SHARM EL-SHEIKH – Pakistan's foreign minister repeated calls for compensation for the unprecedented destruction caused to the country by this summer's flooding, saying debt relief could be a mechanism for doing so.
Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari told The Associated Press on Wednesday at the U.N. climate summit in Egypt that the world is unequipped to deal with weather-related disasters of this scale and urged countries to find ways to address the issue.
“There’s no pot of gold sitting anywhere or no financial international mechanism really available to deal with the tragedy of this scale,” he said.
His comment comes as Pakistan races against time to arrange tents, food and other supplies for the flood victims ahead of winter just weeks away. Climate-induced flooding killed 1,739 people, displaced hundreds of thousands and caused around $40 billion in damages, according to the World Bank.
“Many months on from the initial flooding and rainfall, there are still many areas that are underwater," said Bhutto-Zardari, adding that the World Health Organization warned that the country faces a health crisis because of waterborne diseases.
He added that instead of “charity” or “reparations” to pay for climate damage, nations should consider "out-of-the-box solutions that we could propose that can be a win-win for developing countries and developing countries”.
One of these is for debts owed by developing countries to rich countries to be written off, allowing nations to spend that money on clean energy and adapting to worsening weather caused by climate change.
Experts say Pakistan is responsible for only 0.4% of the world’s historic emissions that are blamed for climate change. The U.S. is responsible for 21.5%, China for 16.5% and the European Union for 15%.
Bhutto-Zardari said Pakistan will hold an international donor conference early next year to seek financial assistance to start the much-needed rehabilitation and reconstruction work in the flood-hit areas, where thousands of people still live in tents and makeshift homes.
Bhutto-Zardari's comments come more than a month after the United Nations issued a revised appeal, seeking five times’ more international aid for Pakistan amid a surge in deaths from waterborne and other diseases. The U.N. in October raised its request to $816 million from $160 million, saying recent assessments pointed to the urgent need for long-term help lasting into next year.
Doctors in Pakistan's worst-hit southern Sindh province and southern Baluchistan are still trying to contain the outbreak of waterborne diseases, which have caused nearly 400 deaths in flood-affected areas since July. According to the World Health Organization, about 10% of Pakistan’s health facilities were damaged in the floods, leaving millions without access to care.
However, most of the people displaced by floods have returned to their homes.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited flood-hit areas in Pakistan in September, assuring Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif his maximum support in highlighting the ordeal of flood victims. Sharif this week also attended the climate change conference in Egypt and sought help in tackling the flood damage.
Bhutto-Zardari said Guterres has been talking about debt relief for climate-hit nations. “Pakistan is the eighth most climate-stressed country on the planet, but most climate-stressed countries on the planet are also debt stressed, and that debt is owed to developed countries," Bhutto-Zardari said.
So far, China and Washington have been the largest contributors in response to the floods in Pakistan, although several other countries also sent planeloads of aid, many flood victims in Pakistan say they were still without any help or they received too little aid from the government or aid agencies.
China's leader is not attending this year's climate summit, nor is the leader of India, Pakistan's top rival as well as one of the top polluting countries.
Bhutto-Zardari said "it would have been helpful had India participated at an appropriate level.”
“And we do hope that our neighbors also take this issue seriously,” he said. "This is truly something that we can only combat if we were together across the world and take our responsibilities seriously.”
Ahmed reported from Islamabad, Pakistan.
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