ISLAMABAD (AP) — The United Nations and Pakistan appealed Tuesday for $160 million in emergency funding to help millions affected by record-breaking floods that have killed more than 1,150 people since mid-June.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the floods in Pakistan, caused by weeks of unprecedented monsoon rains, were a message to the world to step up action on climate change.
“Let’s stop sleepwalking towards the destruction of our planet by climate change,” he said in a video message at a ceremony in Islamabad launching the appeal for funding. “Today, it is Pakistan. Tomorrow, it could be your country.”
More than 33 million people, or one in seven Pakistanis, have been affected by the devastating floods, which have devastated a country already struggling to revive a struggling economy. More than 1 million homes have been damaged or destroyed in the past two and a half months, displacing millions of people. About half a million of the displaced live in organized camps, while others have had to find their own shelter.
According to initial government estimates, the disaster caused $10 billion in damage to the economy.
“It’s a preliminary estimate that is likely to be much higher,” Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal told The Associated Press. More than 160 bridges and more than 3,400 kilometers (2,100 mi) of road have been damaged.
Although the rains stopped three days ago, large areas of the country remain underwater and the main rivers, the Indus and the Swat, are still swollen. The National Disaster Management Authority on Tuesday warned emergency services to be on high alert, saying flood waters over the next 24 hours could cause further damage.
Rescuers continued to evacuate those trapped from flooded villages to safer ground. Makeshift tent camps have sprung up along highways.
Forecasters have warned of more rain in the coming weeks.
“The situation is likely to worsen further as heavy rains continue in areas already inundated by storms and floods for more than two months. For us, this is nothing less than a national emergency,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said on Tuesday, calling on the international community to give generously to the UN appeal.
“Since mid-June, in fact, Pakistan has been battling one of the most severe, completely abnormal monsoon cycles,” he said. Rainfall during that period was three times the average and up to six times higher in some areas, he said.
The U.N. appeal for $160 million will provide food, water, sanitation, health and other forms of assistance to about 5.2 million people, Guterres said.
“The scale of needs is rising like the waters of a flood. It requires the collective and priority attention of the world,” he said.
A day earlier, the executive board of the International Monetary Fund approved the release of the much-awaited $1.17 billion for Pakistan.
The funds are part of a $6 billion bailout agreed in 2019. The latest tranche has been on hold since the beginning of the year, when the IMF expressed concern over Pakistan’s compliance with the terms of the deal under former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government . Khan was ousted via a no-confidence vote in parliament in April.
Pakistan is at risk of bankruptcy as its reserves dwindle and inflation has risen, and to receive an IMF bailout, the government had to agree to austerity measures.
The flood devastation, however, is adding new burdens to the cash-strapped government. It also reflects how poorer countries often pay the price for climate change largely caused by more industrialized nations. Since 1959, Pakistan has been responsible for only 0.4% of the world’s historical CO2 emissions. The US accounts for 21.5%, China for 16.5% and the EU for 15%.
Several scientists say the record-breaking floods bear all the hallmarks of being affected by climate change.
“This year, Pakistan has had its highest rainfall in at least three decades,” said Abid Qaiyum Suleri, executive director of the Policy Institute for Sustainable Development and a member of the Pakistan Climate Change Council. “Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent in the region and Pakistan is no exception.”
Pakistan experienced similar floods and disasters in 2010 that killed nearly 2,000 people. However, the government did not implement plans to prevent future flooding by preventing construction and housing in flood-prone areas and riverbeds, Suleri said.
Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten contributed to this story from Geneva.