Flooding in Pakistan has displaced millions of people and destroyed hundreds of square kilometers of land in the last month. While the south faces additional floods, laborers in the north have begun removing debris as the waters recede. M Ilyas Khan of the BBC examines the massive work ahead.
The flood disaster is expected to claim at least 1,000 lives and leave 3 million people homeless.
In addition to the human toll, the flooding has caused extensive damage to agriculture and industry. The losses could cost up to $15 billion (13 billion euros).
The floods started on August 14 when heavy rains fell across a wide swath of southern Pakistan. They continued for several days without stopping. By the time they had subsided, more than 17 inches (44 centimeters) of rain had fallen in some areas. That's about twice the average for this time of year.
The floods affected an area of nearly 200,000 square miles (520,000 square km), or about 15 percent of Pakistan's total land mass. They also claimed at least 250 lives and left 1 million people homeless.
After the initial wave of devastation, help came from all corners of the world. Humanitarian agencies reported that they had never seen anything like it before. Many poor families were forced to rent out their homes to pay for food and medicine.
In 2010, almost one-fifth of Pakistan's land was flooded, impacting 20 million people and claiming over 2,000 deaths. The economic damages were anticipated to be in the $43 billion range. Another massive flood devastated Southeast Asia a year later.
The 2010 floods in Pakistan were among the most severe natural disasters in recent history. They displaced about 8 million people from their homes and caused an estimated $14 billion in damage (2010 dollars).
The disaster resulted in the death of more than 1,500 people and left another 7 million people homeless.
It also destroyed much of the agricultural output for this major food producer, causing prices to rise and driving more families into poverty.
The floods began on May 28th when heavy rains triggered flooding in the Indus River Valley. The water quickly rose and spread across the plains, reaching a height of 4.5 meters (15 feet) in some places. It then started to recede slowly over the summer months.
This flood was followed by another one in 2011. It too caused widespread devastation and claimed hundreds of lives.
A third major flood struck Pakistan in July 2012. This time the river Baluchistan reached a height of 3.7 meters (12 feet) above normal. At least 250 people died and millions of animals were killed.
Floods and their consequences are expected to become more common in the future as a result of urbanization and land use changes, high concentrations of poor and marginalized people, and a lack of laws and preparedness activities. The 2010 Pakistan floods directly affected 14–20 million people and killed around 1,700 persons. It was the most severe flood disaster in Pakistan's history.
The economic cost of the floods was estimated at $13 billion (2010 dollars). One-third of the country was affected by the floods.
In August 2011, another deadly flood struck Pakistan, this time affecting northern areas where hundreds of people were killed. The government accused the Indian military of causing the damage by bombing rivers during its campaign against Maoists in neighboring India. However many scientists believe that natural factors were to blame for the flooding. They say that it wasn't unusual for floods to occur in northern Pakistan because the Indus River flows through a flat plain that is highly susceptible to flooding.
In May 2012, reports emerged of heavy flooding in several parts of Pakistan. At least 36 people were killed in the southern city of Karachi alone. The floods also caused widespread damage to property and infrastructure.
According to recent reports, the Indus River again overflowed its banks this year, causing further devastation. The Interior Ministry has announced plans to build backlands—large buffers of land along the riverbank—in about 20 districts where flooding is a problem.
Every year since then, Pakistan has seen deluges. Floods in Pakistan will become more intense and frequent, according to experts. "It's a whole different ballgame, and climatic trend lines can no longer be followed," said Pervaiz Amir, a water specialist and former member of the Prime Minister's Task Force on Climate Change. "We're talking about high-intensity floods that are going to be happening more frequently."
Amir says that while some areas of Pakistan are getting better at dealing with floods, others are not. In particular, he says, rural Pakistan is ill-prepared for these storms. "Even if you evacuate people out of their homes, they're still going to get flooded because all the rain goes into one spot," he said. "So you need to think about evacuating large areas."
Pakistan is very vulnerable to climate change because it is poor and urbanized. It also lacks natural barriers like mountains or oceans to protect itself from flooding. Each year, more than 7 million people are affected by floods in Pakistan.
The number of floods has increased over time due to climate change. Between 1960 and 2009, there were only two events per decade that were above normal. But since then, we have had three floods above normal. So overall, Pakistan is experiencing more severe floods as well as more frequent small floods.
The future will bring more extreme weather for Pakistan.
The monsoon flood catastrophe in Pakistan in 2010 was large and unprecedented, killing over 1,700 people, impacting over 20% of the land area and over 20 million people, and inflicting billions of dollars in damage to infrastructure, houses, farmland, livestock, and other household assets. The impact on human life from this event was also significant: many families were wiped out entirely, while others were forced to flee their homes permanently.
The floods started when heavy rains fell across a wide swath of northern India and Bangladesh, causing the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers to rise rapidly. When the waters receded, they left behind them a landscape scarred by death and destruction. Crops were washed away or damaged, leaving farmers with nothing to harvest this year. Homes were destroyed, leaving people homeless. And if you were living in one of these communities, you would have been affected by the floods.
In addition to the human toll, the disaster caused economic loss estimated at $14 billion. It has been called the worst natural disaster ever recorded in Asia's third-largest economy.
Flooding is not only a concern for Pakistan; it is a concern for all of South Asia. In fact, flooding is one of the most serious threats to human survival in this region. It is estimated that two thirds of the population will be directly affected by flooding at some point in their lives.