The international community needs to deliver on its commitments to reduce carbon emissions so that extreme weather patterns and floods don’t become the norm and provide sustained support to help local people of Pakistan build back better when these disasters happen.
When the rains started in July 2022 in Southern Sindh, Noora didn't pay much attention. After all, she was completely preoccupied with the daily business of surviving. 37 years old with five children, she was struggling to live on the $1.00 a day that she earned when seasonal work was available picking cotton on other people's farms.
I am often asked why addressing climate change is important for poor people in developing countries, what the linkages are between climate change and development and quality of life, and what role the World Bank must play in this space.
Last month, I was in Southern Sindh near Hyderabad, and visited several villages that had been devastated by the unprecedented floods that hit Pakistan in July and August 2022. As per a Post Disaster Needs Assessment, led by the World Bank, 33 million people were impacted during these floods, and over $30 billion in damage and losses were caused. Those are big eye-popping numbers that the international and national community and press rightly focuses on. However, behind each of those 33 million is an individual with a family and a life.
Last July unfortunately the rains in Pakistan didn't stop as usual. The water level rose and soon Noora and her family were under 3 feet of water. She was quickly forced to make the decision to evacuate with her children and leave her home and livestock. She spent the next three weeks living in a tent that was provided by a relief agency and surviving as best she could on rations from the same source. Within a few weeks, she eventually got back to her village to find her mud house had been destroyed.
Officials from the government soon asked her questions about what kind of house she had and what impact the floods had had. She answered patiently with no hope of follow up support based on her experience.
But she had a different experience this time. With support from the World Bank, by March a local non-government agency had come to cross verify and confirm the data on her house. Her identity card, photo and damaged house were documented, and almost 100 pieces of information on her socio-economic status collected in a secure database.
She was told that the government would provide her PKR 300,000, close to $1000 USD, in four tranches to allow her to rebuild her house. More than this, the replacement house would be made from bricks and would be more resilient. That meant it would be based on an elevated foundation 3 feet above the ground, with access steps. The building materials that they were advised to use would come preferably from local materials and the new designs would not only withstand flooding but also better keep the house cooler in the ever-increasing heat in rural Sindh.
She was assisted to open a bank account in the nearby bank, to manage the funds better that came as a grant. This was the first time she had ever been inside a bank, let alone opening a bank account in her own name. In fact, only less than 2% of her neighbors had opened a bank account before. The fact that she was illiterate didn't stop this from happening. She was able to use a photo ID to access the account, making it secure and ensuring that only she can access the funds.
More than this, the project will help to provide her with a secure title of the land on which her house is being built. This meant that she would get security of tenure over the house and the land around it for the first time in her life. Having a house, title and a bank account are important steps on the path not only to a more resilient life but greater dignity.
In the coming months, better water supply and sanitation and small drainage will be added around her house, helping to reduce disease for the whole family and reduce stunting for her youngest children, which would otherwise lead to a lifetime of impaired learning and ill health.
’The actions started under this project will go a long way to increasing Noora’s resilience against shocks, while at the same time creating opportunities for her to have a better, healthier, and more productive life. About 12 million people in Sindh will have the same opportunities.
But a lot more needs to be done to build on the great start and intentions and complete the implementation of these projects as planned. As of now, funding has only been secured between the World Bank and Governments of Pakistan and Sindh for about a third of the total costs.
Therefore, it is important for the Government of Sindh and its implementing partners, with support from the World Bank to stay the difficult course on all aspects of implementation. At the same time philanthropies, wealthy individuals, and most importantly international development partners need to step up to help fill the financing gap in this successful program.
Finally, let’s remember that Noora cannot control the climate. She and indeed most of her Pakistani compatriots did not cause the increase in carbon emissions that led to the devastating change in rainfall patterns. Therefore, the international community also needs to deliver on its carbon emission commitments – so that these extreme weather patterns and floods don’t become the norm.