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  • Writer's pictureDr. Farrukh Chishtie

Rising Impacts, Moving Lives: Addressing Climate Migration in Pakistan and Beyond


Dr. Farrukh A. Chishtie

As the 2022 floods submerged a third of Pakistan, displacing millions and revealing the acute vulnerabilities of its people to climate change, this cover story delves into the escalating crisis of climate migration—a phenomenon pushing humanity to the brink, demanding urgent global and local actions to forge pathways to resilience and sustainability.

The devastating floods of 2022 in Pakistan mark a dire chapter in the country's ongoing struggle against the impacts of climate change. With one-third of the nation submerged, over 33 million people were affected, half of whom were children, highlighting the vulnerability and scale of displacement faced by the population.

This catastrophic event led to around 20.6 million people requiring life-saving assistance, with 7.9 million displaced and at least 664,000 moving into relief camps and informal sites. These figures not only underscore the immediate humanitarian crisis but also signal the growing challenge of climate migration.

As climate change exacerbates weather extremes, the phenomenon of climate migration is expected to intensify, necessitating global and local responses. The situation in Pakistan, reflective of broader global trends, demands urgent action on several fronts.

Globally, there is a critical need for enhanced climate mitigation efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the pace of climate change. Alongside, adaptation strategies must be prioritized, particularly in vulnerable countries like Pakistan, to bolster community resilience against future climate-induced disasters. This includes investing in infrastructure, improving disaster preparedness and response mechanisms, and ensuring that displaced populations have pathways to recovery and stability.

Moreover, addressing the root causes and impacts of climate migration requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses legal frameworks to protect climate migrants, financial resources to support adaptation and mitigation strategies, and international cooperation to share the burden of climate impacts equitably.

The tragedy witnessed in Pakistan serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for concerted global action to tackle climate change and its implications for migration and displacement. By recognizing the interconnectedness of these issues, the international community, together with nations like Pakistan, can work towards a more resilient and sustainable future for all affected populations.

Climate Migration: A global concern

The ongoing crisis of climate migration in Pakistan, exemplified by the tragic consequences of the 2022 floods, is a stark reminder of the broader challenges faced globally due to climate change. With over 33 million people affected and one-third of the country inundated, Pakistan's ordeal is not isolated. It reflects an increasing global trend where climate-induced migration is becoming a defining challenge of our time. This crisis is being fueled by extreme weather events, such as heavy rainfall, droughts, and rising sea levels, driving millions from their homes annually.

Globally, forced displacement is reaching unprecedented levels, with over 108.4 million people displaced by the end of 2022 due to various factors including climate change​ (UNHCR)​. Rising sea levels alone could affect the land that 150 million people live on by 2050, with numbers potentially escalating to 480 million by 2100 if the melting of Antarctic ice sheets accelerates. This scenario predominantly threatens Asian countries, alongside parts of the U.S. facing droughts, floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and sea level rise​.

The recent COP27 summit highlighted both progress and challenges in addressing climate change. An important deal was struck for wealthy countries to compensate poorer nations for climate-induced damages. However, the summit fell short of securing a formal commitment to reduce fossil fuel usage, critical for averting climate disasters​.

Pakistan's plight underscores the urgent need for global and local action against climate change. This entails not only providing immediate humanitarian relief but also addressing the root causes through significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, particularly by the Global North. The call to action extends beyond the political realm, emphasizing the importance of collective responsibility towards sustainable practices and disaster preparedness to mitigate the effects of climate change and prevent further displacement​.

The situation in Pakistan and worldwide is a clarion call for more decisive action in combating climate change and managing climate-induced migration. It stresses the necessity for global solidarity and a unified approach to ensure a sustainable and equitable future for all.

Rehabilitating IDPs and migrants in Pakistan

The gaps in Pakistan's disaster response, particularly concerning internally displaced people (IDPs) from climate disasters, highlight significant areas for improvement. Despite efforts like the Responding to Pakistan's Internally Displaced (RAPID) program, which aims to deliver aid quickly and efficiently to those displaced by conflict or natural disasters, challenges remain in sustaining long-term support and recovery for IDPs​.

One primary gap lies in the follow-up and rehabilitation phase for IDPs. While immediate relief efforts are often effective in providing short-term assistance, there is a notable lack of sustained support to ensure IDPs can return to a semblance of normalcy. This includes rebuilding homes, restoring livelihoods, and providing continued healthcare and education services. The RAPID program, despite its successes, underscores the need for extended support beyond initial disaster response to address these long-term needs.

Improving disaster response for IDPs requires several key actions:

Enhanced Coordination: Better coordination between government bodies, local NGOs, and international donors is crucial. This would ensure a more unified and effective response, minimizing overlaps and gaps in aid distribution.

Capacity Building: Strengthening the capacity of local organizations and communities to manage disaster response and recovery efforts. This includes training in emergency response, disaster risk reduction, and management skills to ensure communities are better prepared and more resilient.

Sustainable Development Focus: Integrating disaster response with sustainable development goals to ensure that recovery efforts contribute to long-term resilience and development. This could involve nature-based solutions for flood management and efforts to address climate change impacts more broadly.

Community Involvement: Involving affected communities in the planning and implementation of disaster response and recovery efforts. This ensures that the solutions are tailored to the specific needs and contexts of the IDPs, enhancing the effectiveness and sustainability of the interventions.

Policy and Legislative Support: Strengthening policy and legislative frameworks to support disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, and the protection of IDPs. This includes ensuring that policies are in place to support the long-term recovery and rehabilitation of displaced populations.

Addressing these gaps and implementing these recommendations requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including the government, non-governmental organizations, communities, and international partners. By focusing on long-term recovery and resilience-building, Pakistan can improve its response to internal displacement caused by climate disasters and other emergencies.

Implementing Nature Based Solutions

To mitigate the impacts of climate change and lessen internal migration due to natural disasters like floods, local authorities in Pakistan can adopt a range of nature-based solutions. These strategies not only reduce the risk of disasters but also contribute to the resilience of ecosystems and communities.

Reforestation and Afforestation: Planting indigenous trees and restoring forests can help manage floodwaters, stabilize soil, and increase water infiltration. Forests act as natural barriers against floods and restore natural water cycles​. The Billion Tree tsunami project started under Imran Khan and greening initiatives by present PM Shahbaz Sharif must continue and aim to do better as Pakistan’s deforestation rate is one of the highest in Asia.

Wetland Restoration: Restoring wetlands is crucial for flood management. Wetlands act like sponges, absorbing and storing excess floodwater, which can reduce the severity of floods downstream. Additionally, they contribute to biodiversity and help purify water​.

Sustainable Land Management: Practices such as terracing, contour farming, and maintaining vegetation cover can significantly reduce soil erosion and water runoff, making landscapes more resilient to flooding. These practices also improve agricultural productivity, which can reduce the need for migration due to livelihood loss​.

Green Infrastructure: Implementing green roofs, permeable pavements, and urban trees can help manage stormwater, reduce urban heat islands, and increase urban biodiversity. Green infrastructure helps cities to absorb rainwater, reducing the risk of urban flooding and making cities more livable for their inhabitants​.

Recharge Pakistan Program: A collaborative initiative involving the Ministry of Climate Change, Federal Flood Commission, and WWF-Pakistan, focuses on increasing water storage and groundwater recharge through the management of wetlands, floodplains, and hill torrents. It also aims to build the resilience of vulnerable communities through climate-adapted, community-based natural resource management. This program represents a significant shift towards ecosystem-based adaptation strategies for flood risk management and climate change adaptation in Pakistan​.

By implementing these nature-based solutions, Pakistan can significantly reduce the vulnerability of its population to climate-induced hazards, thereby lessening the need for internal migration. These solutions not only provide immediate benefits in terms of disaster risk reduction but also offer long-term advantages for ecological restoration, economic stability, and the well-being of the population.

Future impacts and required actions

The future impacts of climate change are projected to be profound and far-reaching, affecting every aspect of our environment, economies, and societies. With increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, and more frequent and severe weather events, the implications for human migration are particularly concerning.

Climate change is expected to become a major driver of migration, as more people are forced to leave their homes due to environmental factors such as floods, droughts, and hurricanes. This phenomenon, often referred to as climate migration, will likely exacerbate existing challenges related to displacement, resource scarcity, and social inequality.

Globally, the future impacts of climate change on migration are expected to be significant. The World Bank estimates that by 2050, there could be as many as 143 million climate migrants within Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America alone, due to factors such as water scarcity, crop failure, sea-level rise, and storm surges. These migrations could lead to increased urbanization pressures, social tensions, and challenges in humanitarian assistance.

To address climate migration both globally and in Pakistan, comprehensive policy interventions are needed. These interventions should encompass creating legal frameworks that recognize and protect climate migrants, enhancing international cooperation to share responsibilities, and ensuring financial mechanisms are in place to support adaptation and mitigation strategies. At the national level, Pakistan needs to focus on building resilient infrastructure, implementing nature-based solutions for disaster risk reduction, and improving community preparedness and response mechanisms. It is crucial to recognize the forced nature of climate migration, understand the diverse patterns of movement, and address the underlying vulnerabilities that drive migration. Strengthening the social, economic, and environmental resilience of communities can mitigate the impacts of climate change and reduce the necessity for migration as a survival strategy​.

With the upcoming monsoon season in 2024 and other climate impacts, authorities in Pakistan must work collaboratively to minimize the plight of existing and potentially displaced affected populations by making these interventions which are geared towards both the short-term relief and long-term rehabilitation of those displaced, which includes proper resettlement and recovery.

The Situation in Pakistan

Pakistan, particularly vulnerable to climate change due to its geographical location and socio-economic fragility, has already experienced significant climate-induced migration. The country has faced devastating floods, including the catastrophic flood event of 2010 and more recently in 2022, leading to large-scale displacement. With the Indus River system being critically important for Pakistan's agriculture and water resources, the country's dependency on climate-sensitive sectors further heightens its vulnerability.

What Needs to Be Done

Global Actions:

Mitigation: To reduce the severity of future climate impacts, there is an urgent need for global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This involves transitioning to renewable energy sources, enhancing energy efficiency, and promoting sustainable land-use practices.

Adaptation: Investments in climate adaptation measures are crucial to enhance the resilience of vulnerable communities. This includes infrastructure improvements, disaster risk reduction, and the development of early warning systems.

Support for Climate Migrants: Establishing legal frameworks and support systems for climate migrants can help manage the challenges associated with displacement. This includes recognizing climate migration in international law and providing pathways for legal migration.

Actions in Pakistan:

Ecosystem-Based Adaptation: Implementing nature-based solutions, such as reforestation and wetland restoration, can reduce vulnerability to climate impacts and benefit biodiversity.

Infrastructure Resilience: Building resilient infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather events is critical to reducing the impact of disasters on communities.

Community Preparedness: Strengthening local capacities through education, training, and resources is essential for enhancing community resilience to climate impacts.

Policy and Planning: Developing and implementing comprehensive policies that integrate climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction strategies at all levels of governance will be key to managing the impacts effectively.

In conclusion, the future impacts of climate change on migration necessitate immediate and concerted efforts globally and particularly in countries like Pakistan. By addressing the root causes of climate change, enhancing adaptive capacities, and providing support for those affected by climate-induced displacement, the global community can work towards a more resilient and sustainable future for all.

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