Every year, Pakistan struggles to cope with the monsoon season, which batters the country from June through August and which sets off widespread criticism over poor government planning.
But the season this year has been particularly brutal, offering an urgent reminder that in an era of global warming, extreme weather events are increasingly the norm, not the exception, across the region — and that Pakistan’s major cities remain woefully ill equipped to handle them.
Monsoon rains have killed at least 282 people over the past five weeks, many of them women and children, the National Disaster Management Authority announced Thursday. The deluge has also damaged critical infrastructure, like highways and bridges, and around 5,600 homes, the authority said.
Pakistan has long ranked among the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, according to the Global Climate Risk Index, which tracks the devastating human and economic toll of extreme weather events. The country is estimated to have lost nearly 10,000 lives to climate-related disasters and suffered about $4 billion in losses between 1998 and 2018.
Already, there are signs that the climate-related devastation will worsen in the coming years, experts say. The rains this year have been 87% heavier than the average downpour, according to Sherry Rehman, the country’s minister for climate change, who linked the new weather pattern to climate change.
She warned that the country should prepare for more flooding and damage to infrastructure as its glaciers continue to melt at an accelerated pace, causing flash floods.
“This is a national disaster,” Rehman said at a news conference earlier this month.
The floods have turned main roads into rivers. Houses have been filled with sewage that spewed out of maintenance holes. Electricity has been suspended for hours or days to prevent exposed wires from coming into contact with water in the streets and electrocuting people. The devastation has brought the port city to a standstill for days on end and killed at least 31 people, many of whom were electrocuted or drowned after roofs and walls collapsed on top of them, according to the provincial disaster agency.
Most analysts blame Pakistan’s increasing monsoon devastation on a combination of factors. Climate change is causing heavier rains, government officials have shown incompetence and inability to coordinate, and sporadic urban planning has left major cities particularly vulnerable to damage.