The triple menace of climate disaster, stagflation and violence has imperilled the overall political stability of the country
raversing through a protracted ‘delicate turn’ for decades, Pakistan seems to have lost sight of the destination. Things have seldom been rosy for the country in the recent past. The curve representing economic growth has shown an upward trend only during wars across our borders.
As our geostrategic utility diminished, the erstwhile sponsors turned away from us. It is unfortunate that we have never tried to build a self-reliant economy. A triple menace now plagues our well-being.
In August last year, we woke up suddenly to the rude shock of a huge flood disaster followed by an excruciating economic meltdown. A macabre wave of terrorism followed. The interplay of these concurrent tremors has jolted the country and confounded its managers.
Last year, Pakistan endured the worst flood disaster of its history. Millions of people lost their homes, farm land, livestock, businesses and infrastructure painstakingly built over decades.
The social fabric has been torn and countless people remain in camps set up on roadsides and dykes. Their recovery and rehabilitation is a daunting task that could take years even if they are not tested by another disaster.
The international humanitarian response has been painfully slow, rendering millions of the flood affected helpless. The money pledged in Geneva will take months, if not years, to reach the ramshackle abodes of the flood-hit people. Once can hardly fathom the scale of devastation inflicted upon the rural economy and the means of livelihoods.
A coincident economic meltdown has aggravated the matters. A pernicious stagflation of abnormal scale has brought the economy to its knees. A political maelstrom is impeding meaningful negotiations with multilateral lenders seen as the last resort to stabilise a faltering economy.
The picture is turning uglier with every passing day. The refineries have warned of an impending oil crisis; the telecom companies have raised a red flag; the textile industry has laid off thousands of workers; the pharmaceutical companies have warned of stopping production if prices are not adjusted and the auto industry is going through protracted shutdowns, curtailing jobs and incomes.
Even in the best-case scenario, the worst will not be over in a few years. Amid this unrelenting economic turmoil, flood battered millions stand no chance of significant relief.
Floods have emaciated the rural economy. A sluggish economy is causing malnutrition and morbidity in the flood-affected areas. Loss of crops on 3.8 million acres will have severe ramifications. Loss of rice and wheat crops in particular will fuel food inflation and may eventually cause food insecurity in the country.
Ad-hoc policies and half-hearted cosmetic measures have been a proven failure. The political leaders ought to realise that battling with such gigantic challenges require the support of the international community as well as a consensus within the country.
The repercussions of food insecurity will not remain confined to flood-affected areas. A prognosis of the impact of climate change on Pakistan’s economy and human development paints a gloomy picture. The World Bank’s recent Country Climate and Development Report on Pakistan indicates that climate change and disasters can reverse the poverty reduction gains during 2001-2015, when more than 48 million Pakistanis came out of extreme poverty.
The impact of recent floods can be gauged from the data presented in the World Bank report. It reads, “the total damage is equivalent to 4.8 percent of FY22 GDP, while recovery and reconstruction needs are projected to be sizable at 1.6 times the budgeted national development expenditure for FY23. Overall decline in GDP as a direct impact of the floods is projected to be around 2.2 percent of FY22 GDP.”
Post Disaster Need Assessment also estimates a portentous spike in the national poverty rate by 3.7 to 4.0 percentage points, pushing an additional 8.4 to 9.1 million people into poverty. Multidimensional poverty will increase by 5.9 percentage points, meaning that an additional 1.9 million households will be pushed into non-monetary poverty.
Impacts of flood and economic recession are being exacerbated by a recent wave of terrorism. After the collapse of peace talks, militant groups have targeted law-enforcing agencies as well as civilians.
The PTI government paved the way for the regrouping of Taliban by allowing them free enclaves in some areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Dozens of militants involved in acts of heinous terrorism were freed from prisons. This is not the first time the militants were provided unbridled access to settled areas of the province.
The current regime’s resistance to their demand for reversing the merger of Tribal Areas incensed these groups and they embarked upon a series of deadly attacks on the law enforcement apparatus. The bloodiest one was an explosion in the heavily guarded police lines in Peshawar that killed more than one hundred people in a mosque.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has regressed to the dark years. Kidnapping for ransom, extortion, attacks on law-enforcement personnel and public display of arms are back. The people of Swat took to the streets in large crowds and questioned the unhindered movement and activities of militant outfits in the area.
Islamabad narrowly escaped a similar disaster when a terrorist pulled the plug when interrupted by police at a check post. A further uptick in violence can push the ailing economy to the brink. Foreign investment has already touched rock bottom. Violence can make foreign investment impossible.
Rising poverty, triggered by economic recession and the flood disaster, will provide fodder to extremism, violence and terrorism. Denying basic human needs of flood-hit communities will have profound social repercussions.
The triple menace of climate disaster, stagflation and violence has imperilled overall political stability. Convergence of the consequences of these three elements may lead to a complex imbroglio. We are still discounting the possibility of default on external payments that can have devastating consequences.
A country of over 220 million can plunge into a civil strife of unimaginable proportions. This might lead to ominous social unrest and political tumult. The ongoing negotiations with the IMF are an effort to save the country from an imminent collapse. The political cost of entering into an agreement with the IMF will be exorbitant yet less than a default.
All three issues require a long-term solution with a clear direction and unconventional strategies. Ad-hoc policies and half-hearted cosmetic measures have been a proven failure. The political leadership ought to realise that battling with such gigantic challenges requires the support of the international community as well as a consensus within the country. We have ample experience to learn from past mistakes.
The writer is a development sector professional. He can be reached at email@example.com