Devastating Pakistan floods put climate change and climate justice under spotlight

A city in the Sindh province of Pakistan covered with flood water in August 2022. Image via Flickr by Ali Hyder Junejo. CC BY 2.0.

A city in the Sindh province of Pakistan almost completely underwater in August 2022. Image via Flickr by Ali Hyder Junejo. CC BY 2.0.

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:

Satellite images showed that the floods have created a massive inland lake that is over 100 kilometres wide. Farhan Mahmood from Lahore tweeted:

Pakistani Twitter user Asim Jaffry highlighted UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres's call for aid:

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:

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:

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.

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.

Urban and environmental planner Sana Gondal quips:

Climate activist Emaan Danish Khan tweeted:

Screenshot from the #PakistanIsOurStory campaign website

Screenshot from the #PakistanIsOurStory campaign website. Fair use.

#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.

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.

Climate activist Mikaela Loach from the UK tweets:

Solidarity with Pakistan by a member of the Extinction Rebellion Rutshuru, North Kivu province of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Via the Facebook page of XR Rutshuru DRC. Used with permission.

Solidarity with Pakistan by a member of the Extinction Rebellion Rutshuru, North Kivu province of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Via the Facebook page of XR Rutshuru DRC. Used with permission.

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.

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