“The Double C”, Colonisation and Climate Change
How the Pakistan Floods were more than just a weather event
The opinions expressed in this article reflect the opinions of its author(s). They do not represent the views of UCL's Diplomacy Society, Diplomacy Review nor The Diplomat.
Six months on, Pakistan is still drowning. After one third of the country, equivalent to the entire size of the United Kingdom, was submerged underwater between June and October 2022, 5 million people are still living in these flooded areas. Some areas, such as Sindh, received more than 464% of its average rainfall. 33 million people were displaced (in comparison to 12 million people displaced in Ukraine), and more than 300 children died. Yet for those living outside of the region, it appears the rest of the world has forgotten the floods, to what appears a complete lack of interest towards the future fate of the Pakistani people.
Image above highlighting the damage to housing caused by flooding. Whilst wealthier areas, such as Punjab, faced limited damage by flooding, poorer areas were affected the most. Source: National Disaster Management Authority, UN, 1st September 2022 via AlJazeera.
Whilst it can be tempting to assume the root cause of these devastating floods are solely a result of climate change, that is not entirely correct. In April 2022 a report published by The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which focuses on the threat climate change has on global damage, used the term ‘colonialism’ in its findings for the first time in its history. The report asserts that colonialism has magnified the effects of climate change where the long term impact of colonisation has helped exacerbate the vulnerability of certain people and land to extreme weather events. In other words, colonisation is not just constrained to history, rather its legacy is still alive in our changing climate.
In modern day Pakistan, nineteenth century British colonists invaded the local land and then were crucial in encouraging the creation of a new state for the Indian Muslims. This ‘divide and rule’ tactic used largely to make such a vast continent easier to colonise, resulted in violent forms of dispossession and massacres, where there was forced separation and removal of people from land. Crucially, this disrupted the local land management practices that had already existed before British rule, which were able to manage flooding to allow crops in a largely agrarian society to flourish. That is to say, the drastic change in population and movement of people in a short period of time for the creation of new states, such as Pakistan, made them more vulnerable to extreme weather events.
More importantly, the effects of colonisation are not constrained to the Indian subcontinent. Researchers have already shown that the large-scale bushfires seen in Australia are not because of climate change alone, but instead are amplified by the British displacement of the indigenous people who used land management practices to control burning before occupation.
It is clear that climate science is rooted in imperialism and colonisation. Majority of the data that we currently rely on has been produced by colonising powers, often extracted by the records of nineteenth century colonising ships, where even today previous reports of the IPCC have been critiqued for the limited input from authors from non-western nations. Here the link between colonisation and climate change invites further research. The use of this term, finally, in climate reports should be a stepping stone for further analysis in other regions of the world where colonisation and climate change are not looked at as binaries, but rather how they have shaped each other.
Whilst I must admit it has been touching to see money raised and support shown for Pakistan by governments, individuals, and even a humanitarian visit by Angelina Jolie, there appears to be an overwhelming focus on climate change for creating this disaster, suggesting an expected reality. With the record breaking temperatures seen last summer exceeding 50 degrees Celsius, it is clear that extreme weather will continue to affect and devastate Pakistan, and its neighbours, in the near future if nothing is done. Of course I am not suggesting that colonisation is the only reason for extreme weather, rather I am proposing climate science is studied alongside, through the lens of colonisation, to better understand how successive governments can make better provisions for their people. With wider input from indigenous authors on climate science and understanding the long term trauma faced through the brutal excavation of people from their own land, maybe then we may be better equipped to deal with what appears to be an impending doomsday: our (colonised) climate. The ‘double C’.