Extreme floods have devastated Pakistan, a South Asian nation home to about 225 million people, washing away buildings and roads, destroying farms and stranding hundreds of thousands. Over the weekend, government officials said the death toll had soared over 1,000 and that water had inundated about a third of the country.
The country’s climate minister Shery Rehman described the country as “one big ocean,” with no dry land to take the water out. It’s a “crisis of unimaginable proportions” and something the country “has never seen” before,” Rehman said. The summer rain in the country is the heaviest recorded in a decade, according to Rehman.
Summer is monsoon season in Pakistan, and this has been a particularly wet one, likely made worse by climate change. But there’s another reason behind the devastation: melting glaciers and snow. Pakistan has about 7,200 glaciers, more than anywhere outside the poles, and rising temperatures are making many of them melt faster, which adds extra “fuel” to the floods.
This then adds water to rivers and streams already swollen by rainfall. It’s an unfortunate situation for a country that’s responsible for only a small fraction of global greenhouse gas emissions, stressing how the pollution from developed countries is exported to other countries that are far less at blame. Like many others, Pakistan will bear the unequal burden of the climate crisis.
Pakistan is the eighth most affected nation by climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index by the NGO GermanWatch. People living in hotspots in South Asia are 15 times more likely to die from climate impacts, the analysis showed. UNICEF’s representative in Pakistan, Abdullah Fadil, told CNN the floods are a “climate crisis.”
The flooding crisis
The floods have killed at least 1,136 people and affected more than 33 million, over 15% of the country’s population, the government said. Roads, crops, homes, bridges and other infrastructure has been washed away, with an initial estimate of $10 billion worth of damage. The figure could be higher as the government assesses the crisis.
Pakistan’s planning minister Ahsan Iqbal said the country could face severe food shortages in the coming weeks and months and believed that the floods were worse than those that affected the country in 2010, the deadliest in Pakistan’s history, leaving over 2,000 dead. He also called on rich countries to help Pakistan financially.
Days before the floods, Pakistan was granted a $1.1 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) due to its limited foreign currencies in reserve and 25% annual inflation rate. In a statement, the IMF said Pakistan’s economy was affected by adverse external conditions due to the war in Ukraine and domestic issues.
In a statement, the International Rescue Committee, an NGO in Pakistan, said a lack of clean drinking water and hygiene facilities had increased the risk of diseases spreading in flooded areas. There are already 20,000 people in need of critical food and medical supplies, with an increase in cases of skin infections, malaria, and diarrhea, the IRC said.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) announced it will allocate $30 million in aid assistance in response to the flooding. In a statement, USAID said it will prioritize “urgently needed support for food, nutrition, safe water and improved sanitation and hygiene.” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said “every penny of aid will reach the needy.”