Explained | Why Are the Floods in Pakistan So Severe?

Pakistan has been hit by the worst floods in recorded history, leaving one-third of the country inundated.

4 min read
Edited By :Ahamad Fuwad

Pakistan has been devastated by floods. Over 1,200 people have lost their lives, at least 350 of them children. As of this report on 3 September, 33 million people have been affected by the floods, with tens of millions displaced from their homes.

Satellite images from the European Space Agency paint a grim picture – More than one million homes have been destroyed and one-third of the country is now inundated.

The country has sustained billions of dollars worth of damage, in what the government and the World Health Organization has called the "worst floods in Pakistan's history." Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has said that the damage to infrastructure will cost over $10 billion to repair.

The floods in Pakistan come even as neighbouring China reports an unprecedented heatwave and other parts of the world, including India, report abnormally high temperatures.

What's behind the floods in Pakistan? How will the country recover from the crisis? And should India be worried about a climate crisis on our own shores?

We spoke to climate change scientists to find out.


What Is the Current Flood Situation in Pakistan?

Pakistan has been hit by the worst floods in recorded history, leaving one-third of the country inundated.

Images of Pakistan from the European Space Agency's satellite, captured on 31 August 2022.

(Photo Courtesy: European Space Agency)

The current floods in the country began following unusually heavy rains in June. The monsoon, which usually begins in July and continues till September, began earlier than usual in mid-June.

The last time Pakistan witnessed floods of this scale was in 2010, when over 9,50,000 people were affected and over 1,980 lost their lives following flooding in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Punjab, and Balochistan regions.

The ongoing floods have already affected over 33 lakh people and taken over 1,200 lives.

“All four of Pakistan’s provinces have been severely hit by the riverine floods and excessive rainfall in hill torrents, with some rural regions unreachable by road."
Dr. Mohsin Hafeez, Representative for the International Water Management Institute, Pakistan

The floods have destroyed 5,000 kilometres of roads and railways, making relief access to those affected even more challenging. Over 2 million acres of crops have been destroyed, and nearly 800,000 heads of livestock have been killed in the flood. Pakistan, which was already in the grips of an economic crisis, is now facing a worsening food crisis.

"We are working closely with the federal, provincial, and local governments to help assess the flood damage using remote sensing and satellite imagery to support prioritisation of humanitarian responses."
Dr Mohsin Hafeez, Representative for the International Water Management Institute, Pakistan

According to the State Bank of Pakistan's 2019 data on food security, over half of all children in the country under the age of five suffer from stunted growth, and the per capita consumption of high-nutrition food is 6-10 times lower than developed countries. All of these problems have been exarcebated by the present floods.

Why Is Pakistan Flooding?

In simple terms – climate change. While Pakistan witnesses heavy rain every monsoon, this has been the wettest monsoon since the Pakistan Meteorological Department began maintaining weather records in 1961.

The exact reason for this isn't limited to just one aspect of climate change. Climate change scientists state that it may be linked to several factors.

Rainfall that's ten times heavier than the annual average has led to the Indus river overflowing, creating a massive lake that spans tens of kilometers, according to the European Space Agency's satellite imagery on 30 August.

The Sindh and Balochistan provinces have also received rainfall 500 percent above the average recorded rainfall.

"Pakistan is one of the top 10 nations most vulnerable to climate change and the worst affected provinces of Balochistan and Sindh have received 400 per cent more precipitation this year than their 30-year average."
Dr Mohsin Hafeez, Representative for the International Water Management Institute, Pakistan

The impact of climate change isn't limited to just our neighbours. In India as well, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Odisha have been battling flash floods, while Kerala and Karnataka have been put on yellow alert for flooding.


The Inevitable Reality of Climate Change

Extreme Weather Events have become commonplace around the world, especially in the last decade. Climate experts have correlated these disasters with climate change. How does climate change affect rains and sea levels? The answer to that is two-pronged.

Increasing global temperatures lead to the melting of glaciers and the polar ice caps, this leads to a rise in sea level. In Pakistan, this has led to over 3,000 new lakes and water bodies being formed.

The second impact of climate change is that the rise in global temperatures leads to accelerated evaporation. The increase in evaporation from the oceans and lakes leads to an increase in atomspheric precipitation, which results in more rains.

In Pakistan, this situation is exarcebated by three factors:

  • Pakistan has the highest number of glaciers in the world apart from the polar icecaps.

  • A majority of Pakistan's population lives along the Indus river, which is prone to flooding.

  • And finally, Pakistan is prone to the worst of both extremes of weather – extreme heatwaves and torrential rains.

"The unprecedented and early heatwave this year also accelerated the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush, and Karakoram mountain ranges, creating thousands of glacial lakes in northern Pakistan, around 30 of which could cause a deluge."
Dr. Mohsin Hafeez, Representative for the International Water Management Institute, Pakistan

Pakistan now faces a crisis on four fronts – the country was already in the grips of a political and economic crisis before the floods, and now it faces fresh challenges from a lack of access to food and healthcare.

The destruction of over 800 medical institutions has crippled its medical infrastructure and the destruction of over 5,000 kms of roads has choked access to food.

While the proverbs we were taught said, "you reap what you sow," Pakistan is reaping the worst of a crop it did not sow. The nation is responsible for less than one percent of total carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, but its location makes it prone to bearing the worst of climate change's effects.

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Edited By :Ahamad Fuwad
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