On August 25, 2022, Pakistan declared a state of emergency, reeling under a devastating flood, the worst in the country's history. The floods triggered by the monsoon started in mid-July this year, but an intense heat wave this summer had also melted snow from over 7000 glaciers, more than it does normally. The heavy rainfall — five to seven times the usual amount in August — compounded with the melted glaciers flowing downstream from the mountains, and submerged “one-third” of the country, affecting 33 million people. Over 1,486 people have been killed and over 12,700 have been injured in the floods since June, and the Pakistan government estimates the damage to the country would be over USD 30 billion.
Some were quick to point fingers at corruption and mismanagement for the cause of the devastation due to the floods; however, according to many, this is one of the consequences of climate change. By late August, the United Nations, along with Pakistan, had issued an urgent appeal to other countries for a global response to raise emergency funding of USD 160 million.
Samantha Power, an administrator for USAID tweeted:
Hard to capture the enormity & devastation of Pakistan’s floods. In stats: 33 million ppl affected. Over 1,300 ppl killed (⅓ children). 750k livestock killed. 1.7 million homes destroyed. 17,500 schools damaged.
In searing visuals from today, countless villages now underwater: pic.twitter.com/fPOSpD2bCh
— Samantha Power (@PowerUSAID) September 8, 2022
Satellite images showed that the floods have created a massive inland lake that is over 100 kilometres wide. Farhan Mahmood from Lahore tweeted:
— Farhan Mahmood (@only_farhann) September 10, 2022
Pakistani Twitter user Asim Jaffry highlighted UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres's call for aid:
#UN António Guterres in his visit to flood-ravaged Pakistan called urgent financial support, pointing out “Today it's Pakistan, tomorrow it could be your country wherever you live. This is a global crisis … it requires a global response.”#FloodReliefFund2022 #FloodsInPakistan
— asim jaffry (@jaffry05) September 12, 2022
I have never seen climate carnage on the scale of the floods here in Pakistan.
As our planet continues to warm, all countries will increasingly suffer losses and damage from climate beyond their capacity to adapt.
This is a global crisis. It demands a global response. pic.twitter.com/5nqcJIMoIA
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) September 10, 2022
Why the floods are so devastating this year?
The events that led to this catastrophe had global warming and climate change written all over them. In March and April 2022, India and Pakistan witnessed extreme weather events that led to an unprecedented heatwave, with some cities reaching a temperature of close to 50°C (122°F). Meteorologists predicted that these high temperatures would result in “above normal” levels of rain during the monsoon season, from July to September.
There is no data on exactly how much water from the excess glacial melt this year has trickled down into the rivers, especially the Indus river, which runs from the north to south of the country. Pakistani climate activist Rina S Khan Satti tweeted in May this year about a glacial lake burst causing more water to flow into the rivers:
Massive Glacial Lake Outburst Flood in Hunza from Shishpar glacier. No loss of life but the main bridge on KKH at Hassanabad also collapsed due to GLOF today! Climate change impacts from heatwaves to GLOFs now a reality in Pakistan and will get worse in weeks/months to come! pic.twitter.com/1ZxLJklxSN
— Rina S Khan Satti (@rinasaeed) May 7, 2022
In July 2022, Zia Hashmi, a water-resources engineer at the Global Change Impact Studies Centre in Islamabad, noticed high flows and muddy water in the high-altitude Hunza River of the Karakoram range, which feeds into the Indus river.
Artist Altamash Javed tweeted:
This is what I observed the first thing when I visited northern Pakistan.
Visible glacier melt.
🇵🇰 contributed less than 2% of global emissions but is now paying the greatest price.
Also this isn’t new info, scientists have been warning about this for decades ⚠️ pic.twitter.com/ubqtcWfOXr
— Λ l (@ALJVD1) August 30, 2022
Other factors in the flood include the heavy monsoon, influenced by the ongoing La Niña climate event, which triggered stronger monsoon rains in India and Pakistan. Along with the glacial melt, the heavy rainfall sent a large quantity of water into the country's entire stream system.
What's happening in #Pakistan is likely to be a catastrophic concatenation of multiple factors. Hotter planet means more air moisture (+7% each 1°C), leading to more extreme rain & greater risks of flooding. La Niña-induced rainfall can be unusually deadly https://t.co/nJzvdNw9og pic.twitter.com/eihsg8D38H
— Carbon Tracker (@CarbonBubble) September 12, 2022
If climate change persists, these extreme events will occur more regularly.
A renewed call for climate justice
The recent floods in Pakistan have put the spotlight back on climate justice. Climate reporter Fatima Syed lashed out at the world media for ignoring the Pakistan floods.
“While Pakistan is drowning, much of the world media is fixated on the new monarch of its former colonizer instead.”
— Fatima Syed (@fatimabsyed) September 14, 2022
Urban and environmental planner Sana Gondal quips:
Already exhausted by the idea of formerly colonized people being asked to “respect the dead” and her death taking over the news cycle like the floods in Pakistan have ended. If you post today, post about climate justice.
— SRG (@SanaRGondal) September 8, 2022
Climate activist Emaan Danish Khan tweeted:
Pakistan Climate catastrophe is nothing but climate injustice
Top map shows which nations are most responsible for excess emissions.
Bottom map shows which nations are most impacted by it. @omniaelomrani1 @Cop27P @davidrvetter @ClimateBen @nha3383 @bankimooncentre pic.twitter.com/RhkK1DTZoT
— Emaan Danish Khan (@EmaanzT) September 5, 2022
#PakistanIsOurStory is a climate justice movement that called for street action and gatherings on September 9, 2022, in several countries of the world asking for solidarity with the flood affected people in Pakistan. The campaign claims that the story is ours, not happening only in Pakistan and it will continue to repeat in other places in the future. International solidarity is required to support each other and to stop climate criminals.
Climate Action Pakistan expresses solidarity with global campaign #PakistanIsOurStory demanding climate reparations and an end to fossil fuels.
We believe that the Global North must be made accountable for the havoc they have created in Pakistan.#ClimateReparationsForPakistan pic.twitter.com/LOZ5RQvxIq
— Climate Action Now! → Pakistan (@ClimateActionPk) September 9, 2022
People gathered in countries like Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Germany, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland, the UK and the US to express their solidarity. There are many images available on their website.
At the US Capitol on Friday in solidarity w/ communities affected by the floods in Pakistan. The Global North governments must start repaying their climate debt by cancelling Pakistan’s burdensome financial debt so Pakistan can recover.#PakistanIsOurStory#ClimateJustice pic.twitter.com/Ytlhp9VB7i
— Extinction Rebellion Washington DC (@xr_dc_) September 11, 2022
Climate activist Mikaela Loach from the UK tweets:
Pakistan solidarity demo at the World Bank's offices in London happening now. Calling for Pakistan's debt to be cancelled and climate reparations paid #PakistanIsOurStory #ClimateReparationsNow #DebtJusticeNow pic.twitter.com/L8j9LIGkBf
— Mikaela Loach (@mikaelaloach) September 9, 2022
— Tabby ❤️✊️🌱✨🧚♂️🍉🌈🌍🌹🌞 (@TabbySpence8) September 9, 2022
Pakistani climate risk management expert, Ali Tauqeer Sheikh mentioned in an interview with Nepali Times that such extreme flooding will rise globally due to climate change, and that better flood management and mitigation are needed. The authorities said that Pakistan is still in danger from the ongoing floods and it could take up to six months for the flood waters to recede from some of the hard-hit areas.