Ever since Pakistan’s monsoon season began in mid-June, the country has withstood unprecedentedly heavy rains. More than 33 million people have been affected, while the International Rescue Committee (IRC) reported over 1,100 deaths, alongside the destruction of over one million homes and crops nationwide. Yet aside from a great sense of loss and grief, Pakistan’s residents seem to feel wronged after realizing that the worst effects of climate change, a major cause of the heavy flooding, have been borne by them even though they have done little to exacerbate rising temperatures.
While flooding is not an uncommon occurrence in the South Asian country, this year’s monsoon has been unusually heavy. In Pakistan’s wettest monsoon season since 1961, more than one-third of the land has been submerged. Many have pointed out that the impact the unprecedented torrent has had on the country is comparable to its 2010 floods, which left more than 2,000 people dead.
Apart from the list of deaths, millions have been displaced as their homes and livelihoods were destroyed. This includes at least 650,000 pregnant women and girls, with an estimated 73,000 of them expected to give birth in the coming weeks. Furthermore, many of these mothers, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), lack access to healthcare and proper medical assistance.
A senior citizen by the name of Malang Jan confessed that he and his family have been consuming rice only for the last 3 days when Jan’s family was rescued by boat after his house was drowned in the flood. Jan told AFP, “I never thought that one day we will have to live like this. We have lost our heaven and are now forced to live a miserable life."
In addition to women and the elderly, the floods have created havoc for at least 18,000 schools nationwide. UNICEF stated that in areas where one-third of girls and boys were already out of school due to two years of pandemic restrictions, the floods mean that even more children “once again risk further disruption to their learning.” There have already been reports of diarrhea, water-borne illnesses, respiratory infections, and skin conditions amongst the affected children, whose immune systems are bound to be weaker than that of adults.
The IRC has undertaken an emergency response to provide assistance to affected individuals in both Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. Nearly 27,000 people have been supported by the IRC’s distribution of food supplies and setting up of medical response centers.
Furthermore, the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched an Emergency Appeal for 25 million Swiss Francs to support relief and recovery operations for an estimated 324,000 individuals, in light of the flooding and in anticipation of further effects.
Pakistan’s climate minister Sherry Rahman said on 29th August that the material damage done by the floods can be foreseen to exceed $10 billion. In particular, the South-end Sindh and Balochistan provinces of the country have been hit the hardest and show minimal signs of improvement. Overall, Rahman called the floods a ‘crisis of unimaginable proportions.’
Such an unimaginable crisis became a reality through climate change. Not only have rising temperatures increased the rate of condensation and thus rainfall worldwide, but Pakistan has also always been especially vulnerable to extreme heat due to the 7,000 glaciers that reside in its mountainous northern region. The increased melting of these glaciers has significantly contributed to the unparalleled flooding crisis.
At this point, it is not unreasonable to think this: “not another article telling us to be aware of climate change!” However, a deeper analysis of Pakistan’s story will reveal just how deeply our environmental choices in one part of the world can affect the livelihoods of those living in even its most remote corners.
Firstly, it is telling that Pakistan emits less than 1% of the world’s planet-warming gasses but is the eighth most vulnerable nation to the climate crisis, according to the Global Climate Risk Index. This sad truth highlights the fact that the roots and issues caused by climate change are not limited by borders or political rivalries that our world leaders are overly fond of bringing up.
And it is not just Pakistan - countries in the Asia-Pacific region have run into more natural calamities than any other region globally. According to the World Economic Forum, 236 floods occurred between 2014-17 in Asian countries alone. The IPCC also found in 2021 that there had been a considerable rise in extreme rainfall occurrences in south Asia during the previous few decades.
To make matters worse, many of these countries have sizable, rising populations and high rates of poverty, meaning that these people are much more vulnerable to harm in the face of natural disasters like floods. For example, poorer coastal towns and farms frequently lack the resources to construct adequate sea defenses, leaving them vulnerable to monsoon rains and storms.
Furthermore, high concentrations of people are being compelled by the process of industrialization to living in overcrowded cities. Densely populated urban areas are more vulnerable to natural disasters, especially those close to significant rivers and seas. This is because a wide, closely-packed array of infrastructure and people are immediately exposed to the winds, rains, and floods that generate the force on open water.
The frequency of natural disasters affecting economies and people exponentially accelerates as we move from 1.5 to 2 degrees of warming, according to IPCC studies, which reveals a shocking upsurge in the effects of global warming. But although climate change is a worldwide phenomenon, it is important to keep in mind that its effects are much more heavily felt in countries that do not have as great an ability to defend themselves from natural hazards, such as Pakistan. In the future, those of us living in privileged societies should be more aware of the potential impact our environmental choices have on others around the world.
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