Internally displaced persons (IDPs) remain among the most vulnerable people in the world. The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement define IDPs as “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized border.”
IDPs are often referred to as refugees. However, they do not fall within the legal definitions of a refugee. Pakistan’s diverse geography and climate expose the country to a wide range of climate-induced disasters such as floods and landslides. Although Pakistan has contributed the least to the climate crisis (it is responsible for less than one per cent of the world’s planet-warming gases), it is the eighth most vulnerable nation to the climate crisis, according to the Global Climate Risk Index.
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), 16.6 million IDPs and 94 disaster events were recorded in Pakistan from 2008 to 2021. During this period, floods triggered most of the displacements (15.4 million), followed by earthquakes (1.1 million). Other climate-induced disasters which triggered internal displacements in Pakistan included chronic droughts, extreme temperatures, and frequent occurring storms.
In 2021 alone, 70,000 internal displacements were recorded in Pakistan, all of them triggered by climate-induced disasters. The recent erratic monsoon rains of 2022 have caused catastrophic floods and affected an estimated 33 million across Pakistan. The climate change-driven disaster has claimed the lives of over 1,400 people and displaced millions, including women, children, older people, and people with disabilities.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has revealed that flood water has washed away more than 1.7 million homes, displacing millions of people within Pakistan, who require shelter, food, healthcare and other essentials.
Additionally, it has been revealed by the UNFPA that an estimated 75,000 pregnant women are affected by the recent floods, and 40,000 are expected to deliver their babies in September 2022. Women and girls are particularly exposed to the risk of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) during disaster events. The UN Women has revealed that more than 70 percent of women suffer various forms of gender-based discrimination in humanitarian crises.
Many internally displaced children in Pakistan have lost access to education as their schools have been washed away. Many children would be forced to quit school and engage in child labour to earn a livelihood to help their families. Pakistan already has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children with an estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 not attending school, as per Unicef. It will be extremely challenging for Pakistan, which is still recovering from school closures due to Covid-19, to send internally displaced children back to school.
Additionally, the WHO has revealed that about 900 health facilities have been damaged across Pakistan. This places IDPs at risk of aggravated disease outbreaks such as dengue fever, malaria, polio, and Covid-19.
Despite a high number of recorded IDPs in Pakistan over the years and the vulnerability faced by them, the country has no national laws or policies implemented that specifically apply to IDPs. The Land Acquisition Act 1894 is the only legal document that refers to displacement. However, it only applies to the acquisition of land for public purposes and companies.
Article 25(1) of the constitution states: All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law. It is also important to note that Pakistan ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in June 2010.
Article 2(2) of the ICCPR obligates Pakistan to take “the necessary steps, in accordance with its constitutional processes and with the provisions of the present Covenant, to adopt such laws or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to the rights recognized in the present Covenant.’’ Therefore, Pakistan should enact legislation that specifically protects the rights of IDPs.
Pakistan can take inspiration from the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and incorporate them into its national legislation. The Guiding Principles were presented to the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1998. They identify the rights and guarantee protection to IDPs in all states of their displacement. Although the Guiding Principles are not legally binding, they have attained significant authority since their inception. At the World Summit in September 2005 in New York, the Guiding Principles were recognized as an important international framework for the protection of IDPs.
Recently, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited the flood-affected areas of Sindh and Balochistan and stated that “there is a very unfair situation, in relation to the level of destruction we are seeing in Sindh.” He added that “it is essential for the international community to understand that Pakistan, including Sindh, needs today massive financial support to overcome this crisis,” while emphasizing that this was not a matter of generosity, but justice.
The international community should support Pakistan as it responds to the unprecedented climate-induced floods. Many IDPs remain displaced for years. The international community should pledge to support Pakistan until all IDPs return home after the reconstruction of their homes and villages.
The writer is a barrister. She tweets @RidaT95 and can be reached at:
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