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Pakistan: Global action urgently needed to tackle 'starkly visible' climate injustice - new report

© Shakil Adi

More than 40 million people do not have access to electricity

Jacobabad is one of the hottest places on the planet with highest recorded temperature reaching 52°C

If we take a break there is no daily wage… because of poverty, we have to work no matter the weather’ - Tractor driver in Jacobabad

Pakistan is on the frontline of the climate crisis’ - Dinushika Dissanayake 

To mark World Environment Day (5 June), Amnesty International has published a new report calling for urgent global action as a series of extreme heatwaves in Pakistan wreak havoc on human rights.

The 51-page report published today - A Burning Emergency: Extreme heat in Pakistan - examines the “starkly visible” climate injustice in Pakistan with people facing severe consequences despite the country’s disproportionately small contribution to global climate change. People in Pakistan, specifically those living in poverty, are experiencing extreme heat and seeing some of the highest temperatures in the world in recent years.

Amnesty interviewed 45 people at high risk of exposure to heat, including agricultural workers, labourers in brick kiln factories, delivery riders, police officers, sanitation workers and others in outdoor work. They experienced adverse impacts of extreme heat during the summer months of 2021 and 2022 in Jacobabad and Lahore in Pakistan. Jacobabad is one of the hottest places on the planet. In June 2021, its highest recorded temperature reached an unbearable 52°C.

Health workers reported seeing increases in heatstroke, drowsiness, difficulty breathing, burning sensations in the stomach, dizziness, fever, body pain, eye infections, and headaches during periods of extreme heat. A health worker in Lahore told Amnesty:

“In May and June, many patients came to us because of the heatwave... Daily, we would receive 50-60 cases in the emergency department.”

Impact of climate crisis on vulnerable people

It is evident from the interviews that, while the impact of extreme heat is felt by everyone, some are much worse off because of their socio-economic status.

A woman living in an informal settlement in Jacobabad said:

“We are more vulnerable to heat than anyone else. Hot weather impacts poor people. There is no escape for us.”

Day-wage workers who Amnesty interviewed, said that they have no choice but to continue working even if they feel hot, despite the health guidelines to stay indoors during periods of extreme heat. A tractor driver in Jacobabad said: “If we take a break there is no daily wage… because of poverty, we have to work no matter the weather.”

People such as those living in poverty and working in the informal sector with precarious work, lower incomes and fewer opportunities for rest and shade, with limited or no access to support, are severely impacted by the extreme temperatures.

Furthermore, multi-layered and intersecting forms of discrimination against women also undermine their ability to cope in heatwaves, which has potentially dangerous implications for their children’s health.

No action plan

A brick kiln owner said:

“If the Government had taken care of the area, Jacobabad would have been a fine place. But government is invisible here.”

Despite the searing temperatures in Jacobabad and Lahore, neither city has a heat action plan or climate-responsive social protection mechanisms in place. In Pakistan, more than 40 million people do not have access to electricity. Others have erratic and irregular supplies. People living in poverty do not have access to, or are unable to afford, electricity for fans or air conditioning units; they also can’t afford to buy solar panels.

A lot of the public health advice on avoiding exposure to heat assumes people can afford to stay indoors, negotiate different working hours, access adequate water, healthcare and cooling mechanisms.

The Government of Pakistan must develop comprehensive heat action plans consistent with human rights law and standards and ensure that the rights of groups that are especially vulnerable to the health impacts of extreme heat are protected.

Time for action

Amnesty’s report sets out a comprehensive list of recommendations for both for the government and the international community. They include calling for the Pakistan authorities to conduct a needs assessment in the context of heatwaves, focusing on – and with the participation of - the most marginalised people, preparing and implementing human rights compliant heat action plans, and providing effective social protection in order to support people in coping with heatwaves.

These actions require significant financial resources, and the international community must come together to ensure that these ways are available. One to help finance this is through relief from debt repayments which currently costs the Government significant amounts of money.

Wealthier countries need to step up action to reduce emissions and phase out fossil fuels, in accordance with their human rights obligations, and provide the financing and support needed for Pakistan to put in place adequate adaptation measures, provide effective remedies for loss and damage, among other measures needed to protect human rights. They should significantly increase climate funding while ensuring a better balance between climate mitigation and adaptation funding, including assistance to carry out human rights-consistent loss and damage needs assessments.  

Dinushika Dissanayake, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director in South Asia, said:

“Pakistan is on the frontline of the climate crisis. Climate injustice is starkly visible. Despite their small contribution to climate change, Pakistanis face disproportionately severe consequences which are often life threatening.

“Marginalised people exposed to extreme temperatures are being forced to live in unbearable conditions, as these searing temperatures rise every year while we idly let time go by.

Tackling a climate crisis of this scale requires global attention and action. Wealthier countries must make no mistake about the important role they play.

“This report tells us the devastation that is following the unmitigated and irresponsible actions of governments, particularly the wealthy nations and others that are opposing a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels.

“Without further delay, wealthier countries must demonstrate a decisive commitment to reduce emissions, rapidly phase out fossil fuels and provide funds to support people to adapt and quickly operationalise the Loss and Damage fund established at COP27.

It is crucial that the wealthy countries most responsible for the climate crisis provide funds not just to support adaptation but also remedy for the loss and damage people have experienced or will experience because of extreme heatwaves fueled by climate change in countries such as Pakistan.”

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