Revisiting the Emergency in Pakistan:

Floods and Loss of Life

United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle
N K Initials for Niamh Kelly

9th of November 2022

Over the summer, Pakistan faced one of the deadliest floods the world has seen since 2017. According to Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, more than 33 million people have been affected by the floods, and more than 1,000 have died since mid-June. The floods have been caused by record-breaking monsoon rains and have primarily affected the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. According to Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman, rainfall indexes in these areas increased by 784% and 500% respectively, in comparison with the average rainfall index for the month of August. The situation in Pakistan continues to deteriorate through October, and has left the country in a state of ongoing emergency.

The humanitarian situation is expected to worsen, as communities and infrastructure lack crisis response capacity. As the monsoon rains continue to fall, river overflows and landslides further aggravate the crisis: authorities are unable to reach affected areas. According to the disaster management agency almost one million homes were damaged, over 218,000 were destroyed,  and close to 500,000 people have been displaced and are now living in relief camps. Additionally, education authorities in the country stated that at least 17,700 schools have been damaged or destroyed by the floods. As of August 30, one in every seven people in the country has been affected by the floods. “Literally, one-third of Pakistan is underwater right now, which has exceeded every boundary, every norm we’ve seen in the past, we’ve never seen anything like this” Minister Sherry Rehman told AFP news agency

The floods have been compared to the 2010 floods of Pakistan, which is deemed as the deadliest in the country’s history. However, experts have highlighted key differences: while the 2010 floods were caused by river overflows during the monsoon season, the current floods are a direct result of climate change. Not only have they been caused by the alterations in rainfall patterns, but also by burst glaciers, lack of infrastructure, and unfit urban planning. Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, an Islamabad-based independent expert on climate change, told Al Jazeera that different flood types can be identified, such as riverine floods, urban floods, glacier burst floods, and flash flooding. “Climate change is a threat multiplier”, Sheikh stated. 

The lack of government capacity, development planning, and adequate infrastructure were identified as main issues in the emergency. According to a report by the International Rescue Committee, the government has claimed that it will take at least five years for the country to rebuild and rehabilitate the nation, while in the near term it will be confronted with acute food shortages. Almost half of the country’s cotton crop has been washed away and vegetable, fruit, and rice fields have sustained significant damage, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said. A Flood Response Plan by the Pakistan Government and the United Nations was launched on August 30, focusing on food security, assistance for agriculture and livestock, shelter and non-food items, nutrition programmes, primary health services, protection, water and sanitation, women’s health, and education support, as well as shelter for displaced people.

“This super flood is driven by climate change – the causes are international and so the response calls for international solidarity”, Julien Harneis, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, stated. Developing countries in the global South are especially vulnerable to extreme climate conditions, and sadly, they lack both economic and capacity resources to effectively respond to such crises. The number of affected people keeps rising like the tide, and the question remains: when will the international community act to stop climate change?

 

Featured photo, an aerial view of a flooded residential area in Sindh Province, southeastern Pakistan is from UNICEF and can be found here.

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