Climate change, capitalism and war produce disaster in Pakistan

Aug. 9, 2010: People wade through flooded streets in Charsadda, Pakistan. Photo: U.K. Department of International  Development/Flickr

The massive floods in Pakistan that affect 20 million people are far from a random "natural disaster." Rather, they are a predictable result of global warming, capitalist development, and US-backed war.

There have been 12 major floods in Pakistan since 1973, and three years ago the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned of worse flooding to come due to global warming. This year is the hottest year in recorded history, which has brought Russia's worst heat wave, caused massive forest fires in B.C. and a huge ice island to break off Greenland's glacier, and devastating floods in China and Pakistan. The current floods that have inundated one-fifth of Pakistan and displaced one million people, killed 2,000, partially or totally destroyed 722,000 homes, and raised the threat of a cholera epidemic.

This disaster is not simply about the record monsoon rainfall but also about the country that rain landed on, which has been decimated by profit-driven "development." According to Riaz Ahmed, a socialist based in Karachi:

"Cities like Mianwali and Charsadda have been allowed to drown in order to save dams and hydroelectric stations. Military installations have been saved, but entire villages have been submerged because budget cuts have meant the loss of vital riverbank defenses. And forests and jungles have been plundered by millionaire-owned timber businesses. This has created soil erosion and the destruction of natural defenses that can prevent flooding. Local and national governments have awarded the contracts for this kind of work, knowing the dangers." 

Rescue workers are unable to reach 600,000 in the Swat valley, where the flood waters have inundated a region weakened by war. Last year the Pakistani military launched a war against resistance movements in the Swat valley, trying to clear a path for the U.S. to its bases in Afghanistan. Obama has followed up with drone attacks, which have continued despite the humanitarian catastrophe. These combined attacks have destroyed bridges and roads, and displaced vast numbers into refugee camps.

The "war on terror" helped create the current disaster, and is now undermining relief efforts. In the first few days of flooding Pakistan's President Zardari was on a European tour pledging loyalty to the "war on terror," and refused to cut it short -- leading many to call the floods "Zardari's Katrina". The United Nations has appealed for $460 million for relief, but the same countries spreading climate change and war refuse to meet that goal. The U.S., the world's largest polluter, provides Pakistan with $1 billion in military aid that has been used to bomb its own country, but initially only offered $10 million for flood relief. Meanwhile, the Harper government, which promotes the environmentally destructive Tar Sands and promises $18 billion for new fighter jets, initially pledged just $2 million for humanitarian relief. Islamophobia surrounding the "war on terror" has weakened donations, but still an outpouring of support has pressured Western powers to increase their pledges.

The people of Pakistan need not only urgent humanitarian aid, but an end to war and climate change, and an economy that puts people and the planet above profits.

Jesse McLaren is a contributor to Socialist Worker. This article will appear in the upcoming issue.

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