A rights-based approach to resilience in Pakistan

Pakistan is 11th highest disaster risk-prone country out of 193

Dr Samuel Rizk January 31, 2024
The writer is the Resident Representative of UNDP in Pakistan


In its simplest definition, resilience is the ability to flex but not break. Yet, we currently live in a world that is seemingly stretched to the breaking point or beyond, not least due to human activity (referring to UNDP’s 2020 Human Development Report, The Next Frontier — Human Development and the Anthropocene). Over the past 50 years, global climate and weather-related disasters have surged five-fold. At last year’s COP28, UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphatically stated: “We cannot keep kicking the can [of climate action] down the road. We are out of road.”

Pakistan ranks high in the global matrix of increased vulnerability, as well as frequency and intensity of disasters, both climate-induced and man-made. It is the 11th highest disaster risk-prone country out of 193. In South and South-West Asia, it faces the highest projected loss of Gross Domestic Product (9.1 per cent annually) due to climate change. The impact is disproportionately borne by the most vulnerable populations, including marginalised communities, women, children, farmers and those residing in glacial terrain and low-lying coastal areas. This ominous analysis came to fruition when Pakistan experienced first-hand a devastating flood in 2022. That is also why at COP28, Pakistan’s Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar called for quick operationalisation of a Loss and Damage Fund for which Pakistan very successfully led the advocacy at COP27.

Pakistan has in place a commendable national climate change policy architecture. The Federal Ministry of Climate Change and Environmental Coordination (MoCC&EC) has adopted the UNDP-supported National Climate Change Policy and the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Approved by the Federal Cabinet, the MoCC&EC’s National Adaptation Plan provides an effective framework for partnerships and financing, including an estimate that the country requires $7-14 billion per year on climate change adaptation investments.

January 2024 marks a year since the United Nations, Pakistan and its Development Partners convened the International Conference on a Climate Resilient Pakistan in Geneva in 2023. Pakistan secured financial pledges of over $10 billion for the implementation of a national Resilient Recovery, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Framework (4RF). One year on, it is important for all stakeholders to track not only the financing mobilised but also assess progress made to build resilience in Pakistan.

To date, Pakistan has received roughly 70 percent of the Geneva pledges (around $7 billion) to design and implement bankable, transparent and accountable climate resilient public and private sector projects. To support this effort through effective and transparent impact assessment and knowledge management, UNDP and the World Bank are establishing an integrated and digitised 4RF monitoring and evaluation framework at the Federal Ministry of Planning, Development & Special Initiatives.

For lower middle-income countries like Pakistan, there is a cyclical interplay between climate change and pre-existing economic vulnerabilities. Climate-induced economic risks erode agriculture, infrastructure, livelihoods, public health and exacerbate socioeconomic fragility. Understanding this interplay and adopting a climate-economic-resilience framework has significant relevance for Pakistan, including addressing the heavy debt burden in the country. Like other successful examples from the region, Pakistan could potentially consider accessing the IMF’s Resilience and Sustainability Trust (RST) and working on an RST credit line to support the country’s financial resilience and debt sustainability in the next loan programme expected this year.

Resilience is now central to global policymaking for sustainable development and climate change. It is a core pillar of UNDP’s five-year Country Programme 2023-2027, informing not just climate change but also the domains of governance, economic growth, inclusion and innovation. Pakistan needs an institutionalised resilience policy that is grounded in the idea that individuals and communities have a right to be supported by all development stakeholders — governmental and non-governmental. And because they are the first responders in any disaster, provincial governments and their disaster management authorities require urgent and dedicated strengthening of capacities and resources to ensure resilience is localised.

At the Geneva Pledging Conference last year, UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner noted that Pakistan’s next phase of climate response represented a “monumental moment of reckoning for the entire world”. With general elections scheduled for February 2024, a new government will have an opportunity to translate that moment into action, not only as a short-term response to a disaster, but as a framework that positions Pakistan as a resilient nation — a nation that will surely be tested but will not break.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2024.

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