Global Human Rights Defence

Climate change is a human rights cause: Pakistan’s situation

Climate change is a human rights cause: Pakistan’s situation
Dry soil due to drought. Source: © Francesco Ungaro/Pexels, 2009.

Author: Nicola Costantin

Department: Pakistan Team


Climate change is the most pressing issue of our age and it hits all of the countries indiscriminately. Still, it causes more significant impacts on the developing countries due to their greater vulnerabilities and lower capacity to mitigate the negative effects of the phenomenon, even though only ten percent of annual global CO2 is emitted by them. One developing country, Pakistan, for instance, only contributes less than one percent of global carbon emissions, but it stands among the most vulnerable countries in the world affected by climate change in the coming decades (Kunwar, 2022). Since climate change directly impacts rain patterns, raises temperature levels, floods, and droughts, Pakistan is specifically hit due to its agriculture-based economy (Ali et al., 2017). For instance, below-average rainfall in the Tharparkar desert and southeastern Sindh during the monsoon in 2016 resulted in drought and lower crop production, hence forcing hunger-stricken people to migrate to other areas searching for fertile lands (Ijaz, 2017).

This causes a serious threat to the social, economic, and ecological system of Pakistan. On the one hand, in areas exposed to natural disasters, there are likely to be higher levels of food insecurity (Idris, 2021). The rapid fluctuation of the weather presents a major challenge to agricultural production and rural livelihoods. Obviously, the agricultural sector is extremely dependent on alterations in climatic conditions, thus the livelihood of approximately 2.5 billion people who are partially or completely dependent on agriculture will be at risk (Iqbal et al., 2016). On the other hand, specific population groups are specifically hit by climate change, namely landless people and women (Idris, 2021). For instance, the World Bank Group’s South Asia Climate Change Strategy stated that the poorest people in the region would be most affected by climate change due to limited assets, unfavourable geography, and greater dependence on climate-sensitive sources of income, such as crops (Ali et al., 2017). As it will be analysed, high-frequency extreme weather events in recent years, such as flash floods in Pakistan, are thought to be directly associated with climate change and are likely to keep the poor in a persistent “poverty trap” (Ali et al., 2017). Moreover, due to the State’s fragile trajectory toward economic development and its adherence to fossil fuels, this situation has just worsened. Therefore, South Asia, and specifically Pakistan, has become more disaster-prone. Likewise, due to patriarchal norms still working in Pakistan, women have fewer opportunities to fight societal changes caused by the climate.


Effects of Climate Change

The Global Climate Risk Index (CRI) quantifies the effects of extreme weather events, both in terms of mortalities and economic losses, and successively ranks countries from the highest (most impacted by extreme weather events) to the lowest (Eckstein et al., 2021). While Pakistan was not ranked in the CRI top ten countries most affected by climate change in the 2021 report, it ranks eighth in the countries most affected in timeline 2000 and 2019 (Eckstein et al., 2021). These countries can be divided into two groups: those most affected due to exceptional catastrophes, and those affected by extreme events on an ongoing basis. Unfortunately, Pakistan falls into the latter group (Idris, 2021). However, extreme and exceptional heatwaves are becoming more common. In 2016, below-average rainfall in the Tharparkar desert and southeastern Sindh during the monsoon resulted in drought and lower crop production, hence forcing hunger-stricken people to migrate to other areas searching for fertile lands (Ijaz, 2017). At the beginning of 2022, the temperature in Turbat, a city in the Balochistan region, repeatedly hit almost 50C (122F) for weeks, unprecedented for that time of the year. As a result, locals have been driven into their homes, unable to work except during the cooler night hours, and are facing critical shortages of water and power (Petersen & Baloch, 2022).

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s Minister for Climate Change, told the Guardian that the country was facing an “existential crisis” as climate emergencies were being felt from the north to south of the country. Rehman warned that the heatwave had been causing the glaciers in the country’s north to melt at an unprecedented rate, and thousands of people were at risk of being caught in flood bursts. She also said that the sizzling temperatures were not only impacting crops but water supply as well (Petersen & Baloch, 2022). Water scarcity is, indeed, another major problem in Pakistan. The Indus River is the primary source of freshwater for most of Pakistan. However, between 1990 and 2015, water availability per capita in Pakistan declined from 2,172 cubic metres per inhabitant to 1,306 cubic metres (Wasif, 2017). Moreover, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pakistan’s annual water availability per capita is now only 1,017 cubic metres — perilously close to the scarcity threshold of 1,000 cubic metres (Baloch, 2018). Indeed, it has been forecasted to reach absolute water scarcity (per capita annual water availability of 1,000 cubic metres) by 2025 (Baloch, 2018).


Populations hit by Climate Change

In terms of population at risk, women and minorities are the most vulnerable to climate change’s effects and natural disasters. Women, for instance, do not enjoy the same rights and socio-economic status as men, reflecting patriarchal norms and attitudes (Idris, 2021). Kayani (2017), in one of her studies, concluded that “women’s lack of property rights and land tenure means that they are often forced to work on less productive land and are excluded from access to agricultural training services or inputs that might enable them to diversify their livelihoods or increase their resilience to climate-related shocks such as flooding or drought”. She took as an example a small village in a Sindh district, where women who practised mostly fishing and related activities suffered from reduced economic opportunities as the population of fish considerably decreased due to changes in the weather (Kayani, 2017). Moreover, it has been reported that in many parts of the world, including in Pakistan, women cannot leave the house unaccompanied in order to learn those vital activities, for instance how to swim, and therefore, putting them at greater risk from floods and storms (Idris, 2021).

A new study has found that the rising temperatures exacerbate existing inequities among pregnant women, new mothers and their families in Sindh and Punjab provinces in Pakistan. The video released by the Research and Development Forum for Safe Motherhood Pakistan and the White Ribbon Alliance delivers an accurate sight into one piece of the climate crisis’s impact on sexual and reproductive health and rights.[1] In the video, the voice of pregnant women and new mothers testified how the rising in temperature, interlinked with the socio-economic situation, directly impacted their lives and those of their children. Studies, including the most recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, show that pregnant people are at high risk of heat-related illness.[2] Exposure to high temperatures is linked to stillbirth, premature birth, and low birth rates, all of which are associated with infant mortality (Nguyen, 2022). Moreover, the report also noted that climate change negatively affects a family’s income, including loss of food, quality of the water, and exposure to vector-borne diseases (Nguyen, 2022).

Unfortunately, extreme heat is set to increase due to human-caused climate change, and its impacts will be felt most acutely by certain populations (Nguyen, 2022). Alongside pregnant people, older people, people with disabilities, babies, and children will be increasingly hit by climate change. In March 2022, the United Nations’ annual “Commission on the Status of Women” zoomed in on “Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programs” (CSW66, n.d.).

Furthermore, governments must recognise that understanding this gendered process of climate change, is therefore fundamental in order to comprehend the local, national and international implications that climate change has on society in general. Moreover, environmental analysts opine that climate change will not affect only women and children but also those who already experience inequalities and discrimination. For instance, the lack of access to education, health, and job opportunities will exacerbate the situation further, thrusting more people into a “poverty trap” (Kunwar, 2022). Rimmel Mohydin, a campaigner at Amnesty International, stated, “Our rights to life, food, housing, water, and a healthy environment are all threatened by climate change, which also compounds and magnifies existing inequalities. Its increasingly frightening effects have become everyday life for the world’s poorest countries as wealthier countries continue to pass the buck” (Kunwar, 2022).



In conclusion, experts reiterate that Pakistan’s climate mitigation strategies must take a participatory approach. The concerned parties must ensure that women and other marginalised groups of the society are included in the decision-making process about the problems that affect them and provide them with unrestricted support to enable them to defend themselves in the face of any calamity (Kunwar, 2022). If the Pakistani government does not decide to invert the trajectory taken by its adherence to fossil fuels, the effects of climate change can trigger large-scale climate-induced migration in environmentally fragile areas (Ijaz, 2017). Understanding the aforementioned issues would imply a paradigm shift that puts gender concerns, the voice, and agency of women and girls at the centre of adaptation, mitigation, and disaster risk management, adopting policies that integrate, for example, gender equality and women empowerment strategies in climate change responses on local, national and international levels.



Ali, S., Liu,Y., Ishaq, M., Shah, T., Ilyas, A., Ud Din, I. (2017). Climate Change and Its Impact on the Yield of Major Food Crops: Evidence from Pakistan. Foods.

Baloch, S. (2018). Water crisis: why is Pakistan running dry?.  DW, retrieved 29 April 2022 from:

CSW66. (n.d.). CSW66 (2022). UN Women €“ Headquarters. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from

Eckstein, D. Kreft, S. Junghans, L. Kerestan, C. Hagen, U. (2015). Who Suffers Most From Extreme Weather Events? Weather-Related Loss Events in 2013 and 1994 to 2013. Global Climate Risk Index. Germanwatch: Bonn, Germany.

Ellis-Petersen, H., & Baloch, S. M. (2022). ‘We are living in hell’: Pakistan and India suffer extreme spring heatwaves. The Guardian. Retrieved June 20, 2022, from

Idris, I. (2021). Areas and population groups in Pakistan most exposed to combined effects of climate change, food insecurity and COVID-19. Helpdesk Report. Retrieved June 20, 2022

Ijaz, A. (2017). Climate Change and Migration in Pakistan. The Diplomat. Retrieved June 20, 2022, from

Iqbal, M.A. Ping, Q. Abid, M. Kazmi, S.M.M. Rizwan, M. (2016). Assessing risk perceptions and attitude among cotton farmers: A case of Punjab province, Pakistan. Int. J. Dis. Risk Reduce.

Kayani, M. (2017). Gendered dimensions of climate change in Pakistan: Reducing the vulnerabilities of rural women to climate change effects in the province of Sindh. Duke University. Retrieved June 20, 2022, from Mishalle%20A.Kayani.pdf?sequence=1

Kunwar, M. K. (2021). Climate change is a human rights cause. Pakistan Today. Retrieved June 20, 2022, from

Nguyen, E. (2022). Extreme Heat Dangers When Pregnant in Pakistan. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved April 29, 2022, from

Wasif, S. (2017). Pakistan risks running its water resources dry. The Express Tribune. Retrieved June 20, 2022, from

[1] For more info about the video:

[2] For more info about the report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) follow the link:



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Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

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