More than 33 million people in Pakistan are struggling to deal with a monsoon season supercharged by climate change.
Torrential rainfall has dragged on for weeks, killing more than 1,100 people since mid-June, damaging more than 1 million homes, leaving entire villages stranded and underwater, washing away roads and at least 149 bridges, wiping out crops and forcing nearly 500,000 people to seek shelter in relief camps.
"Pakistan's priority, at the moment, is this climate-induced humanitarian disaster of epic proportions," Pakistan's Minister of Climate Change Sherry Rehman said last week, adding that the country “is going through its eighth cycle of monsoon while normally the country has only three to four cycles of rain. The percentages of super flood torrents are shocking."
Scientific research has linked rising global temperatures due to mankind’s burning of fossil fuels to increasingly chaotic monsoon seasons, with the potential for more extreme rainfall events like those seen this summer.
For every degree Celsius of global temperature rise, the Earth’s atmosphere holds 7% more moisture, which is unleashed when conditions are right. This summer, Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority said Friday, the country had received 133% of its average monsoon season rainfall.
Touring the devastation by helicopter, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said over the weekend, “I have never seen such devastation in my life,” and added, "Village after village has been wiped out. Millions of houses have been destroyed."
The scope of the devastation is still coming into focus. Roughly 750,000 farm animals have been killed in recent weeks, and initial damage estimates place economic losses above $10 billion.
More than three-quarters of Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest and most impoverished province, has been damaged by floods, while much of neighboring Sindh province is submerged thanks to overflowing rivers such as the Indus.
“We are devastated by climate disasters such as these time and time again, and we have to adapt within our limited resources, in whatever way we can, to live in this new environment,” Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told Reuters.
Over the weekend, videos of raging rivers washing away homes and buildings laid bare the devastation that weeks of above-average rainfall can bring.
“Pakistan is living through a serious climate catastrophe, one of the hardest in the decade,” Rehman said in a video posted to Twitter. “We are, at the moment, at the ground zero of the frontline of extreme weather events in an unrelenting cascade of heat waves, 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.”
In addition to the unprecedented amount of rainfall, the flooding has been made worse by the rapid melting of 7,000 glaciers in the mountains of Pakistan thanks to a series of punishing heat waves that began this spring. Temperatures in April hit 120 degrees Fahrenheit in some parts of the country.
This year's flooding is reminiscent of 2010, which had been the worst in recorded history. That two such extreme events would occur in the last 20 years is just one more indicator of how a changing climate will affect the region.
The Pakistani government has appealed for donations to help it deal with the impacts caused by the flooding, but until the waters recede, assessing the full extent of the damage will be difficult.
"When we send in water pumps, they say 'Where do we pump the water?' It's all one big ocean, there's no dry land to pump the water out," Rehman told AFP.
With a population of just over 220 million, roughly 1 out of every 7 Pakistani residents has been impacted by the flooding, and Rehman said that one-third of the country remained underwater.