Pakistan declares floods a ‘climate catastrophe’ as death toll tops 1,000

Shah Meer Baloch in Islamabad
Displaced people wade through a flooded area in Peshawar, Pakistan. The country’s flooded southern Sindh province braced on Sunday for a fresh deluge. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Aug. 28, 2022

Flash flooding from ‘monster monsoon’ washes away villages and crops and leaves thousands homeless

A Pakistani minister has called the country’s deadly monsoon season “a serious climate catastrophe” and “a climate dystopia at our doorstep” as officials said deaths from widespread flooding in Pakistan had passed 1,000 since mid-June.

Flash floods, which have intensified in recent days, have swept away villages, roads, bridges, people, livestock and crops across all four provinces. Pakistan has appealed for international help as soldiers and rescue workers have evacuated stranded people to relief camps and provided food to thousands of displaced people.


The country’s disaster management authority said on Sunday the death toll from the monsoon rains had reached 1,033, with 119 killed in the previous 24 hours. It said this year’s floods were comparable with those of 2010 – the worst on record – when more than 2,000 people died and nearly a fifth of the country was under water.

Pakistan’s prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, pleaded for help in a visit to badly hit Balochistan province. “I have never seen such flood in my personal and professional life. All four corners of Pakistan are under water. I request people to come ahead and help.”

Sherry Rehman, a senator and Pakistan’s climate change minister, said Pakistan was experiencing a “serious climate catastrophe, one of the hardest in the decade”.

Houses and streets devastated by floods in Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Houses and streets devastated by floods in Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“We are at the moment at the ground zero of the frontline of extreme weather events, in an unrelenting cascade of heatwaves, forest fires, flash floods, multiple glacial lake outbursts, flood events, and now the monster monsoon of the decade is wreaking nonstop havoc throughout the country,” she said in a video posted on Twitter. The on-camera statement was retweeted by the country’s ambassador to the EU.

The heavy downpour started in June and an abnormal monsoon has affected more than 33 million people – one in seven Pakistanis. Nearly 300,000 homes have been destroyed, numerous roads rendered impassable, and electricity outages have been widespread. Local media reported that at least 83,000 livestock had died in the last 24 hours.

Sharif was briefed during his visit to Jaffarabad district in badly hit Balochistan that at least 75% of the province, Pakistan’s least developed and half of its land area, was affected by the flooding.

People wade along a flooded road in the Jaffarabad area of Balochistan province.
People wade along a flooded road in the Jaffarabad area of Balochistan province. Photograph: Fida Hussain/AFP/Getty Images

Rehman told the Guardian that numbers of flood-affected population may rise from 33 million as the flood continues, and that this year has been marked by one extreme season after another after deadly heatwaves in March and April.

“In the 2010 flood, one-fifth of Pakistan was under water. This is worse,” she said.

“What we see now is an ocean of water submerging entire districts of Pakistan by an unprecedented monsoon cycle that just does not stop, nor does it allow space for a rescue and recovery respite.

“Pakistan has never seen unrelenting torrential rains like this. This is very far from a normal monsoon. It is a climate dystopia at our doorstep,” said Rehman.

The foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, said Pakistan needed “overwhelming” financial help to deal with the floods, saying he hoped financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would take the economic fallout into account.

“I haven’t seen destruction of this scale. I find it very difficult to put into words … It is overwhelming,” he told Reuters, adding that many crops that provided much of the population’s livelihoods had been wiped out. “Obviously, this will have an effect on the overall economic situation.”

The south Asian nation was already in an economic crisis, facing high inflation, a depreciating currency and a current account deficit.

Balochistan, which already lacked key infrastructure, and Sindh provinces are reportedly the worst-affected regions, while flooding from the Swat River overnight affected the north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and 350,000 people were evacuated from the Charsadda and Nowshera districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

A camp for people displaced by the floods in Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
A camp for people displaced by the floods in Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Photograph: Arshad Arbab/EPA

Kohistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was completely cut off from the rest of the province. Its assistant commissioner, Saqib Khan, told local media it had requested military helicopters to rescue stranded families as “there is no road route, and the communication system and electricity in the affected areas has broken down”.

Officials warned that torrents of water were expected to reach Sindh province in the next few days, adding to the misery of millions already affected by the floods, as a fresh deluge from the swollen rivers in the north worked its way downstream.

Rehman said another spell of rain is expected for Balochistan in mid-September. “It is scary,” she said.

The annual monsoon is essential for irrigating crops and replenishing lakes and dams across the Indian subcontinent, but it also brings destruction.

The Indus River, which brings waters from the north to its second most populous region, is facing a major flood after record rains and glacier melts swelled its mountain tributaries, many of which burst their banks.

The 90-year-old Sukkur barrage, which directs the waters of the Indus into one of the world’s largest irrigation systems, is now all that lies between areas downstream and catastrophe. A widely circulating video of the barrage shows the Indus in flood.

Officials say Pakistan is unfairly bearing the consequences of irresponsible environmental practices elsewhere in the world. The country is eighth on the NGO Germanwatch’s global climate risk index, a list of countries deemed most vulnerable to extreme weather caused by the climate crisis.

Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar said that Pakistan has the highest number of glaciers outside the polar region and this year, alongside a super-monsoon, the country has witnessed unprecedented glacier melting in the north due to global heating.

“In a landmark case filed by a Peruvian farmer against a German utility company RWE for melting glaciers in Peru, [the] outcome of which is eagerly awaited by academics and legal experts around the world, if there’s a legal opening, then Pakistan should also consider following a similar route,” he said.

“It is highly unfair that a country which contributes less than 1% in global emissions is at the receiving end of the climate catastrophe.”

[Top photo: Displaced people wade through a flooded area in Peshawar, Pakistan. The country’s flooded southern Sindh province braced on Sunday for a fresh deluge. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]