Saudi Arabia’s generous response to Pakistan’s climate disaster is breathtaking
Saudi Arabia has always been Pakistan’s greatest friend in times of need. This was evident in 1998 when Pakistan carried out nuclear tests and came under sanctions, in 2005 when a massive earthquake occurred in Kashmir and northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and also during the 2010 floods. Pakistan was hit by river floods and torrential rains again this year. The twin disaster occurred simultaneously as rivers Indus, Kabul and Swat were inundated by unusual glacial melting in the mountains and incessant rains in Sindh and Balochistan. The province of Sindh, with mostly flat terrain, still has lots of rain water.
Amid the devastation, Saudi Arabia has stepped up to help with a breathtaking relief response. The King Salman Centre for Humanitarian Assistance announced this week that it would send 12 continuous flights for flood victims in Pakistan. Simultaneously, through media announcements, the Saudi public was asked to donate for flood victims. These donations will be exclusively collected by SAHIM, a subsidiary of the Centre. Two flights laden with relief goods arrived in Pakistan last Tuesday. This assistance, which included tents, food stuffs and medical supplies, was sufficient for helping 19,000 persons.
Climate change is a real phenomenon and it is upon us. Some people think that floods and cyclones are cyclical and that the current phenomenon is not unusual. They are patently wrong. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who came especially to witness the destruction wreaked by floods, testified that climate change is an urgent global issue. Pakistan stands at number seven of 10 countries most threatened by climate change. Glacial melting has increased due to global warming. Forest fires seen in Europe, US and Australia are unusual.
India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sudan, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Pakistan are the developing nations which are likely to bear the major brunt of climate change. However, developed countries including the US and China also witnessed many climate related disasters last year. So it is indeed a global phenomenon which ought to be tackled by the international community collectively. It is a fact that developing nations contribute very little to global warming. Most of the carbon emissions caused by industrial activity, air and road travel originate from the developed world. A major shift to alternate energy resources would be required to limit carbon emissions to sustainable levels.
Extending humanitarian assistance around the globe is nothing new for Saudi Arabia. In 2021, it was ranked third among the top donor countries in the world.
Extending humanitarian assistance around the globe is not new for Saudi Arabia. In 2021, it was ranked third amongst the top donor countries in the world. A year earlier, the UN office for co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs financial tracking service had ranked Saudi Arabia at number six. This clearly shows that the Kingdom’s contribution to international humanitarian assistance is fast increasing. The King Salman Centre for Humanitarian Assistance was established in 2015 with a capital of one billion Saudi Riyals. It applies international standards in its relief programmes for afflicted people.
Pakistan’s bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia have always been of a special nature. It was therefore natural that flood afflicted Pakistani citizens would receive wholesome support from the government and brotherly people of Saudi Arabia. According to media reports, Saudi citizens have responded enthusiastically to the royal appeal. An air bridge has been established through continuous flights between Riyadh and Pakistani airports for sending relief goods. This is a befitting response of the brotherly country for a disaster of mammoth proportions. Over 30 million Pakistanis have been affected by floods this year.
The flooding in Pakistan has so far resulted in the deaths of 1,300 people-- many of them children-- and killed massive numbers of livestock. Just a couple of weeks ago, one third of Pakistan was inundated by river floods and rains. Reconstruction and rehabilitation will require huge amounts of money, for which an international appeal has been made by Pakistan and the UN Secretary General.
From the days of my posting in the Kingdom, I know that the Saudi Ministry of Housing was using pre-fabricated housing technology. A cheaper version of this technology would have to be used to reconstruct destroyed homes in Pakistan’s rural areas. This type of construction will be able to withstand future floods. Pakistani authorities must also devise a strategy to minimize the damage of future floods-- doable through the construction of additional dams and the dredging of river beds. The gigantic task requires huge financial resources, the right technologies, planning and strong political will. The help extended by the government and people of Saudi Arabia in this historic moment of great tragedy have lifted the morale here. The resilience of Pakistanis is after all, well known.
— Javed Hafeez is a former Pakistani diplomat with much experience of the Middle East. He writes weekly columns in Pakistani and Gulf newspapers and appears regularly on satellite TV channels as a defense and political analyst.