Philanthropy — a buffer for floods

The changing weather patterns and average temperatures, resulting in rising sea levels, severe heat waves, floods, drought, famine, etc, are frequently described as the greatest existential threat to humanity in our times.

It is contended that Pakistan’s poor management of water resources, weak infrastructure and global climate change may have exacerbated the risk of extreme weather disasters. With its limited resources, the government alone cannot cope with this colossal challenge.

A report by the research organisation Candid states: “Philanthropists could be a buffer to combat such challenges and provide relief to the communities endangered by it. Less than 4 per cent of worldwide philanthropy or around $60 million in 2019 is allocated for projects focused on climate justice and equity, and only about 2pc of that total goes toward climate change mitigation.”

Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy is the sole organisation in the country generating knowledge and evidence on the state of philanthropy and its utilisation. The 2016 report on individual giving in Pakistan (The State of Individual Philanthropy in Pakistan 2016) reveals that people are more likely to donate during disasters such as floods, earthquakes or pandemics.

Less than 4pc of worldwide philanthropy (around $60m in 2019) is allocated for projects focused on climate justice and equity

These contributions are important for providing relief, recovery, and rehabilitation services to the affected people in the short term, as exhibited by the giving behaviour of people during the 2022 floods. The estimates show that in-cash donations for flood relief, either pledged or collected, have already reached over Rs300 billion in Pakistan.

These donations have been offered by the Pakistani diaspora, the Pakistan Telecommunication Industry, high-net-worth individuals, and organisations such as the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, and the government of the United Kingdom.

Similarly, in-kind donations, such as ten thousand litres of milk and two hundred thousand litres of water, are to be distributed amongst the flood victims by Nestlé Pakistan. In addition, many individuals and organisations volunteer their time to assist flood affectees. For instance, the Pakistan Red Crescent Society has sent out more than 500 employees to assist flood victims.

Furthermore, the Pakistani Army initiated massive rescue and relief efforts in areas hit by flash floods and excessive rains. While these philanthropic initiatives are critical in cushioning the adverse effects of the flood in the short term, it is equally important to think about ways to use philanthropic assistance towards sustained, long-term solutions to address the flood disaster and its main causes.

Local communities, governments, businesses, charity organisations, philanthropists, and scientists are just a handful of stakeholders who can play an instrumental role in tackling the climate crisis such as floods and its adverse implications. Amongst these groups, philanthropists have specialised capacities, resources, and strategies needed to effectively promote adaptation and decarbonisation activities.

They have the ability to immediately provide unrestricted funds in response to urgent issues like natural catastrophes, support high-risk enterprises and minimise the risk to attract capital, mobilise stakeholders to foster collaboration and engage in policy advocacy to support the widespread adoption of climate change solutions.

The question remains — what can be the way forward to address the issues surrounding climate change and its adverse effects on the economy and the people in the long run?

According to literature, countries where non-profits — the third sector of the economy — are more transparent and accountable have higher potential and capacity to provide the services where needed. In Pakistan, only 22pc of non-profit organisations are officially registered, and the other 78pc operate without registration. For sustainable solutions, in the long run, these organisations need to be more reliable and trustworthy through proper registration and regulatory policy compliance mechanism to be able to deliver more effectively.

Another way to adopt long-term solutions to climate change challenges is to engage the philanthropists and government in two areas. One, they can contribute towards decarbonisation — the process of lowering greenhouse gas emissions or reducing carbon dioxide from the environment. Its goal is to prevent physical risks from continuing to accumulate and reduce the likelihood of starting climatic feedback loops.

Two, they can invest in climate change adaptation. This relates to efforts to limit exposure to climate hazards by relocating assets and communities, as well as to help manage risks through insurance and other financial mechanisms. It also relates to efforts to make systems more resilient and robust.

In conclusion, we can say that Pakistan is currently under the threat of an economic crisis, and the recent flood has further aggravated this issue. Philanthropy can mitigate the impact of climate change and natural disasters by investing resources towards strategies geared to address environmental issues, including reforestation, the building of dams, etc. In this regard, philanthropists can play a vital role in supporting activities for climate change adaptation.

The writer is a programme officer at the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, September 26th, 2022