Pakistan, which has mismanaged its economy for long and pushed it to the brink of default, has now used the pretext of flood devastation and consequent humanitarian crisis to get international assistance. It had come to a default-like situation in August 2022, even when the impact of flood was moderate. By the end of the year it again came to a similar situation, although this time it had a pretext, i.e., huge flood devastation to seek international assistance commitments.
About 40 representatives of different countries and aid agencies participated in a UN conference titled “International Conference on Climate Resilient Pakistan” convened jointly by the United Nations and Pakistan on January 09th. Dozens of countries and international institutions pledged more than USD 9 billion to help Pakistan recover and rebuild the country from devastating floods that the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called “a climate disaster of monumental scale.” The flood in Pakistan that occurred during June-October 2022 killed about 1700 people, destroyed more than 2 million homes and covered as much as one-third of the country in September and caused an estimated USD 30 billion of damages. Swathes of the country remained isolated due to crippled infrastructure and faced shortage of shelter, food and medicine while large number of people were condemned to live near contaminated or stagnated waters according to the UN.
Wrapping up a day-long conference at the UN office in Geneva, Pakistan Deputy Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar informed that “the final tally (of assistance pledges) came in above a target for the international community to meet half of an estimated target, i.e. USD 16.3 billion needed to respond to the flooding. The rest is expected to come from the Pakistan government itself.” The UN conference for helping Pakistan for post-floods reconstruction and averting deepening humanitarian crisis is being hailed globally. But to observers, one question remains haunting, i.e., why the title of the conference was named as “International Conference on Climate Resilient Pakistan”? Does UN’s climate resilience mechanism have country-specific policies or does it have a global climate resilience vision and policy?
The naming of one country in the “title” of the conference, while calling a conference in Geneva on climate resilience, was unacceptable to many UN members. Helping a country in crisis is a supreme idea, but then why UN’s response on famine in a plethora of African countries and humanitarian crisis of mammoth dimensions in other parts of the world including Afghanistan or Sri Lanka is sluggish or a non-starter? So is the question about Islamic Development Bank, ADB and advanced countries like France, US, UK and Japan. Some of the countries strongly advocate that climate change must be addressed within the framework of the United Nations Climate Agreement and the Paris Agreement. It has been always emphasized by UN members that all countries should assume the responsibilities in accordance with the principles, mechanisms and commitments agreed upon within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement. For Pakistan, the international assistance at this time of economic crisis is a matter of great relief as it is struggling very hard to maintain even its basic imports and honour its debt servicing amid falling foreign exchange below USD 5 billion. The inflation is running very high at about 30% and fiscal deficit about 5% of GDP.
Nevertheless, Pakistan should try to develop a ‘Plan B’ as it still needs an additional USD 13 billion to service its debt in FY 2022-23 as against estimated total debt service requirement of USD 33 billion during the current fiscal. The State Bank of Pakistan has arranged for USD 20 billion towards debt servicing, but it is still far from the total debt service requirement. The second reason Pakistan should be cautious is that UN pledging conferences often draw promises of big sums from governments, international organisations and other donors, but these do not always get fulfilled entirely. According to the UN humanitarian agency UNICEF, only 37% of a USD 173.5 million target for supporting flood affected Pakistan, women and children has been met so far. Also, if the funds from donors are not used for the stated purpose the recipient country loses credibility. For this, the Pakistan Government has announced plans for independent, foreign monitors to ensure that the funds reach the stipulated purpose. Channelling aid to other than stated purpose has always been suspected about Pakistan.
The question still remains why the UN called a Special Conference on Climate Resilient Pakistan for fund raising while there are many other parts of world which are confronting severe human crisis due to climatic change. The region of particular reference in this regard is undoubtedly African countries. In 2022, a humanitarian disaster unfolded in the Horn of Africa, which suffered a worst drought in at least four decades. More than, 20 million people in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya struggled to survive and over one million fled their homes according to the United Nations. With forecasters seeing a high risk of rains failing for a fifth consecutive season and aid flow falling short, the region is at the risk of a famine worse than the one in 1980s which claimed one million lives.
It is strange how Pakistan figures so prominently in aid diplomacy as compared to Africa at the time of disaster and humanitarian crisis. For USAID’s USD 153 million support, no big support came for the African countries suffering severe drought and hunger. It is good for the global institutions and advanced nations to help countries which face acute humanitarian crises. But it should be non-partisan, inclusive and free from geo-political calculations. For Pakistan, the geo-political situation seems to have helped this time. But principled aid diplomacy is a better option for global institutions and advanced nations.