Authorities in Pakistan have warned it could take up to six months for deadly flood waters to recede in the country’s hardest-hit areas, as fears rise over the threat posed by waterborne diseases including cholera and dengue.
Floods caused by record monsoon rains and melting glaciers in Pakistan’s northern mountain regions have so far claimed the lives of more than 1,400 people, and affected an estimated 33 million more, washing away homes, roads, railways, livestock and crops. Damages are now expected to total more than $30 billion – triple that of an earlier estimate of around $10 billion.
“Karachi is seeing an outbreak of dengue as hundreds and thousands of patients are reporting daily at government and private hospitals. The dengue cases this year are 50% higher than last year. With 584,246 people in camps throughout the country, the health crisis could wreak havoc if it will go unchecked,” Pakistan’s climate minister Sherry Rehman said Monday.
Rehman warned the country was now facing the prospect of massive food shortages, owing to the destruction of up to 70% of staple crops such as rice and maize, and urgently needed “food, tents and medicines.”
Rising flood waters also remain a risk, especially in hard hit areas along the Indus River in Sindh province, with meteorological forecasts indicating continuous rainfall is expected to stretch through September.
In a statement Monday, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said the prolonged monsoon rains will push back efforts to clear the water, with estimates ranging from 3 to 6 months in some of the worst affected areas.
He added that the country’s largest freshwater lake, Manchar, has been overflowing since early September, with flood waters impacting several hundred villages and more than 100,000 people.
“We are expediting our efforts to provide medicines and medics to the 81 calamity-hit flood affected districts of the country. However, these are still very initial estimates as new data is coming up on the ground,” said Shah.
Both the Pakistani government and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres have blamed global climate change for worsening extreme weather that caused “monsoon on steroids,” and have submerged a third of the country’s land.
In a two day visit to flood ravaged Pakistan, Guterres expressed “deep solidarity with the Pakistani people over the devastating loss of life and human suffering caused by this year’s floods,” and met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on the disaster response.
Guterres called on the international community on Friday to support flood-stricken Pakistan, arguing that while the South Asian nation’s contribution to climate change was minimal, it is one of the most impacted by its consequences.
“Pakistan has not contributed in a meaningful way to the climate change, the level of emissions of this country is relatively low, but Pakistan is one of the most dramatically impacted countries by climate change, it’s the front line of the impact of climate change,” Guterres said after attending a briefing at Pakistan’s National Flood Response Coordination Centre (NFRCC) on Friday.
Additional reporting from CNN’s Eyad Kourdi