A new report by leading scientists links the recent devastating floods in Pakistan to climate change. The report, compiled by the World Weather Attribution (WWA) group, was released by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) this week.
In August, Pakistan received more than three times its usual rainfall, making it the wettest month since 1961. As a result, the Indus River, which runs the length of the country, burst its banks across thousands of square miles washing away crops, livestock and critical infrastructure. The flooding affected over 33 million people, destroyed 1.7 million homes and killed more than 1,300 people.
Pakistan climate change minister, Sherry Rehman, described the disaster as “the climate catastrophe of the decade.” Health officials have reported surging dengue, malaria and gastric infections two months after the onset of the disaster. Many villages are still submerged by the floods and hundreds of thousands of people are sleeping in the open, many near stagnant floodwater.
Climate and Vulnerable Populations
According to the IFRC, the floods exacerbated existing socioeconomic vulnerabilities within the country. Officials point to the country’s already fragile public healthcare system and struggling economy still reeling from COVID-19 as additional stressors.
Maarten van Aalst, Director at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center, said that reducing the vulnerability of the population is critical to preventing extreme weather events from becoming humanitarian disasters.
“The rainfall was very extreme, but there are many measures that can prevent such massive damages in the future. Implementing early warning systems that reach the local level, enforcing flood zones, and improving river management systems can make the next flood less deadly,” van Aalst said.
The Science Behind the Research
According to the report, extreme rainfall in the region has increased 50–75% and some climate models suggest this increase could be entirely due to human-caused climate change, although there are considerable uncertainties in the results.
“Our evidence suggests that climate change played an important role in the event, although our analysis doesn’t allow us to quantify how big the role was. This is because it is a region with very different weather from one year to another, which makes it hard to see long-term changes in observed data and climate models,” said Friederike Otto, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science at London’s Imperial College and WWA group member.
The floods in Pakistan were exactly what climate projections have been predicting for years, Otto added, in keeping with historical records showing that heavy rainfall has dramatically increased in the region since humans started emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
More about the Research
The study was conducted by 26 researchers as part of the World Weather Attribution (WWA) group, including scientists from universities and meteorological agencies in Denmark, France, Germany, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, the U.K. and the U.S.
Fahad Saeed, Researcher at the Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Development in
Islamabad, Pakistan, said that the country is facing tremendous challenges in a changing world. “Fingerprints of climate change in exacerbating the heatwave earlier this year, and now the flooding, provide conclusive evidence of Pakistan’s vulnerability to such extremes,” he said.
To learn more about the report, visit the Red Cross Climate Center. A full copy of the report can be found here.