By Aamir Latif
KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited flood-battered areas in Pakistan on Saturday, calling upon the international community to act swiftly to assist Islamabad in dealing with the devastation caused by torrential rains and massive flooding.
In the first leg of his two-day visit to Pakistan, Guterres flew to Sukkur district in southern Sindh province, where he was briefed on damage and relief and rescue efforts by Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, according to state-run Pakistan Television.
Later, he flew to Osta Mohammad, another flood-ravaged town in southwestern Balochistan province, with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, where he met with flood victims.
"This is not a matter of solidarity, but of justice," the top UN official said during his live telecast.
The monsoon season in Pakistan, like in other countries in the region, usually results in heavy rains, but this year has been the wettest since 1961.
Massive rains and melting glaciers, followed by raging floods submerged one-third of the country.
Since mid-June, destructive rains – 10 times heavier than usual – and swirling floods have killed nearly 1,400 people and injured over 12,000 others, aside from washing away hundreds of thousands of houses, bridges, roads, and buildings across the country, which is already grappling with political and economic turmoil.
Over 33 million of the country's approximately 220 million population have been affected by the raging floods, causing a staggering loss of around $30 billion in damages to an already weakened infrastructure, according to government estimates.
On Friday, the UN chief also promised to assist Pakistan in organizing a conference to fund after Islamabad completes an assessment of its needs and damages.
- Climate change disasters
The UN secretary-general reiterated that Pakistan and other "hotspots" of climate change disasters are paying the price for the "big" countries' massive greenhouse gas emissions.
He emphasized that the international community, particularly those countries responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, must act "immediately" to assist "hotspots" such as Pakistan, which has been bracing for future challenges due to climate change.
Pakistan emits less than 1% of greenhouse gases, but it is at the forefront of a climate crisis caused by humans.
"We must acknowledge the fact that we are living in a world of climate change, (and) we must act now," he urged, noting that Islamabad needs "massive international financial support" to deal with the devastation caused by the raging floods.
"We are in total solidarity with Pakistan. We assure you that we will do whatever we can for you," he added.
He said the international community must recognize the serious consequences of greenhouse gas emissions, as nature was responding with natural disasters.
He added that the issue of greenhouse gases has accelerated climatic changes and those nations with larger greenhouse emissions footprints needed to understand these issues.
According to scientific estimates, the UN Secretary-General emphasized that the time has come to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- US defense official
Meanwhile, Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa spoke by phone with US Secretary of Defense General Lloyd James Austin on Saturday, according to a statement issued by the Pakistan Army's media wing.
During the call, the defense secretary expressed his grief over the devastation caused by unprecedented floods in Pakistan and expressed his sincere condolences to the victims' families. He offered his full support to the people, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in the statement.
They also discussed mutual interests, regional stability, and defense and security cooperation.
The defense secretary also commended the Pakistan Army's rescue and relief efforts in flood-affected areas and pledged to play a role in enhancing cooperation with Pakistan at all levels, the statement said.