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Pakistan floods: why have they been so extreme this year?

Pakistan floods; Flood-affected people move to higher ground in Dadu district, Sindh province, Pakistan, on September 1, 2022.

By Wahid Bhat
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Flood-affected people move to higher ground in Dadu district, Sindh province, Pakistan, on September 1, 2022. Flash floods triggered by heavy monsoon rains have killed more than 1,100 people across Pakistan since mid-June 2022. More than 33 million people have been affected by the floods.

Pakistan floods

The impact of the recent floods in Pakistan is hard to fathom. At least a third of the country is underwater, which has caused the displacement of at least 33 million people (just over 10% of the total population), and the death of 1,200 people, of which 400 were minors. age. years. More than a million houses have been destroyed by landslides and overflowing rivers.

But what happened in Pakistan, which three months ago had temperatures above 40ºC and one day in May in Jacobabad it exceeded 51ºC, so now it is facing one of the worst floods in recent years. As Zia Hashmi, a water resources engineer at the Center for Global Change Impact Studies in Islamabad, Pakistan, told Nature, those heat waves began to set the conditions that led the country to live in the current situation.

What Hashmi explains is that warmer air has the ability to retain more moisture in the atmosphere. That is why, since the heat wave in May, some meteorologists have already warned that rainfall levels will be higher than normal when the monsoon (or rainy) season begins in July.

Warmer air can hold more moisture in the atmosphere. As a result, forecasters warned that extreme temperatures would likely lead to "higher than normal" levels of rainfall during the country's monsoon season, from July to September.

Melting glaciers in Pakistan

But the heat waves did not only influence this way. Athar Hussain, a climate scientist at COMSATS University in Islamabad, also told Nature that the heat of a few months ago has started to melt glaciers in the northern mountains. This increased the amount of water that reaches the tributary rivers of the Indus, the largest in the country and which flows from north to south. In addition, as seen in several videos circulating on social networks, several glacial lakes broke their dams, releasing large amounts of water.

A third meteorological factor to understand the current situation in Pakistan has to do with the fact that the start of the monsoon season was a few weeks ahead of historical records. Furthermore, according to Andrew King, a climatologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia, this "was wetter overall over a wider region for a very long period of time," he told Nature.

Poor disaster management

Other factors that may be influencing are the extension of the La Niña phenomenon, which, as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said this week, has a 70% probability of extending until the end of the year, which would mean that, for the first time In this century, the planet will experience a triple episode of this phenomenon. Climate change, which has caused Pakistan to warm by 0.3ºC per decade between 1952 and 2009, also has a lot to do with it.

“An ineffective flood early warning system, poor disaster management, political instability and unregulated urban development. The lack of drainage and water storage infrastructure, as well as the country's large population living in flood-prone areas, are likely other contributing factors," the journal article concludes after consulting officials and experts in Pakistan. The problem, as Malik Amin Aslam, Pakistan's former climate change minister, put it, is that "the worst is not over."

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