UN chief appeals for ‘massive’ help as flood-hit Pakistan puts losses at $30bn

Countries most responsible for climate crisis must ‘end war with nature’, says António Guterres

The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has said the world owes impoverished Pakistan “massive” help in recovering from the summer’s devastating floods because the country bears less blame than many others for the climate crisis.

Months of heavy monsoon rains and flooding have killed 1,391 people and affected 33 million while half a million people have become homeless. Planeloads of aid from the United States, the United Arab Emirates and other countries have begun arriving, but Guterres said there is more to be done to help a country which contributes less than 1% of global emissions.

“We are heading into a disaster,” Guterres said. “We have waged war on nature and nature is tracking back and striking back in a devastating way. Today in Pakistan, tomorrow in any of your countries.”

The UN chief’s trip comes less than two weeks after he appealed for $160m in emergency funding to help those affected by the deluge.

“I appeal for massive support from the international community as Pakistan responds to this climate catastrophe,” he said shortly after landing in the country.

He said other countries contributing to the climate crisis obligated to reduce emissions and help Pakistan. “Pakistan has not contributed in a meaningful way to climate change, the level of emissions in this country is relatively low,” he said. “But Pakistan is one of the most dramatically impacted countries by climate change.”

“Even today, emissions are rising as people die in floods and famines. This is insanity. This is collective suicide,” he said. “From Pakistan, I am issuing a global appeal: Stop the madness; end the war with nature; invest in renewable energy now.”

So far, UN agencies and several countries have sent nearly 60 planeloads of aid, and authorities say the UAE has been one of the most generous contributors and sent so far 26 flights carrying aid for flood victims.

The first planeload arrived from the US on Friday, which Washington says is part of an upcoming $30m in assistance. More US military planes are expected to arrive in the coming days as part of a humanitarian bridge set up by Washington to deliver much-need aid across the country. USAID announced an additional $20m on Friday in humanitarian assistance for Pakistan.

Guterres said that by some estimates Pakistan needs about $30bn to recover from the floods.

The floods have touched all of Pakistan, including heritage sites such as Mohenjo-daro, a Unesco World Heritage Site considered one of the best-preserved ancient urban settlements in South Asia. The civilisation dates back 4,500 years, coinciding with those of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.

The UN heritage agency on Thursday announced it would send $350,000 to help recover flood-damaged cultural heritage sites.

Speaking at a press conference with the Pakistani foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Guterres underscored the importance of combatting climate change.

“It is happening now all around us and I urge governments to address this issue,” he said, adding that what he has done so far as the UN chief is “a drop in the ocean of the needs of the Pakistani people”.

He said a proposal for a donor conference for flood-hit Pakistan is under discussion.


COVER PHOTO: More than 33 million people have been affected by the devastating flooding across Pakistan. Photograph: Rehan Khan/EPA