This rapid review looks at areas and population groups in Pakistan most exposed to the combined effects of climate change and natural disasters, food insecurity and malnutrition, and COVID-19. The review draws on a mixture of academic and grey literature, including reports by development organisations. While considerable information was found about the diverse effects of climate change and natural disasters on different parts of the country (including down to district level), data on food insecurity was largely only at provincial level. There are also significant gaps in the evidence base on specific population groups, notably religious minorities.
Key findings are as follows:
Climate change and natural disasters
- Pakistan is among the countries in the world most affected by climate change.
- Climate change effects are predicted to intensify in coming years.
- Natural disasters which are most common in Pakistan are floods, drought, cyclones, earthquakes, landslides and avalanches. The country has seen repeated such disasters in recent years, which have displaced civilian populations and caused massive damage to property, crops and infrastructure, setting back development and growth. Virtually all areas of the country are at risk of natural disasters, though which natural disasters vary from one area to the next, reflecting Pakistan’s diverse topography and climate.
- Karachi merits particular attention because it is Pakistan’s economic hub and is highly vulnerable to climate change effects, notably rising sea levels and increased salinity. Large numbers of people displaced by climate change effects in surrounding areas have migrated to the city, adding to the load on already over-burdened services and resources. Water scarcity is especially acute in Karachi.
Food insecurity and malnutrition
- Pakistan is a food surplus country in terms of production (including wheat, rice, fruits, vegetables, milk and meat) but despite this, is largely a food insecure country
- PoU is highest in Balochistan, followed by Sindh and Punjab, and lowest in KP.PoU is consistently lower in rural areas than urban areas
- The prevalence of both moderate or severe food insecurity, and severe food insecurity was highest in Balochistan
- Key indicators of malnutrition are stunting, wasting and underweight among children under five years of age. Pakistan is estimated to have 12 million stunted children, at a national rate of 40.2%
- Childhood wasting nationally was 17.7% in 2018, with prevalence higher among boys than girls, and in rural areas than urban areas
- Underweight prevalence was 28.9% nationally in 2018, but much higher in Sindh (41.3%) followed by Balochistan (33.7%)
- Climate change effects and natural disasters strongly impact food insecurity, leading to both reduced agricultural productivity and reduced purchasing power
- The COVID-19 pandemic has been relatively limited in Pakistan, in terms of cases and deaths. As of 4 March 2021, the country had a total of 585,435 cases and 13,076 deaths.
- Calculation of exposure risk to COVID-19 in different parts of Pakistan – based on population density, proximity to others in the household, and access to water, sanitation and hygiene (factors that contribute to/prevent the spread of COVID-19) – identifies Sindh, southern Punjab and KP as the areas at highest risk.
Poor and landless
- Climate change and natural disasters hit the poor hardest because they have the least capacity to respond (to adapt and to recover). Exposure and vulnerability are also unequal in a community, reflecting powerlessness and poverty. For example, the poor tend to have homes in low-lying areas made of less durable materials (e.g. mud), while the affluent are usually on higher ground beyond inundation zones, in solid (e.g. brick) houses.
- Food insecurity is a function of four dimensions, including accessibility of food. Poverty directly impacts this. While overall multidimensional poverty in Pakistan has fallen in recent years, there are significant regional differences: it is high in Balochistan and Sindh, as well as parts of KP and southern Punjab, and higher in rural areas than urban areas.
- The poor are most at risk of COVID-19 infection because of the conditions in which they live and work (e.g. crowded neighbourhoods) and are also most vulnerable to the wider socioeconomic effects of the pandemic. Rise in multidimensional vulnerability (including effects on jobs, education, etc.) due to the pandemic is forecast to be highest in Punjab and Sindh; Balochistan and KP already have high rates of multidimensional poverty and food insecurity. The latter is forecast to rise in the pandemic, due to higher prices and reduced
- There is also correlation between multidimensional vulnerability and natural disasters: most districts in which the former is high have experienced recent natural shocks, which mean poverty and food insecurity levels are already high, and community resilience low. The highest correlation is seen in Balochistan, Sindh, southern Punjab and parts of KP.
- As in other developing countries, patriarchal norms and lack of gender equality mean that women in Pakistan are disproportionately affected by climate change and natural disasters: they are at more risk of dying, have to spend more time on chores such as collecting water, face loss of livelihoods, can end up carrying the household burden as men migrate in seek of work, or face difficulties following displacement.
- The effects of food insecurity are particularly dire on poor women and children: in Pakistan 50.4% of women are anaemic, up to 46% experience Vitamin A deficiency, and an average of 40% have iron deficiency (compared to a global average of 17%)
- Women in Pakistan are highly vulnerable to the wider negative effects of the pandemic, such as loss of livelihoods, discontinuation of reproductive and other healthcare, increased unpaid work responsibilities, increased food shortages, and domestic violence.