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Besides climate change, other factors contribute to severe flooding in Pakistan


In Pakistan, the monsoon season is on, as heavy rains have already killed dozens of people. I spoke to Cambridge University lecturer Ayesha Siddiqi, who studies floods and other disasters in post-colonial states. She says millions of people are still reeling from the effects of last year's monsoon season.

AYESHA SIDDIQI: Now they're going to face this intense extreme weather event, which is going to have catastrophic impacts for a very large population.

MARTÍNEZ: Pakistan is responsible for less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but it's among the countries most vulnerable to climate change. I asked Siddiqi how much blame climate change gets for weather-related disasters in Pakistan.

SIDDIQI: There is absolutely no way to take away culpability from industrialized countries in the Global North. At the same time, there are obviously factors within Pakistan, structural factors, that make these weather events like the extreme rainfall a lot worse for people. There are particular ways in which the river has been managed. There are factors around colonialism. There is mismanagement within particular institutions in the country. So there are a confluence of factors.

MARTÍNEZ: So how much of this stems from Pakistan's time as a colony? I know they've been independent since 1947 but is colonial time still relevant when we talk about climate change in Pakistan?

SIDDIQI: Yes, absolutely. So there was a real push for a particular kind of system around allocating land to people who the British state needed to patronize. And there was also a real need to demonstrate that, actually, the imperial state was able to control things like the flow of rivers and water. So extensive dams, barges, irrigation networks, various infrastructure developments took place on the Indus River. And by the time the British left colonial South Asia, Pakistan was and still has the largest contiguous network of canal systems anywhere in the world. And we know that this overengineering, this over- kind of control of water, repeatedly results in problems.

MARTÍNEZ: You mentioned the words mismanagement and management. And I want to touch on that a little bit because I remember, last year, the international community pledged billions of dollars to Pakistan since the floods. Has that money been received? What do you know about how that money has been used?

SIDDIQI: So my understanding is that not much of it came to Pakistan. A lot of these kind of bilateral pledges that come from single countries, etc., what they often do is they just divert the aid. Another thing that we've been talking about, the question of World Bank loans and repayments that Pakistan had to make to service its debt. And any kind of serious commitment towards helping some of the most vulnerable people against climate change needs to include the conversation around debt relief.

MARTÍNEZ: Ayesha Siddiqi is a human geography expert who studies disasters and risk in the Global South. Ayesha, thank you very much.

SIDDIQI: You're very welcome.


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