More than one third of Pakistan is underwater, according to satellite images from the European Space Agency (ESA), as deadly floodwaters threaten to create secondary disasters.
Food is in short supply after water covered millions of acres of crops and wiped out hundreds of thousands of livestock. Meanwhile, aid agencies have warned of an uptick in infectious diseases, leaving millions vulnerable to illness caused by what the United Nations has called a “monsoon on steroids.”
More than 1,100 people have died from the floods since mid-June, nearly 400 of them children, while millions have been displaced, according to Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
Pakistan, which was already grappling with political and economic turmoil, has been thrown into the front line of the human-induced climate crisis.
Here’s what you need to know.
Why are the floods so bad?
Pakistan’s monsoon season usually brings heavy downpours, but this year’s has been the wettest since records began in 1961, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department
Torrential monsoon rainfall – 10 times heavier than usual – has caused the Indus River to overflow, effectively creating a long lake, tens of kilometers wide, according to images from the ESA on August 30.
In the southern Sindh and Balochistan provinces, rainfall has been 500% above average as of August 30, according to the NDMA, engulfing entire villages and farmland, razing buildings and wiping out crops.
Pakistan is responsible for less than 1% of the world’s planet-warming gases, European Union data shows, yet it is the eighth most vulnerable nation to the climate crisis, according to the Global Climate Risk Index.
And it’s paying a hefty price – the South Asian country faced dramatic climate conditions this year, from record heat waves to destructive floods – as the climate crisis exacerbates extreme weather events.
UN Secretary General António Guterres has warned the world is “sleepwalking” into environmental destruction.
“South Asia is one of the world’s global climate crisis hotspots. People living in these hotspots are 15 times more likely to die from climate impacts,” Guterres said on August 30.
“As we continue to see more and more extreme weather events around the world, it is outrageous that climate action is being put on the back burner as global emissions of greenhouse gases are still rising, putting all of us – everywhere – in growing danger,” he added.
Pakistan is also home to more glaciers than anywhere outside the polar regions. But as the climate warms, it’s becoming more vulnerable to sudden outbursts of melting glacier water.
What has been the damage so far?
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on August 30 the floods were “the worst in the country’s history” and estimated the calamity had caused more than $10 billion in damages to infrastructure, homes and farms.