Ukraine launches counteroffensive. Foreign naval ships banned from Solomon Islands. Heavy fighting in Baghdad after Sadr ‘quits’ politics. By Jonathan Pearlman.

UN calls for action as Pakistan floods turn ‘apocalyptic’

A man walks his bicycle through floodwaters following record rainfall in Nowshera, Pakistan, this week.
A man walks his bicycle through floodwaters following record rainfall in Nowshera, Pakistan, this week.
Credit: Reuters / Fayaz Aziz

Great power rivalry 

Ukraine: Heavy fighting erupted in southern Ukraine this week as the country’s military launched its first major counteroffensive since the invasion to try to regain territory occupied by Russia in the Kherson region. 

The attacks marked a change in tactics for Ukraine’s military, which has largely conducted defensive operations. Regaining territory is likely to require significant troop numbers, especially as Kherson was captured in the early stages of the war, which has given Russia months to dig in.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said he planned to take back all areas occupied by Russia since 2014, including Crimea and territory in the eastern Donbas region. “If they want to survive, it is time for the Russian military to flee,” he said in a video address.

The Ukrainian assault followed a lengthy stalemate in which fighting continued but neither country’s military made substantial gains. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin recently ordered an increase in the size of his military by 137,000 troops to 1.15 million by January 2023, a sign that he is preparing for a prolonged war.

The war is causing chaos across Europe, as a halt to the flow of Russian energy supplies has led to power shortages and soaring inflation. Europe relied on Russia for 40 per cent of its gas before the war but supplies have dwindled as Europe has tried to wean itself off Russian energy. Russia has retaliated by reducing its supply. 

Gas prices last week were seven times higher than the same period last year. But prices are set to worsen as Europe enters winter and demand soars. 

To preserve energy, France, Spain and Italy have ordered limits on the use of airconditioning, and German authorities ordered the lights at the Brandenburg Gate and Cologne’s cathedral to be turned off at night. 

In Germany, residents have been preparing for the winter by stockpiling wood. The head of Germany’s Federal Association of Chimney Sweeps, Alexis Gula, told DW News that demand for wood stoves had increased by up to 40 per cent and that buyers no longer bought them to be “cosy” but to ensure they were ready for winter. 

The neighbourhood 

Solomon Islands: On Tuesday, Solomon Islands banned foreign naval ships from visiting amid tensions with Washington over a refusal to allow a United States vessel to dock.

The announcement by the Solomon Islands prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, came hours after the US embassy in Canberra confirmed it had been formally notified of a moratorium on naval visits “pending updates in protocol procedures”.

The move followed an incident last week in which Solomon Islands refused to give routine clearance for a US Coast Guard vessel to access a port in Honiara to refuel. The vessel was patrolling for illegal fishing in the region and was diverted to Papua New Guinea. Washington expressed “regret” over the incident and said it “expect[s] all future clearances will be provided to US ships”.

Ties between Solomon Islands and the US, Australia and their allies have deteriorated since Honiara signed a secret security deal with China earlier this year. A leaked draft indicated that the pact would allow Chinese ships to dock and replenish.

Sogavare has pushed for closer ties with Beijing, including switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 2019. Earlier this month, Solomon Islands reached a deal with China that will allow for the construction of 161 mobile phone towers by Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. Australia previously built an underwater cable to Solomon Islands to prevent Huawei securing the contract.

Democracy in retreat 

Iraq: At least 30 people were killed this week during heavy fighting in Baghdad that erupted after Moqtada al-Sadr – one of Iraq’s most powerful figures – announced on Twitter he was quitting politics.

Sadr, a Shia Muslim cleric, heads a bloc that won the most seats at the election last October but has been unable to form a ruling coalition. Following his announcement that he was stepping aside from political life, his supporters entered the Green Zone – the former stronghold of the US military that is now the site of government offices and embassies. The ensuing clashes between Shia groups and the Iraqi army led to the worst violence in Baghdad for years and prompted authorities to impose a nationwide curfew. 

On Tuesday, Sadr, speaking from his base in the city of Najaf, apologised for the unrest and urged his supporters to retreat. 

The president of Iraq, Barham Salih, this week called for new elections to end the political deadlock, and the prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, said he would stand aside if the violence worsened.

Sadr rose to international prominence after he led a militia against American and Iraqi forces after the 2003 US-led invasion. Though he was initially closely aligned with Iran, he has refashioned himself as a nationalist who opposes foreign meddling. He has announced his retirement on multiple occasions, prompting speculation that his exploits this week were intended to demonstrate his hold over his massive support base.

Spotlight: Disaster in Pakistan

Two months ago, unseasonably early monsoon rains began pelting down across Pakistan. But the downpours didn’t stop. 

The rains have led to devastating flooding across the country, leaving more than 1100 people dead and forcing 500,000 people to flee their homes. About a third of the country is underwater and more than a million houses have been damaged or destroyed. 

On Tuesday, the climate change minister, Sherry Rehman, said conditions were “apocalyptic”, noting that the south-eastern town of Padidan had received 1700 millimetres of rain in a day. “Unheard of, anywhere,” she said on Twitter. Other reports put the figure at 12oo millimetres.

Rainfall in Pakistan from August 1 to 26 was three times higher than average. In provinces such as Balochistan and Sindh, the rainfall was more than six times and eight times the average, respectively.

Pakistan, which has about 235 million residents, was already facing economic challenges, but the crisis has worsened as the floods wiped out buildings, farmland, livestock, roads and more than 160 bridges. The damage is expected to cost about $US10 billion.

Pakistan’s government has appealed for international support, saying that it was suffering the effects of climate change even though its carbon emissions per capita are among the lowest in the world. 

On Tuesday, the United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, described the disaster in Pakistan as a “climate catastrophe”.

“Let’s stop sleepwalking towards the destruction of our planet by climate change,” he said. “Today, it’s Pakistan. Tomorrow, it could be your country.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 3, 2022 as "UN calls for action as Pakistan floods turn ‘apocalyptic’".

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