Afia Salam

11th Sep, 2022. 10:15 am

Floods 2022: Pakistan’s double jeopardy

Unprecedented is a word that is occurring in the discussion on the current floods that have devastated a vast swathe of Pakistan’s geographical expanse, and a third of its population. You will also hear the words ‘disaster’ and ‘calamity’ sometimes with, and sometimes with the word natural added to them. And of course the words of climate change are threading together a narrative everyone is struggling to come to terms with, in view of the scale of the damages.

Now to unpack unprecedented; the monsoon rainfall has indeed been unprecedented. To quote Dr. Qamaruzzaman Chaudhury, former DG Met Department and lead author of Pakistan’s Climate Change Policy, “What we received was around 500 percent above normal in Sindh and Balochistan; the highest monsoon rainfall since the rainfall record started 100 years ago in Sindh and Balochistan.”

This is where the thread of climate change starts to weave itself in the narrative. Because not only was the volume of rainfall unprecedented, the region where it fell was not ‘normally’ the monsoon region. Balochistan has never really been covered by the monsoons. Koh e Sulaiman has many seasonal hill torrents, but never has so much water gushed down them to sweep everything in its path. Here is when climate change takes a back seat and watches from afar as our lack of preparedness turns its mechanisations into a disaster or a calamity!

This is what we started to see right from Gilgit Baltistan when the horrific images of the Hussaini Bridge being washed away by the waters made their appearance. The reality of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods, GLOF, made its stark appearance through more such events in one season than all in the previous few years combined. This was global warming. This was climate change saying it had arrived.

In Balochistan, where the disaster unfolded by the third week of July, the hill torrents raged down their course, sweeping aside the dams and structures built to actually check that rage, and took along with them roads, bridges, homes and hearths, schools, hospitals, humans and live stocks, crops; you name it and there was an almost complete obliteration of whatever came in their way.


Almost at the heels of the disaster that hit Balochistan’s coastal and southern districts, the waters came gushing down the Koh e Sulaiman mountains and hit the towns of Taunsa, and the entire district of Rojhan, and once they reached the plains, they just spread, and kept accumulating there because of the terrain, and lack of any kind of drainage that could have anticipated this volume.

All this while, the rains were relentless. There just was no let up, across Sindh and Balochistan. The cities and towns experienced urban flooding due to poor infrastructure and municipal ill-planning, and the rural towns saw crumbling of the houses and other built structures due to the standing water all around.

Within a span of weeks, one-third of the country was inundated, satellite maps showed what looked a large lake because of the accumulation of the vast volume of water in the central part of the country. The figure of 33 million displaced started floating around. It is when this, alongside the visual evidence of the scale of the disaster started to emerge, did the rest of the country and the then the world sat up and took notice.

To its credit, the giving spirit of the Pakistanis didn’t take too long to kick into action. The first responders were the local community organizations who, despite the washed away roads and bridges, rallied around to bring relief to the people who could not be reached until the government mobilized itself through helidrop, which were not really the most effective mode but in the absence of any other way, there was no choice. The network of responders grew, as it always has in times of such disasters.

But what about preparedness? It is exactly the lack of preparedness, despite adequate advance warning, that turns natural events into disasters and calamities. Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change has been measured in the top ten in the list of countries. This is despite the fact that the country is responsible for less than 1% of the emissions that have resulted in global warming.

However, we cannot simply resign ourselves to our fate and wear the mantle of victimhood as the threat level demands a corresponding response to adapt to the new realities. Climate change impacts are here to stay. If in one season we become the hottest place on the planet, another season sees us being lashed by relentless, torrential rain. We have experienced floods, as we did this year that have exacerbated the situation in Sindh in particular. The water from the river flood, through cuts and breaches, intentional and unintentional, legal and illegal, added to the volumes in the plains and the roads seemed like rivers and flatland like lakes if seen in aerial drone or satellite pictures.


Already seasonal shift in rain patterns have impacted our harvests, storms in the coastal belt becoming more frequent and ferocious, all the while living with the threat of sea level rise along our 1010 km coast, where one of the country’s most densely populated city, and its economic engine is sited.

None of this is our fault. We are bearing the fall out of the avarice and greed of the developed world, and our neighbours who want to stand in the same queue. But what is our fault is the low level of readiness. Readiness to respond to such disasters as the one we are in the midst of right now through our reactive approach, and also the manner of our presence at the negotiating table at global forums like the Conference of the Parties.

This is especially because while the word ‘reparations’ is finally entering the demand from the activists of the Global South, it is no longer possible to just nudge the affluent and developed nations to just mouth of platitudes of providing resources to vulnerable countries like Pakistan adapt to the fall out of their development. They have to put their money where their mouth is, not because countries like Pakistan are demanding it, but because they themselves had promised to have that pot of money made available to adapt.

But that is a push to commit them to the unfulfilled promise. Time has come to focus on the loss and damage mechanism that was proposed, spoken about, mentioned but never decided upon over the past few years. Time is now for the push to come to shove!

The current floods have set Pakistan back many, many years.  We do not have the financial or the technical wherewithal to cope with disasters of this magnitude. While we need to get our governance and disaster response mechanism up to speed, the coping mechanisms cannot be shored up without resources, which Pakistan does not have. A poor country reeling with disasters is also an internal and external security threat, and after having suffered for decades from these issues, right now we need a bulwark against that too.



The writer is a freelance journalist with interest in climate change, gender issues and media ethics