took a loan to build a home farther away. But that too is no longer safe as the sea creeps inland in Okun Alfa, a neighbourhood in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos. This report by this news agency demonstrates that Nigeria is not so far away from what has just befallen Pakistan. Yearly, most parts of the Country are flooded and to be fair, there is this Federal agency that forecasts weather in Nigeria and warn Nigerians about imminent floods but not a lot of media spaces are alloted for such stories in Nigeria. The only possible exception is The Guardian newspaper that has four pages weekly dedicated to environmental reports. Most national papers do not focus so much on environmental developments and you then wonder how we can achieve sustainable development if environmental education is deficient in Nigeria. Reuters proceeded to report that hundreds of other residents have watched helplessly as tidal waves devour their homes, which experts say is a product of rising sea levels linked to climate change. Government leaders will meet at the Commonwealth of Nations summit in Rwanda this week to discuss the plight of residents and other issues.

Africa has contributed very little to climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions, but its residents are among the most vulnerable to the fallout from the planet’s warming, a United Nations climate panel said in February.

Africa’s most populous nation, stretching from the southern fringe of the Sahara to the Gulf of Guinea, is at risk of a triple attack from climate change as the desert encroaches on its northern pastures, rainfall erodes farmland in its eastern Niger Delta, and the Atlantic Ocean floods its southern coast.

Lagos, which is spread over creeks and lagoons and dangerously close to sea level, together with Bayelsa and Delta states face the highest risk of flooding, threatening more than 20 million people, Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency says.

Although Mureni moved his wife and children to a safer location in Lagos a decade ago, he is not ready to leave his ancestral home. But the ocean keeps taking more land, and he says it may be a matter of time before he loses this home too.

“We are really scared; we do not sleep with two eyes (closed). At 2 a.m. we are out here watching; 3 a.m. we are out here watching. No one can determine when the surge will come and carry someone away,” Mureni said.

At the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2018, leaders agreed to an action plan to protect oceans from the threats of climate change, among other challenges.

Jeff Ardron, an adviser on ocean governance at the Commonwealth secretariat, said the summit would check on progress since 2018, while a new fund to help communities like Okun Alfa cope with climate change would be announced.

“These communities, they can expect help around building nature-based solutions that will protect them from the ocean. Tackling the ocean and climate change at CHOGM is a priority,” he told Reuters in Kigali.

Some houses in Okun Alfa are barely standing from constant pounding by tidal waves. The sea has entirely consumed others.

Aliba Mohammed, a resident, lost his house and moved to what he thought was a safe distance from the ocean, but water has followed him to his doorstep.

I think Nigeria needs to put institutional and legislative frameworks in place to mitigate the damages that could occur from such disasters like the type that over a third of Pakistan is now affected. We do not need to wait for such a calamity to occur and then we go cap in hand to the United Nations and rich nations to solicit for assistance. Nigerians and Nigeria need to wake up and put measures in place to stave off the effects of climate change in our communities. All hands must be on deck and we must not introduce politics into this critical life threatening disaster.

EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and one time National commissioner of the NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

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