Destruction, death and the flood must lead to the cancellation of the debt

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Jason Edward Hickel’s tweet was a source of consolation at a time when my countrymen are in distress from a deluge. The renowned economic anthropologist, while lamenting the unprecedented level of destruction, wrote: “Pakistan needs urgent international assistance, and it should not come in the form of aid or charity, but reparations for the climate damages borne by the elites and corporations that control and profit from fossil capital.

The author of the world famous book, The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and Its Solutions, was indeed frank in declaring: “This is a matter of reparations. Rich countries are responsible for more than 90% of the excess emissions that cause climate degradation. Pakistan, on the other hand, is still under its fair share of the planetary emissions limit.

Hickel described a perfect case of remedy as the state of Pakistan prepares to rebuild the nation. There is no point in apologizing, nor in hesitating to call a spade a spade. This argument on the basis of climate change should be enough to restructure our state of mind as well, in the face of the great powers and donors. We must not limit rehabilitation to cosmetic measures, as we have obsessed over the years.

This deluge is natural and man-made as far as Pakistan is concerned, as the nation-state had repeatedly balked at erecting formal infrastructure to tame the gushing waters of the river while being an inferior riparian state. .

Pakistan, unfortunately, has built fewer dams in the past 75 years than it needs in its gigantic territory. While India and Iran had built hundreds of dams and water reservoirs, while we stood engaged in a senseless diatribe of provincialism. We have personalized the choice of sites for the construction of the dams. So the PC1s of Kalabagh, Diamer, Basha and countless other dams were gathering dust in the ministries, as the floods probed us year after year.

Pakistan is the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change. The country is home to most of the world’s glaciers outside of the polar zone, but we failed to meet this geographic requirement simply due to work ad hocism.

So the monsoon of 2022 had once again left us in tatters, only this time worse to the core. Sindh and Balochistan are overwhelmed by water without recourse to rehabilitation. Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are on the brink, trying to figure out where and how to start. Northern areas are in a dilapidated state hit by flash floods.

This boils down the equation to a total loss matrix, depriving the country of standing crops, bringing down dozens of bridges and crossings, and washing away more than 6,000 km of roads and highways. Donor agencies have estimated infrastructure damage at $10 billion. Ultimately, approximately 35 million people are directly affected by the loss of their homes, belongings and livestock.

Besides, isn’t this less destruction than a war? Indeed, more than that. General Monsoon, inspired by Napoleon’s defeat at the hands of “General Winter”, had wreaked havoc. The country is on its knees.

The logical question is, what is the plan to rebuild it, and how? Hickel drew up a roadmap. Pakistan must seek reparations and take the case to global forums. It is time for Pakistan to be bailed out of all its debt, to enable it to bounce back.

The Kyoto and Paris protocols testify to how Pakistan is on the side of the recipients. All it requires is a loud lawsuit and a rigorous plea for damages.

Pakistan should and must get out of this debt trap. It leads nowhere. In the event of a disaster, it is possible to strategize and cancel international loans. Two points are very relevant for Pakistan: one; it has been a sustained victim of realpolitik at the hands of revulsions in the region and, lately, of the war on terrorism. Of them; the emissions of the industrial world are melting its glaciers and flooding it in abject annihilation. It’s time to put your foot down.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 10e2022.

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