Pakistan warns ‘monsoon monsoon’ season, exacerbated by ‘climate catastrophe’, could flood a third of the country
Islamabad – Authorities in Pakistan have issued an emergency appeal for international humanitarian assistance to victims of the 2022 “monsoon monsoon” season risen above 1,000. Flooding from weeks of torrential rain has left hundreds of thousands of people homeless in the South Asian nation already reeling from a deep economic crisis.
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari warned Sunday night that the floods caused by this year’s extreme monsoon rains, in addition to meltwater pouring down from Pakistan’s glaciers, would worsen the country’s economic problems and that financial help would be needed.
“I have never seen destruction of this magnitude. I find it very difficult to put that into words,” he said. “It’s overwhelming.”
According to Bhutto-Zardari, at least 30 million of Pakistan’s 220 million people have been affected in some way by the floods.
Lives and homes lost to the floods
At least 1,061 people were killed in the floods that began with the seasonal monsoon rains in mid-June, and that number is set to rise as many communities in the mountainous northern regions remain cut off from flood-swollen rivers that washed away roads and bridges.
Army helicopters have struggled to ferry people cut off by torrents to safety in the north, where steep hills and valleys make for treacherous flying conditions.
Many rivers in the region — which is a scenic tourist destination when there are no monsoon rains — have burst their banks, sweeping away dozens of buildings, including a 150-room hotel that collapsed into a torrent.
The swollen Swat River has forced tens of thousands of people in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to flee their homes and seek shelter in relief camps set up in government buildings. But with so many displaced, provincial government spokesman Kamran Bangash said many people were simply camping out on roadsides, desperate to avoid the floods wherever they could find higher ground.
Bangash said around 330,000 people had been evacuated from villages in Charsadda and Nowshehra districts alone. Devastation was also intense in the southern provinces of Balochistan and Sindh.
Bhutto-Zardari said at least 1 million tents were among the most-needed supplies to temporarily house those left homeless by the floods.
‘Climate catastrophe’ leaving Pakistan under water
Pakistan’s climate minister has warned that a third of the country could be under water if this year’s “monsoon monsoon” flooding recedes. Pakistan gets an average of three or four monsoon rains a season, but this year has been bad. The country is currently in the eighth phase of the summer’s relentless rains.
“We could well have a quarter or a third of Pakistan under water,” said Sherry Rehman, a Pakistani senator and federal minister for climate change, on Sunday.
She said Pakistan is experiencing a “serious climate catastrophe”.
“We are right now at zero on the frontline of extreme weather events, in a relentless cascade of heat waves, wildfires, flash floods, multiple glacial lake outbursts, flooding and now the monster monsoon of the decade is unleashing non-stop devastation across the country,” Rehman said.
She warned that the warming climate is accelerating the melting of glaciers in Pakistan’s mountainous north and exacerbating the effects of heavy rains. Pakistan has 7,532 glaciers, more than anywhere else outside the polar regions.
Officials say Pakistan is unfairly bearing the consequences of irresponsible environmental practices in other parts of the world. The country ranks eighth in Germanwatch’s global climate risk index, which lists countries considered to be most vulnerable to extreme weather conditions caused by climate change.
“Pakistan faces increasingly devastating climate-related droughts and floods. Although the country produces less than 1% of the world’s carbon footprint, it suffers from the consequences of the idleness of the world‘ IRC Pakistan Country Director Shabnam Baloch said in a statement on Monday.
But domestic problems do not help. Corruption, poor planning and disregard for local regulations have resulted in thousands of buildings being erected in areas prone to seasonal flooding.
A cry for help
Bhutto-Zardari said on Sunday that the floods would take an even greater economic toll on Pakistan than the coronavirus pandemic, and he made it clear that help was needed as soon as possible.
Much of this year’s harvest has been wiped out, he noted, and in a country where so many people depend on agriculture to support themselves and their families, “obviously this will have an impact on the overall economic situation.”
The non-profit organization International Rescue Committee announced an urgent appeal for donations, saying Monday that more than 30 million people were “in urgent need” due to the floods.
“Since mid-June, the monsoon has destroyed 3,000 kilometers of roads, 130 bridges and 495,000 houses. Sindh and Balochistan provinces have seen 784% and 500% heavier than average rainfall, respectively, with more monsoon rains expected in the coming weeks. With more than 4 million acres of crops damaged and nearly 800,000 livestock killed, the IRC expects food insecurity to rise sharply and the economy to be severely impacted,” the charity said.
Pakistani officials reiterated these concerns and made it clear that they would need help wherever they could get it.
“I would expect not only the International Monetary Fund but also the international community and international organizations to really grasp the extent of the devastation,” Foreign Minister Bhutto-Zardari said.
The US and UK governments have each pledged around $1 million in emergency aid, and the first foreign aid began flowing to Pakistan on flights from Turkey and the United Arab Emirates on Monday.
Pakistan was already facing high inflation, a depreciating currency and a cash deficit, and Bhutto-Zardari said he hoped the flood emergency would persuade the IMF’s board this week to release $1.2 billion as part of the release the next installments of an already ongoing national bailout program from the global bailout fund.