Asia | Forcible displacement from natural disasters
Around 8.2 million displaced people have been recorded as a result of the monsoon season's devastating floods in Pakistan since 14 June, 2022, which is an unparalleled number compared to the previous decade. According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the floods have affected 33 million people in 90 different districts nationwide, leaving 1,739 persons dead and 12,867 injured as of 18 November, 2022. Estimated damages and economic losses exceed USD 30 billion, with the housing sector suffering the most significant losses (USD 5.6 billion).
This prolonged humanitarian crisis is the result of a combination of factors. Firstly, since June 2022, the nation's rainfall has increased significantly due to rising temperatures, reaching a 68% surplus compared to May's 48% deficit. In this line, the heavy precipitation intensified over time, reaching a peak in August when it outperformed the average by 243% and set a record for the wettest August since 1961. The two provinces hardest hit by the floods, Balochistan and Sindh, saw increases in rainfall of 590% and 726%, respectively, causing massive flash floods and landslides. Secondly, the lack of adequate sheltering facilities, food, clean water, the destruction of important infrastructures, and the political and economic turmoil, have worsened the situation.
The Government of Pakistan and the United Nations jointly launched the “2022 Pakistan Floods Response Plan (FRP)” on 30 August, 2022, to deliver urgent lifesaving aid to 5.2 million affected people over the next six months. As part of the government-led response, USD 173 million were allocated and expected to rise to over USD 460 million under the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), targeting the most vulnerable households. The government released another portion of USD 23 million to support NDMA in providing food packs, shelter items, and WASH supplies, in combination with the donations received through a relief fund established by the government. The three branches of Pakistan’s Armed Forces have also supported the search-and-rescue activities and the delivery of aid, especially to people out of reach by land transportation. The response plan also targets sectors such as education, the restoration of agriculture-based livelihoods, health, nutrition. and relief equipment.
Besides, the government released the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment with the support of several international organisations in October 2022, highlighting the post-disaster needs for recovery and reconstruction in 17 sectors. Although housing is the most severely affected sector, transport and communications are the most financially urgent need, followed by food security and agriculture. Water security is another major concern, since nearly 1.8 million people live close to contaminated water and pools of stagnant floodwater, posing serious risks to public health.
Based on this assessment, the Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives of Pakistan led the Resilient Recovery, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Framework (4RF), supported by major contributions from the Asian Development Bank, the European Union, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank Group.
Based on the four Strategic Recovery Objectives (SROS) regarding governance, livelihoods, social inclusion and resilient infrastructure, the 4RF presents a macroeconomic stabilisation scheme, a policy framework oriented to the most affected areas, institutional arrangements, financing strategy, and partnerships, as well as implementation and monitoring mechanism. It also involves detailed guidelines at the federal, provincial and district levels.
International stakeholders and local NGOs have contributed to Pakistan’s humanitarian assistance and post-disaster recovery.
Except for the FRP launched by the government and UN Country Team, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released a revised evaluation and response plan on behalf of the Humanitarian Country Team on 4 October, 2022. Notwithstanding the dire conditions in Pakistan and the extension of the plan to the end of 2023, only 65.8% of the USD 816 million appeal has been funded by June, undermining the government and the UN’s efforts in assisting the above-mentioned areas. Assistance has been provided to around 7.7 million people in affected areas by the end of May 2023, in contrast to the predicted 20.6 million in need, including 9.6 million children.
Building on its contribution to the 4RF led by the Government of Pakistan and initial relief efforts, UNDP launched its Flood Recovery Programme (FRP) in December 2022 to back the post-disaster transition into building resiliency and sustainable recovery integrated with PDNA and the government-led 4RF. With a proposed budget of USD 90 million targeting 20 of the worst impacted districts, mainly in Sindh and Balochistan provinces, within two years, the FRP prioritises four pillars of recovery, including housing and community infrastructure, livelihoods recovery, restoring government services, and disaster resilience and environmental protection.
The International Organization of Migration has provided over 838,250 people with emergency shelter and non-food items and reached 88,000 with WASH facilities as of December 2022. Its displacement tracking matrix (DTM) has also completed baseline assessments of the most affected Sindh and Balochistan provinces. In addition, IOM released a Pakistan Crisis Response Plan 2023-2025, requiring a USD 121.7 million fund mostly needed for emergency assistance, mainly to internally displaced people. This plan also commits to long-term recovery and crisis prevention regarding WASH facilities, the restoration of housing, land and property rights, community stabilisation through capacity building, and support for small-scale livelihoods and enterprises. Reducing future disaster risks is another major investment of this plan. To prevent disaster risks and enhance the preparedness for disaster at the level of community, IOM collaborates with both national and local authorities, and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in developing a multi-sectoral approach focused on the community-based disaster risk reduction (CBDRR), climate change adaptation (CCA), and community-based disaster risk management (CBDRM).
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has spared relief efforts since July 2022 in flood-affected areas with a large population of refugees under coordination with Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMA) and other humanitarian actors. It has donated over USD 1.2 million in relief items to aid 50,000 affected households. Building upon the FRP and its revised version, UNHCR included seven additional months of early recovery until December 2023 in its Supplementary Appeal for USD 65.8 million as a part of the Floods Response.
The flood response plan of the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) requires USD 173.5 million in total to assist women and children in affected areas. However, only 54% has been committed as of April 2023. UNICEF is also supporting the safe returns of the displaced population to their communities in 87 districts less affected by the floods.
International non-governmental organisations have also been working on the ground to provide life-saving aid to affected people in Pakistan. Since the initial stages of the floods, Islamic Relief, a British Muslim Charity, has assisted more than 800,000 people in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh with food packs, shelter items, and hygiene kits using their public donations.
The economic crisis has deteriorated due to the floods’ disruption of economic activities and their impact on people’s livelihoods. A decrease in agricultural production will also likely exacerbate the inflationary pressures on Pakistan. Poverty is expected to increase significantly as a result. Durable recovery and reconstruction will depend on how fast the floods can recede and how intense they have been.
The accessibility of relief to the worst affected and remote areas will also affect the time it will take to rebuild resilience in internally displaced communities. Decreasing crop output, elevating inflation, acute food insecurity, and the potential public health crisis caused by water-borne diseases, brings additional risks to social stability within displaced communities, degrading the already dire security situation. About 10.5 million people from more than 43 districts are confronted with food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or above). Furthermore, 84 floods-stricken districts saw an average malnutrition rate of 12%, among which 3.5 million are children. These acute problems further indicate the potentially worsening social instability.
In some provinces, such as the Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, the situation could be worsened by the ongoing political threats posed by ethnic-national terrorist groups, for example, the Balochistan Liberation Army and the Pakistani Taliban. The displaced community could be more susceptible to deadly conflicts between the government military and the insurgent groups. On 5 July, a suicide bombing targeting a security checkpoint in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa inflicted four deaths, including a 10-year-old boy, and left 14 other civilians injured. Sporadic terrorist attacks and armed conflicts between state forces and other military groups have also brought collateral damage to civilians since the beginning of 2023. The unstable security landscape as such brings challenges to not only the relief efforts, but also the relocation and safe return of displaced people. Political turmoil in Pakistan since last April, when Prime Minister Imran Khan was removed from his office, has added to the difficulty government authorities face in dealing with humanitarian assistance and relevant policy-making. It also bears the possibility of scaring away foreign investment to boost the national economy.
Now becoming a hotspot for climate change, Pakistan faces a growing threat from floods and other climate-related disasters. As global temperatures rise to record levels, droughts and floods might become increasingly frequent like last year’s situation in Pakistan. The country, which has contributed merely 0.3% to global emissions, might continue to suffer from the disproportionately negative impacts of climate change. To cope with both the short-term and long-term surge of climate disasters, the country and local communities have to increase their responsiveness and preparedness to emergencies, in case of severer humanitarian crises.
As the political turmoil is likely to continue into the end of this election year, the flood response plan and humanitarian assistance to the displaced people still face serious challenges, especially about their safe returns to home. The precarious economic situation might further threaten social stability, potentially escalating the current crisis and fueling up the insurgencies.