The sun sets on another dark night in many Pakistani villages, where the worst flood on record left a third of the country submerged in putrid green water. A sunken landmass equal to the island of Britain also represents 33 million people displaced, over 2 million homes lost, and over 1500 lives lost. The families who have not lost their lives outright have been forcefully moved into lives not their own, packing surviving belongings in boats and relocating to nearby towns, where international aid organizations have pitched millions of tents for those without a dry place to sleep. In one interview, a woman shared that “the people sitting on the roadsides are fed by private charity organizers who come with food and goods, and the rest of the time, they sleep hungry. When Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif was visiting nearby, the administration provided us with just one bottle of water, but after he left, no one came to ask what condition we were living in.” In one of the worst hit areas, the Sindh Province in southern Pakistan, floodwater completely submerged 300 villages and isolated many others from outside access. In that province alone, the area submerged is around 40,000 square miles, some officials reported, roughly the size of the state of Virginia.
While it may not be obvious at first glance, the ravages of this flood can be traced back to the effects of global warming. Every year the monsoon season, expected between early June and late August, brings the rain that replenishes Pakistan’s thriving agrarian economy. This year, instead of bringing the rain that farmers depend upon for their crops, all that was received was record-breaking flash flooding in sedimentary areas where water is less prone to being absorbed. Due to global warming, however, warmer oceans produce more moisture which is absorbed, carried over land and dumped in violent downpour. According to Pakistan’s disaster agency, this year’s monsoon season brought three times the average amount of rain. This sudden rain was enough to overwhelm local infrastructure, causing the collapse of buildings, bridges and entire villages.
The United Nations General Secretary, António Guterres, commented on the flooding. “Pakistan has not contributed in a meaningful way to the climate change, the level of emissions of this country is relatively low, but Pakistan is one of the most dramatically impacted countries by climate change, it’s the front line of the impact of climate change.” This is the reality of many countries and regions experiencing the effects of climate change. Unfortunately, this is far from Pakistan’s first tussle with the impacts of climate change, as many Pakistanis were already internally displaced due to climate-change induced extreme weather such as droughts and heatwaves. The flooding, the worst recorded in the region, is only the latest and most extreme of a series of global extreme weather phenomena this year alone.
In a few days of rain, entire lives were dissolved. For those tempted not to care, the effects of the flooding flows far beyond the borders of the central Asian countries directly affected and erodes against what may already feel like a dwindling spending capacity by the global consumer. This disaster is yet another domino toppled in the climate catastrophes disrupting our lives and revealing just how interconnected we all are in the global market. The 98 million acres of waterlogged farms in Pakistan were home to one of the world’s largest exports of cotton and rice. Across the southern border in India, the global leader in cotton production, flooding and pest infestation has caused cotton yield to decrease so drastically that India resorted to importing the prized resource. The flooding in Pakistan has put an even greater strain on the resource just as the U.S., the world’s number one exporter of cotton, reported its lowest levels of cotton production in decades due to severe drought.
It is estimated to take half a year for floodwaters to recede in many areas, but recovery will lag behind by decades. Pakistan was already struggling this year with double-digit inflation and some economists predicting an all-out economic crash looming. Now with total damage estimated to be $40 billion, and its major sector – agriculture – compromised, the country’s future looks bleak. When interviewing the farmers who lost everything in the flood, some had already taken out high interest loans for their farms against a backdrop of shrinking yields already impacted by extreme weather. Even as the pattern continues, and headlines churn out one devastating climate catastrophe after the other, little looks to change. With the COP27 negotiations a month away, how will the elephant in the room – the economic losses that are occurring due to climate change and occurring in regions with comparably smaller carbon emissions than major global economies – be addressed? Hopefully, this crisis will be one more push towards the international collaboration needed to take action before it is too late.
By Dominique Williams