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Deadly floods in Pakistan have warming characteristics

A displaced man walks through a flooded area after fleeing his home affected by flooding, on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan, on August 28, 2022. The flooding has all the hallmarks of a climate change-driven catastrophe, but it’s too early to formally pin the blame on global warming, several scientists told The Associated Press. Credit: AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad, File

The familiar ingredients of a warming world were in place: scorching temperatures, hotter air holding more moisture, extreme weather getting wilder, melting glaciers, people living in peril, and poverty. They combined in vulnerable Pakistan to create relentless rains and deadly floods.

The flooding has all the hallmarks of a climate change catastrophe, but it is too early to formally blame global warming, several scientists told The Associated Press. It happened in a country that did little to cause warming, but continues to get pummeled, just like relentless rain.

“This year, Pakistan has received the highest rainfall in at least three decades. So far this year, rainfall has exceeded average levels by more than 780%,” said Abid Qaiyum Suleri, executive director of the Pakistan Policy Institute. Sustainable Development and member of the Pakistan Climate Change Council. “Extreme weather patterns are becoming more frequent in the region and Pakistan is no exception.”

Climate Minister Sherry Rehman said “it has been a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions.”

Pakistan “is considered the eighth most vulnerable country to climate change,” said Moshin Hafeez, a climate scientist at the Lahore-based International Water Management Institute. Rain, heat and melting glaciers are factors of climate change that scientists have repeatedly warned about.

EXPLANATION: Deadly floods in Pakistan have warming characteristics

Pakistani health workers carry a sick girl who fled her flood-affected home, in Charsadda, Pakistan, on August 29, 2022. The flooding has all the hallmarks of a climate change catastrophe, but it is too soon to formally blame global warming, several scientists tell The Associated Press. Credit: AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad, File

While scientists point to these classic fingerprints of climate change, they have not yet finished the complex calculations comparing what happened in Pakistan to what would happen in a world without warming. That study, expected in a few weeks, will formally determine how much, if any, climate change is a factor.

The “recent flooding in Pakistan is actually the result of the climate catastrophe…which was coming very big,” said Anjal Prakash, director of research at India’s Bharti Institute for Public Policy. “The type of incessant rain that has occurred…is unprecedented.”

Pakistan is used to monsoons and downpours, but “we expect them to last, usually for three to two months,” said the country’s climate minister, Rehman.

Usually there are breaks, he said, and not as much rain: 37.5 centimeters (14.8 inches) falls in a day, almost three times more than the national average over the past three decades. “It’s not that long either… It’s been eight weeks and we’re being told we could see another downpour in September.”

EXPLANATION: Deadly floods in Pakistan have warming characteristics

Army troops distribute food and other items to displaced people in a flood-affected area in Hyderabad, Pakistan, on August 27, 2022. The flooding has all the hallmarks of a climate change-driven catastrophe, but it is too soon to assign blame formally. to global warming, several scientists told The Associated Press. Credit: AP Photo/Pervez Masih, File

“Clearly, it’s being affected by climate change,” said Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts.

There has been a 400% increase in average rainfall in areas such as Baluchistan and Sindh, leading to extreme flooding, Hafeez said. At least 20 dams have been breached.

The heat has been as relentless as the rain. In May, Pakistan consistently recorded temperatures above 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit). Scorching temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) were recorded in places like Jacobabad and Dadu.

Warmer air contains more moisture—about 7% more per degree Celsius (4% per degree Fahrenheit)—and that ends up falling, in this case in abundance.

Around the world, “intense rain storms are getting more intense,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a climatologist at Princeton University. And he said mountains, like those in Pakistan, help shed extra moisture when clouds pass.

EXPLANATION: Deadly floods in Pakistan have warming characteristics

People push to get drinking water from a municipal water truck on a flooded road, in Sohbatpur, a district of Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan, on August 29, 2022. The flood has all the hallmarks of a climate change-driven catastrophe, but it’s too early to formally blame global warming, several scientists tell The Associated Press. Credit: AP Photo/Zahid Hussain, File

Instead of swollen rivers bursting their banks from the extra rain, Pakistan is hit by another source of flash flooding: extreme heat accelerates long-term glacial melt, and then water rushes down from the Himalayas to Pakistan in a phenomenon dangerous event called glacial lake outburst floods.

“We have the largest number of glaciers outside the polar region, and this affects us,” climate minister Rehman said. “Instead of maintaining their majesty and preserving them for posterity and nature, we are seeing them melt away.”

Not all the problem is climate change.

Pakistan saw similar flooding and devastation in 2010 that killed nearly 2,000 people. But the government has not put in place plans to prevent future flooding by avoiding construction and housing in flood-prone areas and riverbeds, said Suleri of the country’s Climate Change Council.

  • EXPLANATION: Deadly floods in Pakistan have warming characteristics

    A villager uses cots to store usable items after rescuing them from his flood-affected house, in Jaffarabad, a district of Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan, on August 27, 2022. Flooding has all the hallmarks of a climate change-driven catastrophe, but it’s too early to formally blame global warming, several scientists told The Associated Press. Credit: AP Photo/Zahid Hussain, File

  • EXPLANATION: Deadly floods in Pakistan have warming characteristics

    Families sit near their belongings surrounded by floodwaters, in Sohbat Pur city of Jaffarabad, a district in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan, on August 28, 2022. The flood has all the hallmarks of a climate change-driven catastrophe, but it’s too early to formally pin the blame on global warming, several scientists told The Associated Press. Credit: AP Photo/Zahid Hussain, File

  • EXPLANATION: Deadly floods in Pakistan have warming characteristics

    Pakistani men receive food, distributed by Pakistani army troops in a flood-affected area in Rajanpur, Punjab district, Pakistan, on August 27, 2022. The flooding has all the hallmarks of a climate change catastrophe, but it is too soon. to formally pin the blame on global warming, several scientists told The Associated Press. Credit: AP Photo/Asim Tanveer, File

The disaster is hitting a poor country that has contributed relatively little to the global climate problem, scientists and officials said. Since 1959, Pakistan has emitted about 0.4% of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, compared to 21.5% from the United States and 16.4% from China.

“Those countries that have developed or become rich off of fossil fuels, that are really the problem,” Rehman said. “They’re going to have to make a critical decision that the world is reaching a tipping point. We’ve certainly reached that point already because of our geographic location.”


Monsoon rains kill 77 people in Pakistan


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