Global effort needed to confront unprecedented flooding, says Pak envoy to Canada

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By NEIL MOSS

OTTAWA, SEPT 7 /DNA/ – Mass flooding in Pakistan has affected 33 million people, with 6.4 million in ‘dire need of humanitarian aid.’* Canada has pledged an ‘initial response’ of $5-million.

*Pakistani High Commissioner Zaheer Janjua says the ‘floods of biblical proportions’ show the ‘clear and present danger’ of climate change.* The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

As unmatched flooding has displaced millions and led to the deaths of more than 1,200 people, Pakistan’s top diplomat in Canada is calling for an international effort to help address the immediate crisis and to help his country’s recovery.

The flooding, which has been caused by an atypically heavy monsoon season and the melting of Himalayan glaciers, has affected at least 33 million people, with one-third of the country submerged at one point. The World Health Organization said last week that more than 6.4 million people are in “dire need of humanitarian aid.”

*“These are floods of biblical proportions,” Pakistani High Commissioner Zaheer Janjua told The Hill Times during a Sept. 1 interview at the high commission.*

He said there is a need to address the immediate needs that the flooding has caused, as well as to assist in longer term rehabilitation and rebuilding. He said the initial estimates show that repairing damage will cost more than $10-billion, but noted a full assessment will only be possible when the flooding starts to recede. “It is a task which Pakistan alone cannot fulfill. We do need the international community’s support,” he said, noting that Pakistan is “very happy and grateful” with Canada’s commitments so far.

International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan announced last week that Canada was providing $5-million in humanitarian assistance, on top of funds provided in the Emergency Disaster Assistance Fund and contributions to the UN Central Emergency Response Fund.

In a press release, Sajjan said the funding is part of Canada’s “initial response” to the flooding, and Canada will “continue to look at ways we can support those affected.”

International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan has pledged an ‘initial response’ of $5-million to help Pakistan. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

*Janjua said the conversations that he has held with Sajjan, Global Affairs, Parliamentarians, and the Pakistani Canadian diaspora community have been positive.*

Pakistan has a list of 40 items that it is asking for to assist in the immediate recovery, ranging from temporary shelters and toilets, to water rescue vehicles and dewatering pumps. It also seeking more than a dozen medicines, including antibiotics and anaesthetic ointments.

Janjua said he hopes that Canada will help assist Pakistan recover from the flooding over the long term.

“Time is of the essence,” he said. “It should’ve been done yesterday, but of course, everything has a way of being done and the sooner the better.”

*He said Parliamentarians with links to Pakistan and the Pakistani Canadian community have a special role to play in addressing the crisis by keeping the “flame alive.” “I have no doubt that they will do that,” he said.* The Canada-Pakistan Friendship Group is led by Liberal MP Salma Zahid.

Janjua said the unprecedented flooding shows the need to confront climate change globally. “We believe that this is a climate change-induced calamity that has befallen us,” said the high commissioner, noting that Pakistan is low on the list of carbon-emitting countries, but is among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

“These rains and floods are a manifestation of that,” he said, remarking that all countries should be meeting commitments made under the Paris climate accords.

“Climate change is a clear and present danger. And if it is not addressed, I’m afraid Mother Earth is going to react,” he said. “This reaction was demonstrated in these rains and floods, and we wish that powers that be and people who matter would pay much more attention to climate change than it is being given now.”

He said the agreements that have been reached have to be preserved and the international community has to move forward from there.

“We can’t just rest on the laurels that we have. We have good building blocks. We have a good foundation, and we should further build on that and move on,” he said. “We can’t be complacent. There’s no room for complacency. I think enough damage has been done. If we don’t address it and if we don’t grab the bull by the horns, I am afraid that we will have much more catastrophes like we are facing now and worse.”

Janjua said it is crucial that attention on the situation doesn’t dissipate when flood waters start to recede. “Something else may grab the attention of the world—some other event may take place—but we don’t need to lose focus on this calamity,” he said.

He said the “million-dollar question” is whether attention can be sustained on the crisis. “It can’t be shoved under the carpet,” he said. “We need to maintain focus and we hope focus will be mandated.”