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After eight consecutive weeks of intense rainfall, Pakistan is facing an unprecedented crisis. The floods have killed more than 1,000 people, affected more than 33 million people (out of the country’s estimated 220 million), destroyed a million homes and destroyed more than 3,500 kilometers of roads, authorities said. A situation that only further destabilizes an already economically fragile country.
The 2022 monsoon will forever be remembered by Pakistanis. According to Sherry Rehman, the country’s climate change minister, a third of the country is now under water. “I can say without fear of objection that this flood situation is probably the worst in Pakistan’s history,” Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said, according to comments published by The Washington Post. Several hundred thousand people have been placed in emergency camps, and the death toll continues to rise as relief efforts progress.
Today, Pakistani leaders are calling on developed countries that they believe are responsible for these extreme weather conditions to come to their aid. “We want to show this to the developed world in particular. For the quality of life that Westerners enjoy today, someone is paying the price in developing countries,” said Ahsan Iqbal, Minister of Planning and Development. “No country can face the multiple and cascading effects of extreme weather events alone,” Rehman wrote on his Twitter account.
Towards food insecurity and health risks
Khairpur district in the southern province of Sindh is one of the hardest hit areas. After the water slowly rose for almost two months, the water suddenly rose, engulfing several villages in the process. More than 1700 mm of precipitation fell in the city of Padidan in one day! “Unheard of, nowhere,” commented the climate change minister.
The city of Karachi, the economic and financial center of the country, received more than 1200 mm of rain in two months, while it usually receives less than 250 mm of rain per year. Water pumps have been distributed to residents, but this equipment is not very useful given the scale of the disaster.
People who were forced to leave their homes are placed in makeshift camps, but rescuers lack equipment, medicine, food and drinking water. “We have over 33 million people to help and government resources are stretched to the limit,” Rehman told Sky News.
In addition to the loss of life and untold property damage caused by this apocalyptic monsoon, another major problem is looming on the horizon: food shortages. “Most of Sindh’s crops are damaged. Half of the country’s breadbasket is gone,” the minister warned. In total, about 80,000 hectares of agricultural land were devastated and more than 710,000 farm animals died underwater; market prices for vegetables have already skyrocketed. There are also health risks: standing water encourages mosquito breeding and raises fears of a malaria epidemic.
Experts say a growing number of extreme weather events around the world, including floods, are being driven by rising temperatures. Warmer temperatures do mean there is more water in the air: for every additional degree, the air can hold about 4% more water, resulting in heavy rainfall. Ironically, greenhouse gas emissions come mainly from the richest countries, but developing countries suffer the consequences.
Chain of extreme events
Pakistan is also paying the price here for years of global warming delay, explains Ayesha Siddiqi, a climate specialist in South Asia at the University of Cambridge. Due to population pressure, residents struggle to find a place to settle and sometimes go so far as to occupy flood-prone areas. In addition, in the poorest regions, the structures are not very durable and are not protected from the weather.
This year, Pakistan has unfortunately experienced a string of devastating weather events. With the onset of winter, the country experienced four successive heatwaves (with temperatures repeatedly exceeding 50°C) and a severe drought that severely affected agriculture. And in the past two months, the country has received rainfall about four times the average for the past 30 years. The mass of water pouring out of the rivers has already swelled due to the accelerated melting of the Himalayan glaciers. “We are literally at the forefront of an ongoing climate disaster. The rest will happen later. It’s time for all of us to realize this,” Rehman stressed.
Unfortunately, these floods come at a time when the country was already in dire financial straits: skyrocketing global commodity prices, combined with a rising US dollar, pushed up electricity and food prices. At Pakistan’s request, the International Monetary Fund allocated $1.1 billion to the country on Monday. But flood damage is estimated at $11 billion, according to the finance minister, which is unlikely to help the situation.
However, the country will receive $30 million from the US Agency for International Development, as well as a $3 million envelope from the UN. “This super flood is caused by climate change; the causes are international and therefore the response requires international solidarity,” said Julien Harneys, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan.