GP Short Notes # 655, 28 August 2022
Pakistan: Government declares 'national emergency' amid rain-induced floods
On 25 August, the government declared a 'national emergency' amid the rain-induced floods terming it a "climate-inducted humanitarian crisis of epic proportions." The floods have left 37 people dead, including 343 children, and at least 30 million without shelter. According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Sindh reported the highest number of deaths as 306 people lost their lives due to floods and rain-related incidents from 14 June, while Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab recorded 234, 185 and 165 deaths, respectively.
Additionally, the NDMA reported that Pakistan received 166.8mm of rain in August, as opposed to the average of 48mm, an increase of 241 per cent. Additionally, the abnormal increase in rainfall generated flash floods across the country, particularly in the southern part of Pakistan, leaving several parts inundated, with 23 districts of Sindh being declared "calamity-hit."
During a press conference, Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman said: "Pakistan is going through its 8th cycle of monsoon; normally the country has only three to four cycles of [monsoon] rain." She added that a "war room" has been established by the prime minister at NDMA, which would lead relief operations across the country and observed that the floods are "a humanitarian disaster of unprecedented proportions."
What is the background?
First, the causes. Since the start of the monsoon in mid-June, heavy rain has caused houses to collapse, flash floods, mudslides and landslides across Pakistan as the intensity of the 2022 floods surpassed the super floods of 2010. According to the NDMA, Higher temperatures and heavy rain have caused Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) in mountainous areas of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while the Indus and Kabul rivers were above the flood mark in several locations, particularly in Punjab.
Second, preparedness to address the flooding. While the government responded promptly to the loss of lives, livestock, houses, and standing crops, no attention was given before the start of the monsoon season. The authorities failed to apply to disaster-proof subsequent infrastructural development by learning from past calamities. Many cities and villages in Pakistan do not have rainwater or floodwater channels putting excess pressure on sewerage lines and polluting drinking water supplies. Additionally, electricity poles remain exposed, increasing the risk of electrocution, and roads and channels are often not planned, resulting in unplanned clusters in urban areas that clash with the flood cycles.
Third, the impact of climate change. According to a 2021 World Bank report on climate change: "Pakistan faces some of the highest disaster risk levels in the world, ranked 18 out of 191 countries by the 2020 Inform Risk Index. Pakistan also has high exposure to flooding (ranked jointly 8th), including, riverine, flash, and coastal, as well as some exposure to tropical cyclones and their associated hazards (ranked jointly 40th) and drought (ranked jointly 43rd)." The report adds that Pakistan faces a rate of warming considerably above the global average with a potential rise of 1.3°C–4.9°C by the 2090s over the 1986–2005 baseline. Further, the frequency and intensity of extreme climate events are projected to increase, particularly with an increasing number of people affected by flooding likely increase of around five million people exposed to extreme river floods by 2035–2044, and a potential increase of around one million annually exposed to coastal flooding by 2070–2100.
Fourth, the declaration of environmental emergency. In the recent past, Pakistan has been subject to severe weather-related and environmental incidents from landslides, glacier melts, heatwaves and flash floods. Prior to the emergency declared in 2022, the government declared a national emergency to tackle the locust attack which destroyed crops on a large scale in Punjab in 2020.
What does it mean?
First, climate change is fuelling flooding in Pakistan. The monsoon-related flooding has become the worst type of climate-induced disaster in Pakistan. The recent incidents of flooding reveal that change in the weather cycle seems to have added to the frequency and severity of floods causing them to be more disastrous.
Second, the lack of preparedness. The high toll in causalities highlights the lack of preparedness by the relevant authorities and the government. Given that these rain-induced floodings are not a new phenomenon in Pakistan, the authorities are yet to learn from the past and implement measures to curb the situation.
Third, the follow-up on the emergency declaration. While Pakistan has taken steps to achieve SDG-13 earlier, the term climate change has not been included in the formal definition of an "emergency" under the National Climate Change Policy 2012 and the Pakistan Climate Change Act 2017. Unless this is implemented climate initiatives would not be successful.