Pak historic flood catastrophe should have been seen coming
THE current monsoon season has become Pakistan’s worst nightmare. More than 1,000 people are reported dead in floods since the season began, and large-scale flooding currently affects millions of people all across the country.
A clear assessment of the situation is not forthcoming. The United Nations has said three million Pakistanis are affected.
The government of Pakistan says 33 million are affected. That is more than the highest figure reported for Pakistan’s historic 2010 floods.
Extreme weather has been battering Pakistan non-stop for several months now. There were heavy pre-monsoon rains in June.
When monsoon rainfall officially began at the beginning of July, it quickly attained above-average proportions and remained so.
By early July, Sindh was experiencing rainfall 261% above normal and Balochistan 274% above normal.
This resulted in around 90 people being reported killed due to flash flooding and roof collapse as well as several glacial lake outburst floods in the north.
Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan were the worst-affected areas. This came after Pakistan sweltered continuously for four months in the worst stretch of heatwaves it has ever experienced, which also caused floods through melting of mountain snow and ice.
Even after heavy monsoon rains arrived, extreme heat still prevailed in some parts of the country with both the rains and heat contributing to floods.
Since then, the situation has worsened drastically. As ambiguous as the reports are of the impact on people, the scale of the hazard is clear.
The brunt of the devastation continues to be in the south, with official figures stating that, so far, Balochistan received 496 percent more August rainfall than normal and Sindh 784 percent more.
Several commentators are already comparing the current crisis to that of 2010. Indeed, by some measures, it seems to be much bigger.
Back in 2010, Pakistan’s Met department reported that nationwide rainfall was 70 percent above normal in July and 102 percent above normal in August, while Pakistan’s rainfall totals for August 2022 are recorded at 241 percent above normal.
But the crucial difference is that, in 2010, a massive surge of rain began in late July, falling mostly in the mountains.
More extreme spells followed in August. This year, rainfall has been much less intense but still continuously high from the beginning of the season.
That’s why one-fifth of Pakistan’s land area was submerged in 2010, not yet the case this year.
Still, parallels between 2010 and 2022 are apt and go far beyond the behavior of the monsoon within Pakistan’s borders.
2010 was a time of weather extremes worldwide. A La Nina began in the Pacific Ocean and would soon be the strongest on record.
Severe heatwavesbroke out in many parts of the world.
This included record heat in Pakistan, South Asia, and the Arabian Sea before the start of the monsoon season.
2022 is another year effectively seeing a global severe weather emergency, especially of heat and drought, some of the worst happening in South Asia from March to June.
On this basis, Pakistan’s People Led Disaster Management anticipated weeks in advance that 2022’s monsoon season would be especially dangerous for Pakistan.
The early onset of ferocious monsoon rains was enough to alert us to the impending catastrophe.
But meteorological factors in place also have been pointing to a very high-risk rainy season, such as the vigor with which the current La Nina has been persisting since 2020.
Most of all, however, is how uncannily weather phenomena observed this year in Pakistan and around the world resemble what happened not only in 2010 but also 2011, the year Pakistan was struck by its second-worst ever floods, as well as 2012, a third year in a row of severe floods in Pakistan, likely dwarfed by what is happening today.
This scribe issued warnings in print and on YouTube, which went unheeded by people. Since then, the fears have materialized and parallels with 2010-2012 continue to pick up.
In 2011, the bulk of Pakistan’s flooding took place in Sindh because heavy rainfall took place there, a rare occurrence, andin 2012 as well, Sindh and Balochistan suffered the worst of the floods.
The same thing is happening right now while today’s floods are also reaching every corner of Pakistan, something only ever witnessed before in 2010.
The authorities in Pakistan say that there are alarming indications that another bout of heavy rainfall will take place in September, usually when the monsoon rains begin retreating.
Climate minister Sherry Rehmansaid that Pakistan has gone through eight monsoon cycles (whereas it is usually three or four in an entire season) and another one is coming.
One good reason to believe this prediction will come true is that, in 2011 and 2012, Pakistan also suffered major floods caused by rainfall in September.
Not only is the current monsoon season already a lot like those years, with much of southern Pakistan being submerged, so are the preceding circumstances.
The monsoons of 2011 and 2012 were preceded by dry conditions that threatened Pakistan with drought.
The same happened in 2022, the heatwaves being one cause. With all those other similarities, we should expect that, just like 2011 and 2012, the 2022 monsoon season has the ability to extend in full strength into September.
In 2011, the second spell of monsoon rainfall began on 30th August, ended 2nd September, and was followed by four more spells that drowned Sindh.
The nationwide floods of 2012 took place entirely within the month of September. It could very well be that, similarly, Pakistan’s current deluge will worsen in the days ahead and may end up becoming one of the biggest disasters in our history. Everyone reading this, please ring alarms.
—The writer is Director at Pakistan’s People Led Disaster Management.