A third of Pakistan is underwater, the country’s climate minister has said as history-making floods saw nearly a half million people crowd into camps after losing their homes.
“It’s all one big ocean, there’s no dry land to pump the water out,” Sherry Rehman told AFP, calling the devastation wreaked by the flash floods a “crisis of unimaginable proportions”.
She also told the Associated Press that Pakistan was on the “front line” of the world’s climate crisis as unprecedented monsoon rains have killed more than 1,130 people since mid-June.
Though the downpours stopped more than two days ago and flood waters in some areas were receding, Pakistanis in many parts of the country were still wading through waters that filled their homes and covered streets.
According to officials, monsoons hit earlier and more heavily than usual since the start of summer. And last week’s bout is by no means the last of the heavy rains, with Ms Rehman and meteorologists warning that new monsoons were expected in September.
Pakistan is accustomed to monsoon rain and flooding, Rehman said, but not like this. “What we saw recently in the last eight weeks is unrelenting cascades of torrential rain that no monsoon has ever brought with it ever before,” she said.
The heavy rains are the latest in a series of catastrophes that Rehman said were exacerbated by climate change, including heatwaves, forest fires and glacial lake outbursts.
Since 1959, Pakistan was responsible for only 0.4 per cent of the world’s historical CO2 emissions, while the US was responsible for 21.5 per cent, China for 16.5 per cent and the EU 15 per cent.
“Climate knows no borders and its effects can be disproportionately felt,” Rehman said. “When you see low pressure systems coming from the Bay of Bengal, they hit us before anyone is. So we’re on the front line of a global crisis.”
This summer’s devastating floods have so far killed more than 1,136 people, injured 1,636, damaged 1 million homes and forced at least 498,000 people in the country of 220 million to flee to relief camps, Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority said.
Other displaced people are thought to be living with relatives, friends or on the streets.
Rescue operations have been marred by the destruction of more than 150 bridges and the numerous roads which have been washed away.
One 24-year-old labourer from the southeastern town of Shikar Pur dug up bricks from the collapsed walls of his home after it was nearly completely destroyed by the raging storms and waters.
Speaking outside of his home, Rehan Ali said he cannot rebuild without government help and can’t work now because of the turmoil.
“I don’t even have anything to feed my family. I lost everything. I don’t know where to go. God help me,” he told the AP.
On Monday, prime minister Shabaz Sharif said the rains had been the heaviest Pakistan has seen in 30 years.
“I saw floodwater everywhere, wherever I went in recent days and even today,” Sharif said in the town of Charsadda in the northeast of the country.
Pakistani authorities say this year’s devastation is worse than in 2010 when floods killed 1,700 people.