While some parts of the world are facing extreme drought conditions, others are ravaged by unprecedented floods. So is the story of Pakistan where recent monsoon rains and floods have wreaked havoc in the country causing loss of life and property. Millions of people have been affected by the heavy rainfall. Close to a thousand people and hundreds of thousands of cattle have died (as of 24 August). The loss of property and infrastructure amounts to millions of dollars. Those spared from death are without shelter and food, with water-borne diseases on the rise in the country. Communication networks, including road and rail links, have been cut off with areas facing flooding, further adding to the strain. While most parts of the country are under the spell of heavy rainfall and flooding, Balochistan – the largest and most impoverished province – is hit hardest among Sindh, KPK, and southern Punjab. A humanitarian crisis has been declared in the country with appeals for international assistance.
Our planet is warming by all the fossil fuels that we burn to power our homes, vehicles, industries, and everything else. Pakistan is no exception when it comes to the adverse impacts of climate change. The ongoing rains and floods are one link to that vulnerability. Parts of the country have seen record levels of rainfall this year. Climate change is – undoubtedly – making extreme weather events more frequent and more intense. Spells of heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding will become more commonplace and more extreme in coming years – owing to the damage that has been done and continues to be done to the planet’s atmosphere.
The balance of Earth’s water cycle is being disrupted by climate change. The link between a warming planet and rising levels of floods is straightforward. When the planet warms it evaporates moisture, from soil and water bodies, which it then holds in the atmosphere. The more moisture there is in the atmosphere, the more rainfall to expect. The more downpouring there is, the more susceptible that area is to be flooded. This is especially true when the drainage systems are inadequate or when there is a lot of rainfall in a very short period, thus choking the drainage systems.
The Paris Agreement, which is an international treaty on climate change, set a goal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius and strive for 1.5 degree Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. Science is clear on climate change. If the worst impacts of climate change are to be avoided, global warming will need to be halted to 1.5-degree Celsius by the middle of the century. Currently, the world is not on track to achieving that goal.
There are two elements to fighting climate change. One is mitigation, which is to reduce the number of greenhouse gases – responsible for the planet’s warming – being added to the atmosphere. The other is an adaptation that involves adjusting to the expected impacts of climate change. The countries that are most at risk of climate change are those least prepared to fight climate change, or often those least responsible for causing global warming. While Pakistan is highly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, it contributes less than 1 per cent of the global emissions, as per Our World in Data sources for 2020.
Pakistan has a lot to do on the adaptation front. A diversified approach to interventions is needed to effectively adapt to the impacts of flooding. Pakistan will need to invest in physical infrastructure, and barriers such as dams and embankments, to protect populated areas against the risks of floods. The drainage systems, most of which are outdated and unfit for the current demand, need to be upgraded. Early warning systems can help save thousands of lives. Pakistan should consider complementing infrastructure-based interventions with nature-based solutions such as protecting wetlands and expanding green spaces to reduce runoff and improve drainage. These require long-term planning and political will. What is needed on an urgent basis are relief operations for the flood-stricken people to provide them with food, shelter, and medicines. Restoration of infrastructure and rehabilitation of the victims to then follow. Something that will require thousands of hours, and millions of dollars.