A history of US interference worsened Pakistan’s devastating floods

As Pakistan experiences devastating floods and an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe – including decimated crops, more than 500 dead children, hospitals full of those infected with malaria and dengue, and millions displaced from their homes – his infrastructure and its water management are coming under increasing scrutiny. . It’s tempting to turn to stories of mismanagement, dysfunction and disorder. But in fact, Pakistan’s water problems involve multiple actors. Acknowledging their responsibility for what happened during the floods can give Pakistan credit message at the next COP27 conference: that countries like Pakistan, which bear the worst costs of climate change, should not bear them alone.

The irrigation network – which is currently insufficient for the rainfall intensities linked to climate change, flash floods and glacial lake breakup flood events – has its roots in British colonial rule. After independence, the United States and international organizations further shaped Pakistan’s water infrastructure and with it other structures of society. The agricultural and military elites of today’s Pakistan have wealth and capital along these colonial and post-colonial lineages, as do Europe welfare state institutions.

In other words, Pakistan’s history reveals that inequality and poverty are no more natural than floods: both are colonial legacies perpetuated by contemporary arrangements of sovereignty and financial dependence.

For several centuries, British rulers colonized Indian lands and settled them with people they chose, with the aim of retaining the farming elites and maximizing the tax revenue of the military state. At the end of British colonial rule in 1947, India was divided into two independent countries, Pakistan and India. Among other things, the score created questions about waterways that transcended new borders. Over the next decade, a process unfolded, involving US diplomacy and World Bank intervention, over how water and infrastructure would be shared between the two newly decolonized neighbors. In 1960, India and Pakistan signed the Indus Water Treaty, brokered by the World Bank and widely regarded as an instrument of peace. But the treaty was also an instrument of profit.

Soon, Pakistan became the site of an unprecedented earth-moving feat – including the excavation of 7 billion cubic meters of earth – as part of a $2 billion ($17 billion in US dollars) project. of today) involving the construction of dams, weirs and 400 miles of linking Indus Basin canals. While the New York Times (January 19, 1968) described it as a project that would “tame the Indus”, Pakistan saw it as compensation after India took control of the three eastern rivers of India. Indus – the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej.

The inspiration to develop the Indus Basin as an engineering project came from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a key agency in US President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which was created to address to the crisis of the Great Depression in America. Modeling international development projects on the TVA was a Cold War tactic, deployed by the United States in its desire to win people and places over to modernization, development, and American-style democracy.

The project was designed as a technical project, requiring external technical assistance and funding, rather than a Politics a. But the project also involved politics, of course. Resolving the Indo-Pakistani dispute over the sharing of the Indus waters was seen as essential to stem the spread of communism.

In 1962, some 500 American families arrived in what was then West Pakistan, or, in the words of Irene Douglass, an American who accompanied her husband to the region, “the end of the world”. They were mostly construction workers and their families who came to Pakistan after a San Francisco-based construction company, Guy F. Atkinson Construction Co., was awarded a $510 million contract. ($5 billion today) to build the Mangla Dam on the Jhelum River.

About 2,500 American and European workers would come to be housed in a fully air-conditioned building town built for them once construction begins. The International General Electric Co. provided $1.5 million the penalty of the electrical equipment of the dam. Six years later, the $623 million ($5.3 billion today) contract for the Tarbela Dam on the Indus River was won by the Italians and the French, who beat competitors from the United States, Germany , British and Swiss for the contract. The current South Asian geographies were therefore jointly designed. Just as the economies of the North and the South have developed together.

Some people in Pakistan at the time, such as planner, economist, and creator of the Human Development Index Mahbub ul Haq, objected to the influx of such huge foreign aid, arguing that it would have a mind-numbing effect on Pakistan’s own institutional growth. It also increased the resentment of the people of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, over the disproportionate attention given to West Pakistan’s water problems compared to the fear of recurring floods in East Pakistan.

At a meeting of the National Assembly in December 1962, a member of the legislature of East Pakistan expressed this resentment: “This cannot be imagined for a free country. The government should understand that unless development projects in East Pakistan are given the same treatment [as those of] West Pakistan, there can be no real progress. How can there be patience from East Pakistan because of this long and continuous apathetic treatment? In short, this massive technical intervention to replenish Pakistan’s water contributed to the escalation of tensions within the new nation-state. In 1971, after a bloody struggle for independence, East Pakistan became Bangladesh.

Today, Pakistan’s Indus Basin is a carefully designed landscape, home to the world’s largest network of contiguous infrastructure, with water control, stored and diverted thanks to large and small dams, dams, channels and connecting channels. And that’s just it relationship with water – narrowly framed as an engineering issue and not so political – which has caught the public’s attention with the ongoing devastation.

Yet water has always been a political project, shaped by the politics of US imperialism, international development and debt, and postcolonial aspirations for growth. The valuation large infrastructures, as well as the vision of water as an essentially economic and national resource, has depleted and polluted the soil and the aquifer and Shrunk the delta. It has obscured attention to everyday values ​​and water infrastructure. And it made it harder to see that preparing, instead of controlling, might be the only way to make floods less destructive.

Good governance, climate adaptation and flood resistant construction require money. Pakistan’s external debt stands at $99 billion and is among the top 10 borrowers in the water sector at the World Bank. These multilateral donor institutions not only provide funding but also technical assistance. They also impose governance changes – such as new instruments and auditing procedures – at different scales, meaning that multilateral institutions have shaped water governance in Pakistan at least as much as allegedly corrupt and incompetent local officials.

This is not about directing blame, but a reminder of our common past and present. Recognizing our different roles, and our historical and current responsibility, in what is unfolding in Pakistan today will help frame the conversations and urgent actions around climate reparations that are a practical and moral necessity to meet the needs of the planet in the future. our era.

Over 70% of funding for adaptation to climate change granted by the countries of the North is disbursed in the form of loans and not grants. The economic cost of loss and damage in developing countries has been valued to $290 billion to $580 billion by 2030, rising from $1 trillion to $1.8 trillion by 2050. blocked by developed countries in Glasgow in 2021.

Loss and damage, rooted in the restorative justice project, refers to the impacts of climate change to which one cannot adapt. Simply put, it’s too late for anyone to prepare against these. It is too late to stop loss and damage, but there is still time to ensure fairer outcomes for people in the present and future of climate change.

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