Security Exchange News

Country hit by unprecedented floods

11 September 2022

More than 1,340 people have been killed, and some 1.4 million homes have been destroyed amid record monsoon rains which have triggered unprecedented floods across Pakistan. Described as the worst climate-induced disaster in recent world history, the flooding has inundated a third of the country, displacing over 600,000 people and affecting more than 33 million people in total. As aid agencies warn of increasing illness in relief camps, the Pakistani government has struggled to devise a comprehensive disaster response plan in the face of limited resources and other economic woes.

Authorities have also been under huge pressure to prevent Manchar Lake – Pakistan’s biggest - from overflowing, with the UN warning of a major humanitarian crisis if the lake bursts its banks, flooding more towns. Efforts have involved widening the breach at Manchar Lake to lower water levels. Officials confirmed that water levels had finally begun to recede on Wednesday; however, response teams are still racing to rescue thousands of people who have become stranded in remote, hard-to-reach areas. Some towns have become entirely cut-off, such as Johi, which has reportedly been completely surrounded by flood water after local residents built an embankment around the town to divert water away from residential areas. The chief of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Agency indicated that the unprecedented flooding – which came off the back of major heatwaves - reflected the harsh realities of climate change. The country has received nearly 190 percent more rainfall between July and August than the 30-year average, while the southern Sindh and Balochistan provinces have respectively recorded 466 percent and 436 percent more rain than the 30-year average. Although the country produces less than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, its mix of mountainous and coastal geography makes it extremely vulnerable to climate change, with global warming contributing significantly to extreme rainfall and flooding in the region.

Aid workers have reiterated warnings that a severe, widespread lack of clean drinking water has contributed towards an increase in the spread of diseases in relief camps. Waterborne diseases have been of particular concern, including dengue, malaria, cholera, and diarrhoea, with potentially deadly consequences. About a third of the total number of fatalities are understood to be children and the UN children’s agency, Unicef, has highlighted that more children are at risk of dying from disease due to the shortage of clean water. UN agencies have coordinated increased aid efforts, including establishing an ‘air bridge’ to deliver aid directly from Dubai. On top of this, food supplies and medical facilities have also been impacted. In total, the floods have caused damage amounting to an estimated cost of around £8.5 billion ($10bn). Many are now facing food shortages as nearly half of the country’s crops and livestock have been destroyed, while the World Health Organization (WHO) said more than 1,460 health centres have been damaged. WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic warned that waterborne diseases, alongside those already circulating, such as Covid-19, HIV, and polio, are all at risk of rapid outbreak amongst displaced communities and relief camps.

The country was already suffering from an economic crisis and launched an appeal for aid in light of the natural disaster, urging an “immense humanitarian response”. The UN and Pakistan have jointly issued an appeal for $160m in emergency funding. The damage caused to crops and livestock will have a major impact on the country’s economy, as the agricultural sector makes up 22.7 percent of Pakistan’s gross domestic product (GDP). As Pakistan continues to struggle with rapidly-shrinking foreign exchange reserves and record-high inflation, the impact of the flooding on the agricultural and manufacturing industries is anticipated to set the country’s economy back significantly, forcing it to import more than it can export in the face of domestic shortages – resulting in broader, long-term economic loss, which will have a knock-on effect on the cost of living in the country. Meanwhile, Islamabad faces a more immediate economic challenge to deliver on promises to raise taxes and impose austerity measures in line with the terms of its bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – a tall ask in the face of increased emergency spending on relief and disaster response, paired with depleted domestic revenue and GDP.