Floods in Pakistan: As Pakistan navigates these unprecedented weather patterns and their consequences, it becomes crucial to recognize the role of climate change and take proactive measures to address its impacts.
With rampant floods and uneven rainfall patterns, Pakistan has turned into a visual reference to the impacts of climate change. In August last year, the country witnessed one of the worst floods in its history. An estimated 33 million people were affected. The loss of a huge agricultural land mass has also raised food insecurity in the country, as many farmers had to do without crucial winter crops such as wheat. It was not a one-off flood that happened last year, Pakistan has been witnessing distorted rain patterns, early monsoons, and even drought-like conditions, all at once. This is a huge impact on the agricultural sector of an economy already facing several challenges.
According to the World Bank’s report titled Pakistan Floods 2022: Post Disaster Needs Assessment, the collective figure of loss and damages due to floods was estimated at $30 billion in which the communication sector was the most severely hit.
What are the causes behind such conditions and altered weather patterns in Pakistan and is there a respite in sight?
Geography’s role in Pakistan’s uneven rainfall
According to the article A review of the flood hazard and risk management in the South Asian Region, particularly Pakistan, published in Scientific African in November 2020, when it comes to flooding in Pakistan, geography plays a crucial role. The country’s landscape is characterized by mountains, plains, and river systems, each contributing to different types of floods.
In the mountainous regions of Pakistan, which include the western end of the Himalayan range, the Karakoram, and the Hindukush ranges, the towering peaks reach heights between 1000 and 8000 meters above sea level.
The authors of the article describe that moving towards the Indus Plain, the terrain becomes predominantly flat, making it prone to riverine flooding. However, apart from riverine flooding, flash floods known as hill torrents pose a considerable threat across large areas of the country.
Is climate change the reason behind floods?
According to a report published by UNOCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), in October 2022, Pakistan is witnessing a departure from its usual seasonal rainfall pattern, with unexpected downpours affecting areas that are typically unaffected by the annual monsoon. The southern and central regions of the country, particularly Sindh and Balochistan, have been hit the hardest. Remarkably, just a year ago, both provinces were grappling with moderate to severe drought conditions. Even as the monsoon arrived, mild to moderate drought persisted in southwest Balochistan and south Sindh.
The report further explains that despite its relatively low carbon footprint, Pakistan finds itself among the top ten countries globally most affected by extreme weather events, as per the Global Climate Risk Index 2021 and Climate Watch. The impact of global climate change is becoming increasingly evident in the country. The melting and receding glaciers, rising frequency of droughts, floods, and erratic weather patterns, shifts in agricultural practices, diminishing freshwater supply, biodiversity loss, and the rise of glacial lakes are all highlighted in Pakistan’s National Climate Change Policy issued last year.
The adverse impacts of floods on Pakistan’s economy
World Bank’s report Pakistan Floods 2022: Post Disaster Needs Assessment says the floods have had a substantial adverse impact on various sectors of the economy, with different regions experiencing varying degrees of damage. Among the major economic sectors, the agriculture sector was hit the hardest. Crops such as cotton, dates, sugarcane, and rice suffered the most significant losses.
The report also highlights the repercussions of the floods extend beyond the agricultural sector and have exacerbated existing external pressures. The local textile industry, for instance, heavily relies on domestic cotton for production. However, with reduced supplies of domestic cotton due to the floods, the industry is expected to increase its reliance on imported cotton to offset the shortage. This, in turn, will lead to increased imports of cotton, as well as food products, wheat, pulses, construction machinery, and medicines to address growing domestic needs and shortages.
Taking into account the impact on the exports, the report mentions that the country’s textile industry, which accounts for a significant portion of total industry output and more than half of goods exports, will be particularly affected by the flood-related losses in cotton. Local cotton serves as around half of the industry’s required cotton input.
As Pakistan navigates these unprecedented weather patterns and their consequences, it becomes crucial to recognize the role of climate change and take proactive measures to address its impacts. From implementing sustainable practices to strengthening infrastructure, Pakistan must adapt to the changing climate to ensure the well-being and resilience of its people and ecosystems.