Sunday, July 21, 2024

Deadly floods are destroying an already fragile Pakistan


Across Pakistan, torrents of floodwaters swept through the slopes of mountains, washed away buildings from their foundations, and swept through the countryside, turning entire regions into inland seas. More than 1,100 people have died so far and more than a million homes have been damaged or destroyed.

After nearly three months of incessant rain, most of Pakistan’s farmland is now under water, raising the specter of food shortages in what is likely to be the most devastating monsoon season in the country’s recent history.

“We are using boats and camels, by any means possible to deliver relief items to the hardest-hit areas,” said Faisal Amin Khan, a minister in the hard-hit mountainous province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “We’re doing our best, but our county is now hit worse than it was in the 2010 floods.”

That year, floods killed more than 1,700 people and displaced millions. At the time, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, described the catastrophe as… The worst he’s ever seen.

The crisis unfolding this summer is the latest extreme weather event in a country often rated as one of the most vulnerable to climate change. This spring, Pakistan began to witness a record high, and cause an extremely dry heat Scientists concluded The probability of its occurrence was 30 times due to human-caused global warming. Now most of the country is under water.

While scientists cannot yet determine how much current rainfall and flooding will be exacerbated by climate change, researchers agree that in South Asia and elsewhere, global warming is increasing the likelihood of heavy rains. When it falls into an area that also struggles with drought, it can be particularly harmful by causing sharp fluctuations Between too little water and too much, too quickly.

Pakistan is already suffering from skyrocketing food prices, as well as political instability, which leaves the country’s government completely shaky when leadership is most important. The former Prime Minister, Imran Khan, was forced out of office in April, and this month was Accused under anti-terror laws In the midst of a power struggle with the current leadership.

In the coastal city of Karachi, Afzal Ali, a 35-year-old garment factory worker who earns just over $100 a month, said on Monday that prices for staples like tomatoes had quadrupled in the past few days since the rains intensified. repeatedly. “Everything has already become expensive because of the high gasoline prices, and the recent floods will only make the situation worse,” he said.

On Monday, local news agencies quoted Pakistani Finance Minister Muftah Ismail as saying that the floods and the accompanying increases in food prices may prompt the government to reopen certain trade routes to India to ease supply problems despite the ongoing tensions between the two countries.

India itself has been so badly hit by the drought this year that it has drastically reduced its food exports. The decision deepened fears of a protracted global food crisis, driven in part by massive cuts to wheat and fertilizer supplies after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a major wheat producer.

The worsening economic and political crises in Pakistan – exacerbated by the pandemic-era economic stagnation and weak currency – will be further entrenched by this year’s floods. Ahsan Iqbal, the country’s planning minister, said he estimated the damages to exceed $10 billion and that it would take the greater part of a decade to rebuild the nation.

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s climate change minister, called the floods a “humanitarian disaster caused by climate change” of “epic proportions” and appealed for international aid. Only about $50 million has been allocated to Pakistan’s Ministry of Climate Change in this year’s budget, reflecting a cut of nearly a third as the government tries to cut back on spending.

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One business owner hoping for government help was Muhammad Saad Khan, owner of the Riverdale Resort, a hotel on the steep banks of the Swat River in the Hindu Kush mountains near the border with Afghanistan. The hotel car park and part of the main building were swept away over the weekend.

“The river flow was so high that water flowed into the rooms even though the hotel is built far from the river and at a height,” he said. “And we were actually the lucky ones.”

Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority said 162 bridges have so far been damaged by this year’s floods and washed away more than 2,000 miles of roads. Abrar ul-Haq, head of the Pakistan Red Crescent, said the combination of floods and high temperatures meant “the worst was yet to come” as conditions were ideal for the spread of waterborne diseases.

Some argue that Pakistan’s low levels of resilience and the frequent need for disaster assistance are not just issues of poor governance but of historical injustice. The long-running debate over the obligations of rich and polluting nations to help poor developing countries deal with climate change has become a sticking point in global climate negotiations.

Countries like Pakistan are much less industrialized than richer nations like the United States or Britain, which colonized Pakistan. As a result, over time, Pakistan and other countries have released only a small portion of the greenhouse gases that are warming the world, yet they suffer enormous damage, and are also expected to pay for costly modernization to reduce their current pollution.

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“Any flood relief provided should not be seen as ‘help,’ but rather as reparations for the injustices that have accumulated over the past few centuries,” said Nida Kermani, professor of sociology at Lahore College of Management Sciences.

The summer monsoon is central to life in South Asia, where a relatively reliable rainy season is essential for agriculture to thrive in a region of over a billion people. But scientists expect more of these monsoons to fall Dangerous and unexpected bursts As the planet continues to warm, largely for the simple reason that warmer air retains more moisture.

When the right atmospheric factors combine to generate heavy precipitation, there is more water available to rain down from the clouds than there was before greenhouse gas emissions began to warm the planet, said Noah Divinbow, a climate scientist at Stanford University. He studied the monsoons in South Asia.

This is true although average rainfall at the height of the rainy season over central India, which scientists call the “core” of the monsoon, decreased somewhat between 1951 and 2011, according to Dr. 2014 study. The reason for this apparent “paradox,” he said, was that the monsoons had become more volatile: strong downpours were interspersed with longer droughts. Instead of constant rainfall that reliably feeds crops, more rain is coming intermittently.

In the process, extreme fluctuations between periods of drought and floods can become part of a broader cycle of social and economic pressures.

“Floods are devastating, yes, and affect a lot of people in a short period of time,” said Jumina Siddiqui, senior program officer for South Asia at the United States Institute of Peace. “But drought, food security, inflation – these are climate-related disasters that occur on a large scale before, during and after these floods.”

Zia Rahman In Karachi, Pakistan, contributed reporting.