Environmental disaster hit Pakistan in August 2022 when floods and heavy monsoons devastated the country and its people. Now, months after the news has filtered out of most press, public discussions, and social media, the effects of the catastrophe remain.
With so much going on in the world every day and a stream of new information constantly being fed to us, it can be hard to keep past events in mind. I worry that this incessant consumption of news may serve more to fuel desensitization and a sense of normalization when new catastrophes hit. So, I find value in looking at events that are considered to be old and recognizing how these events have long-lasting effects and reflect broader themes about society.
Pakistan experiences flooding annually, however the extent of this past year’s flooding was at an unprecedented scale. During the height of the floods, 70% of the country was submerged under water. Smaller villages along the Indus River have been most impacted, and 33 million people were displaced from their homes. Fleeing from their destroyed homes, people lived in tents or unsanitary makeshift houses that allowed diseases to develop and spread. Malaria, dengue, typhoid, and skin diseases from trekking through dirty and contaminated water infected many and further raised the death toll. Pakistan is primarily an agricultural country, and the floods washing away 45% of its agricultural land has led to massive food shortages that will continue to have long effects on the country’s people and their economy. The intense diseases, starvation, and a severe lack of purified drinking water has caused nearly 2,000 (documented) deaths and over 20 million people in need of humanitarian aid.
Leading up to the floods, the country experienced issues with double-digit inflation, a giant economic recession, unstable political leadership, and housing issues. Maintenance of the drainage systems in Pakistan was of minimal concern. Most infrastructure designed to drain potential flooding were not structurally sound and dated back to the colonial period. The government was focused on repaying debts to overdeveloped countries, and let concerns over potential future issues lag behind on the priority list. Now, the country is likely to face greater debt as it grapples with over $30 billion in losses. The cycle of global poverty continues and the economic issues that left the country more vulnerable to environmental catastrophes have only worsened.
While the foreign aid that has come in from private donors and some governments are necessary at the moment, they are not sustainable solutions to the overall issue this reflects. Our current economic system prides itself on its globalization, but this skewed perspective of a globalized economy and trade merely serves to overdevelop some wealthy countries that are profiting off underdeveloped countries by extracting resources and cheap labor. Exploitative capitalism masquerades under the guise of “free-trade” and encourages us to forget the coercive methods and imperialist tactics that forcibly opened these markets in the first place.
Why does the ideal of globalization not extend to the environmental aspect? Where is international exchange of resources when countries are in need and suffering from the environmental consequences? When profit-driven economic modes of thought dominate, social well-being rarely aligns.
Pakistan, like most other countries in the Global South, has contributed very little to global emissions and industrial policies that pollute and drive climate change forward. Countries in the Global South are often formerly colonized countries that suffered severe exploitation of their natural resources, land, and labor. While imperialism may no longer appear under the same guise, it plays a role in international capitalism. This global wealth disparity reflects itself in issues of environmental degradation. As of 2022, 80% of all global warming emissions originate from the world’s 20 largest economies, and the effects of this are often found in the countries with the least economic resources. The Global South functions almost entirely as export economies and benefits the least from global industrialization. Countries in the Global South have provided raw material, resources and cheap labor that are exported to countries in the Global North where consumer goods are branded, marketed, and sold for massive profit. Commercialized goods often find their way back into the Global South to be sold – generating greater profit for overdeveloped countries and perpetuating global inequality.
Normalization of this infiltrates its way into people’s minds in the Global North. We see a little infographic on the floods (as with other global disasters), think about how horrible it is, and then swipe forward to see an advertisement on the new clothing sale happening NOW ! Never mind that those clothes are likely made for pennies by women and children at workhouses with disgraceful and unsafe conditions. Never mind the global inequality that leaves people in the Global South with no other option than working in horrifying conditions. Never mind that Western overproduction and emissions cause great economic and environmental stress on underdeveloped countries. Never mind how industry-made climate change intensifies scorching heat-waves each summer and causes drought and massive loss of crops and human life. Never mind how pollution and poor air quality drive up daily deaths and create society-wide health problems that drastically impact countries with less resources to address these problems.
It is frighteningly easy to disregard the connection between the economy and the environment. We have been socialized to view life in fragments, in our education and in our news outlets. There is a tendency toward separating views of the [economy] and the [environment] and [politics] and [education] and so on. It doesn’t help when news is fed to us in tidy and isolated categories. I critique the social media infographics, but I’ll admit that those are how I first found out about the floods in Pakistan, as is what happens with most of the news I learn about. Still, if this is our method of receiving information, let it not dictate our habit of consuming information. Do not allow the constant flow of media to result in mindless and desensitized digestion of the world’s issues. It is capitalism’s consumer culture that drives global economic inequalities, and it is this culture that leaves people placid and indifferent to the clear issues surrounding us. Catastrophes are not meant to be bits of media to be taken at face-value, they are real longer than the duration it remains on your screen, and the effects will persist long into the future. As climate disasters intensify, countries that are economically underdeveloped will likely struggle to combat the impacts. We must maintain persistent social pressure against our unsustainable and inequitable economic system, as well as the environmental degradation it perpetuates. There are alternatives to both the economic systems at hand and the current forms of energy and fuel that exacerbate climate change.