Yesterday, Pakistan’s foreign minister addressed the General Assembly. It is among the most powerful things I have read about the historic floods.  Beyond the immediate concerns of keeping people fed, sheltered and safe, you get a real sense of just how deeply transformative this calamity will be for Pakistan’s social and economic structure. The engine of Pakistan’s economy has been wiped out.  Families on farms will move in with distant relatives in cities, no doubt putting a strain on those cities.  And, of course, there is the ever present danger that militant groups are able to assert themselves amid all this chaos and dislocation. This speech packs all of that in a very powerful and sharp way.

Finally, for all you climate change skeptics out there, Mr. Qureshi has news for you. 

Climate change, with all its severity and unpredictability, has become a reality for 170 million Pakistanis. The present situation in Pakistan reconfirms our extreme vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change. It also complicates the reconstruction and rehabilitation scenario in Pakistan. Nature has made a graphic endorsement to strengthen the case for a fair and equitable outcome from the ongoing UNFCCC negotiations.

As Corbin wrote, those climate negotiations are beginning in earnest before the next summit in Cancun.  What happens in Mexico has suddenly become very releant to the people of the Indus river valley. 

Here is his speech in full. It is well worth a read. 

 

Statement by H.E. Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Foreign Minister of Pakistan, at the Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly to consider the humanitarian situation resulting from floods in Pakistan

Mr. President,

I convey to you the gratitude of the people and Government of Pakistan for this timely initiative; to convene a Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly to consider the humanitarian situation resulting from floods in Pakistan.

Let me also thank the UN Secretary General for his comprehensive briefing on the situation in Pakistan, and the humanitarian crisis caused by the floods.

The people of Pakistan have deeply appreciated the Secretary General’s close personal engagement in the rescue and relief operations in Pakistan, and his visit to the affected areas.

I would also like to thank the honorable Ministers for their presence, to express solidarity and support to the people of Pakistan.

Mr. President,

What we face in Pakistan today, is a natural calamity of unprecedented proportions. These are the worst monsoon floods in living memory.

According to the UN reports, the present humanitarian crisis in Pakistan is larger than the combined effects of Tsunami and the 2005 earthquake.

Mr. President,

Pakistanis are a resilient people.

We are no strangers to challenges and difficulties.

This is a nation that suffered the ravages of the 2005 earthquake; and bravely bore the loss of 80,000 of our brethren.

We are the people who have borne the brunt of the International fight against terrorism and extremism, with relentless courage and determination.

This is the nation that braced, with fortitude, the loss of thousands of its men, women and children to suicide attacks.

We are the people that the international community looks towards, as a bulwark against terrorism and extremism.

This is the nation, Mr. President, which now looks towards the International community to show a similar determination and humanity in its hour of need.

Mr. President,

The situation is indeed critical and alarming.

I stand before you as the voice of 20 million Pakistanis devastated by the floods.

Who have lost their homes and hearths; their kith and kin; their lands and their crops; their lives and their livelihoods.

One in Ten Pakistanis has been rendered destitute.

Twenty percent of our land is submerged in water.

Mr. President,

Ours is primarily an agrarian economy. 70% of our population is employed in agriculture sector.

And this is where we have been hit the most. Over 17 million acres of agricultural land has been submerged.

Standing crops, worth billions of dollars have been destroyed.

The critical sector of livestock has been equally devastated.

Over 3.5 million children are at high risk of deadly water-borne diseases.

Schools will not be opening soon after summer vacations, as they are being used to provide shelter to flood survivors.

In the province of Punjab, almost one million acres of cotton growing area is affected; and crops worth one billion dollars destroyed.

In the South, standing crops worth 1.2 billion dollars, over an area of 100,000 acres, face complete destruction in Sindh province.

In the North, over three hundred and twenty five thousand acres of land stands submerged; and crops worth 500 million dollars destroyed in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province.

In Balochistan, villages and towns are being inundated as I speak to you.

Over 70% of the roads and bridges in the flood stricken areas have been destroyed; with none remaining intact in the Swat valley.

Over one million tonnes of wheat stored in warehouses has been swept away.

Mr. President,

Unfortunately, these are only initial estimates; and the situation is still evolving.

The situation is expected to get worse as the second and third waves of floods inundate more lands, and uproot more people.

The numbers will surely go up as the waters recede and the affected areas become accessible to damage assessment.

The aftermath of the floods in the medium to long term would pose more daunting challenges.

The reconstruction and rehabilitation costs are going to be huge.

But our immediate challenge is to meet the food, health and clean drinking water needs of the millions displaced; and to rebuild the infrastructure destroyed by the floods.

Mr. President,

Our difficulties do not end here.

Our urban infrastructure will come under severe stress as millions of people migrate to bigger cities in search of shelter and jobs.

Another serious problem, with long-term socio-economic implications, is the loss of land and potential decline in the arability of flood affected lands.

The food security of the sixth most populous country in the world is at risk.

The possible threats of food riots and related violence cannot be ruled out.

Mr. President,

The Government of Pakistan has mobilized all its national resources to provide rescue and relief to the affected people.

Hundreds of thousands have been rescued and evacuated from riverine areas.

Provision of food, shelter, clean drinking water and prevention of water borne diseases and epidemics remain our top priorities.

The entire nation stands united and determined to overcome this challenge.

The people of Pakistan have opened up their hearts and hearths to their brothers and sisters.

We are also determined to turn around the economy destroyed by the floods.

We have decided to set up an independent national entity, to mobilize maximum domestic resources and to ensure their effective and transparent use.

This entity will comprise men of integrity, who would supervise the collection, management and distribution of relief funds among the flood affected people.

Mr. President,

Our commitment and resolve notwithstanding, the scale of the challenge is colossal, far too big for any developing country to handle alone.

We hope that the international community will come forward in all earnestness.

We trust that we shall be provided with the much needed support to augment our national relief and rescue efforts.

The people of Pakistan greatly appreciate the launch of US$ 459 million Initial Floods Emergency Response Plan by the UN, for relief and immediate recovery of the affected people.

We have also requested the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to assist the Government of Pakistan, in carrying out a comprehensive Damage Needs Assessment. We hope that it would be completed at the earliest.

Mr. President,

This disaster has hit us hard at a time, and in areas, where we are in the midst of fighting a war against extremists and terrorists

The people of Pakistan have stood by their brave security forces in the fight against terrorism.

Our successes have been lauded by the international community.

But these successes have come at a heavy price.

More than 10,000 innocent civilians have fallen victim to terrorism. And more than 2500 Pakistani soldiers have given their lives.

Our material losses exceed US$ 43 billion.

Mr. President,

The gains that we have made against the terrorists are substantial. Yet we remain exposed.

The peace and relative calm achieved as a result of the democratic government’s relentless efforts are still fragile, and need to be consolidated.

The massive upheaval caused by the floods and the economic losses suffered by the millions of Pakistanis must be addressed urgently.

If we fail, it could undermine the hard won gains made by the government in our difficult and painful war against terrorism.

We cannot allow this catastrophe to become an opportunity for the terrorists.

Mr. President,

Climate change, with all its severity and unpredictability, has become a reality for 170 million Pakistanis.

The present situation in Pakistan reconfirms our extreme vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change. It also complicates the reconstruction and rehabilitation scenario in Pakistan.

Nature has made a graphic endorsement to strengthen the case for a fair and equitable outcome from the ongoing UNFCCC negotiations,

Mr. President,

The sympathy and solidarity that I witness here today, from all of you, is very reassuring.

I wish to go back to Islamabad with a clear message for the people of Pakistan that they are not alone in this hour of trial; and that the international community stands ready to support and assist them.

We look forward to your help in undertaking the immediate relief measures; and addressing the long term reconstruction and rehabilitation needs of affected people and areas.

I thank you.