Beginning mid-June and ending late August, the monsoonal rainfall poured ceaselessly over Pakistan, submerging one-third of the country, particularly the southern provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. It was the wettest August has been since 1961 with almost 15 inches of rain a day, displacing over 33 million people, killing around 1,700 individuals, and wrecking two million homes in the process. The floods destroyed 18,000 square kilometers of land and 45% of their key export crop cotton. The agriculture sector’s losses totaled to $2.3 billion, completely undoing recovery efforts after the extreme spring heatwaves and thereby triggering an even worse inflation, leading up to a 27% increase in consumer prices.
Role of climate change
Scientists at World Weather Attribution analyzed the 60-day and five-day heaviest rainfall in the summer nationwide and in the two southern provinces Sindh and Balochistan respectively, year by year, if climate change were not a reality. They found that when comparing these results to the actual amount of rainfall, the 60-day total rainfall in reality increased by 50% and the five-day total increased by 75%. This is all despite the fact that Pakistan has a very small carbon footprint – less than 1% to be exact.
It is important to note that Pakistan had experienced extreme heat waves in spring of this year. The scientists determined that the scorching temperatures made the extreme monsoons 30% more likely for Pakistan. Anders Levermann, who is a physicist at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, believes that warmer temperatures have exacerbated rainfall by constantly providing moisture in the cycle from heat waves to monsoons.
The Pakistani government’s contingency plans were based on estimates of “above normal precipitation,” which turned out to be an understatement with an 800% above average precipitation in Sindh. The expectations that highways would stay intact, roads would be available for transportation of relief goods, fell quickly, as the wreckage rendered 13,000 kilometers of roads obsolete.
One particular threat laid in Lake Manchar’s dam rupturing and causing the flooding of districts in Sindh, the government coordinated two intentional breaches to further lower the pressure and level of water so as to prevent further flooding of other towns and cities. However, water levels of Lake Manchar continued to rise, rendering such efforts useless. Beyond the $30 billion in damages from the flooding, outbreaks of malaria, lack of dry land for displaced families, and a surplus of dirty, unpurified water have complicated relief efforts. The public sentiment suggests that had the government practiced stricter management of water resources or even enforced uniform structures to be able to withstand potential flooding, the crises would not have had such a severe impact on the poor and middle class.
Medical care has been at the forefront of these efforts. The monsoons left 10% of all Pakistan’s health facilities damaged, increased vulnerability of pregnant mothers, and extreme exposure to malaria, cholera, and dingue. The Aga Khan University Hospital located in Karachi has been working with the government to distribute these services across Sindh and Balochistan, along with providing access to clean water through chlorine tablets and oral rehydration salts. In addition, Prime minister Shahbaz Sharif has promised reparations to “those who lost homes and crops,” distributing funds to those most affected. Yet, the complicated back and forth between institutions, such as the high court and the district commissioners in Sindh, have led to an inefficient distribution of supplies, increased hoarding tendencies, and distrust within the political sphere.
In late August, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres unveiled a $160 million Floods Response Plan (FRP) focused on providing “urgent and life saving humanitarian assistance to 9.5 million people until 31 May 2023.” He recently revised the amount of aid by a five-fold increase to $816 million. This appeal addresses the destroyed houses, water level changes, and displaced population among the 34 most-affected districts in Pakistan. The aid is expected to help Pakistan recover from the damages and provide food, clean water, hygiene kits, shelter, and healthcare to the victims.
The rising humanitarian crises, unfortunately, means that women, girls, and other marginalized groups are the most affected. Over 650,000 pregnant women are directly affected by the flood, 73,000 of which are near their delivery date. This is out of the 1.6 million women who are of childbearing age. The mothers have little to no supply of food for themselves to breastfeed, nourish their underweight babies, or protect themselves from the extreme temperatures. Given that around 90% of women in Pakistan are reported to have experienced some form of domestic violence within the past year, as well as the Pakistani government’s lack of attention to this issue, there is greater risk for gender-based violence. The UN Populations Fund has focused on distributing kits for newborns, delivery, and hygiene to the most affected areas – Sindh, Balochistan, and Punjab. In addition, over 16 million children have been affected by the floods; this is worsened by the fact that diseases like malaria and dengue fever target malnourished children especially.
The international aid organization CARE expects recovery efforts to take years, possibly a decade. Inevitably, however lacking the government’s response may be, institutions are all that the victims in Pakistan can look towards for emergency relief and assistance. With international aid and better constructive response from the Pakistani government, there is hope that the victims will be able to weather this humanitarian crisis.
Kaitlyn Jung is a sophomore majoring in Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. She is from Johns Creek, Georgia, and is a member of the Editorial Team of the Hopkins Podcast on Foreign Affairs.