The floods in Pakistan began in late July 2010, resulting from heavy monsoon rains in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Punjab and, Balochistan regions of Pakistan, which affected the Indus Riverbasin. Approximately one-fifth of Pakistan's total land area was affected by floods. According to Pakistani government data, the floods directly affected about 20 million people, mostly by destruction of property, livelihood and infrastructure, with a death toll of close to 2,000.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had initially asked for US$460 million (€420 million) for emergency relief, noting that the flood was the worst disaster he had ever seen. Only 20% of the relief funds requested had been received on 15 August 2010. The U.N. had been concerned that aid was not arriving fast enough, and the World Health Organization reported that ten million people were forced to drink unsafe water. The Pakistani economy was harmed by extensive damage to infrastructure and crops. Damage to structures was estimated to exceed US$4 billion (€2.5 billion), and wheat crop damages were estimated to be over US$500 million (€425 million). Total economic impact may have been as much as US$43 billion (€35 billion).
The floods were driven by rain. The rainfall anomaly map published by NASA showed unusually intense monsoon rains attributed to La Niña. On 21 June, the Pakistan Meteorological Department cautioned that urban and flash flooding could occur from July to September in the north parts of the country. The same department recorded above-average rainfall in the months of July and August 2010 and monitored the flood wave progression. Discharge levels were comparable to those of the floods of 1988, 1995, and 1997. The monsoon rainfall of 2010 over the whole country was the highest since 1994 and the second highest during last 50 years.
A research by Utah State University analyzed conditional instability, moisture flux, and circulation features and the results support a persistent increase in conditional instability during the July premonsoon phase, accompanied by increased frequency of heavy rainfall events. The increased convective activity during the premonsoon phase agrees with the projected increase in the intensity of heavy rainfall events over northern Pakistan. Large-scale circulation analysis reveals an upper-level cyclonic anomaly over and to the west of Pakistan–a feature empirically associated with weak monsoon. The analysis also suggests that the anomalous circulation in 2010 is not sporadic but rather is part of a long-term trend that defies the typical linkage of strong monsoons with an anomalous anticyclone in the upper troposphere. An article in the New Scientist attributed the cause of the exceptional rainfall to "freezing" of the jet stream, a phenomenon that reportedly also caused unprecedented heat waves and wildfires in Russia as well as the 2007 United Kingdom floods.
In response to previous Indus River floods in 1973 and 1976, Pakistan created the Federal Flood Commission (FFC) in 1977. The FFC operates under Pakistan's Ministry of Water and Power. It is charged with executing flood control projects and protecting lives and property of Pakistanis from the impact of floods. Since its inception the FFC has received Rs 87.8 billion (about 900 million USD). FFC documents show that numerous projects were initiated, funded and completed, but reports indicate that little work has actually been done due to ineffective leadership and corruption.
Flooding and impact
Monsoon rains were forecast to continue into early August and were described as the worst in this area in the last 80 years. The Pakistan Meteorological Department reported that over 200 millimetres (7.9 in) of rain fell over a 24-hour period in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. A record-breaking 274 millimetres (10.8 in) rain fell in Peshawar during 24 hours; the previous record was 187 millimetres (7.4 in) of rain in April 2009. On 30 July, 500,000 or more people had been displaced from their homes. On 30 July, Manuel Bessler, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, stated that 36 districts were involved, and 950,000 people were affected, although within a day, reports increased that number to as high as a million, and by mid-August they increased the number to nearly 20 million affected.
By mid-August, according to the governmental Federal Flood Commission (FFC), the floods had caused the deaths of at least 1,540 people, while 2,088 people had received injuries, 557,226 houses had been destroyed, and over 6 million people had been displaced. One month later, the tally had risen to 1,781 deaths, 2,966 people with injuries, and more than 1.89 million homes destroyed.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial minister of information, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, said "the infrastructure of this province was already destroyed by terrorism. Whatever was left was finished off by these floods." He also called the floods "the worst calamity in our history." Four million Pakistanis were left with food shortages.
The Karakoram Highway, which connects Pakistan with China, was closed after a bridge was destroyed. The ongoing devastating floods in Pakistan will have a severe impact on an already vulnerable population, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In addition to all the other damage the floods caused, floodwater destroyed much of the health care infrastructure in the worst-affected areas, leaving inhabitants especially vulnerable to water-borne disease. In Sindh, the Indus River burst its banks near Sukkur on 8 August, submerging the village of Mor Khan Jatoi. Law and order disappeared, mainly in Sindh. Looters took advantage of the floods by ransacking abandoned homes using boats.
In early August, the heaviest flooding moved southward along the Indus River from severely affected northern regions toward western Punjab, where at least 1,400,000 acres (570,000 ha) of cropland were destroyed, and toward the southern province of Sindh. The affected crops included cotton, sugarcane, rice, pulses, tobacco and animal fodder. Floodwaters and rain destroyed 700,000 acres (3,000 km2) of cotton, 200,000 acres (800 km2) acres each of rice and cane, 500,000 tonnes of wheat and 300,000 acres (1,000 km2) of animal fodder. According to the Pakistan Cotton Ginners Association, the floods destroyed 2 million bales of cotton, which increased futures prices. 170,000 citizens (or 70% of the population) of the historic Sindh town of Thatta fled advancing flood waters on 27 August.
By mid-September the floods generally had begun to recede, although in some areas, such as Sindh, new floods were reported; the majority of the displaced persons had not been able to return home.
Heavy rainfalls recorded during the wet spell of July 2010
Heavy rainfalls of more than 200 millimetres (7.9 in) were recorded during the four-day wet spell from 27 to 30 July 2010 in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab based on data from the Pakistan Meteorological Department.
* Indicates new record.
The power infrastructure of Pakistan also took a severe blow from the floods, which damaged about 10,000 transmission lines and transformers, feeders and power houses in different flood-hit areas. Flood water inundated JinnahHydro power and 150 power houses in Gilgit. The damage caused a power shortfall of 3.135 gigawatts.
Black death diseases (e.g. gastroenteritis, diarrhoea, and skin diseases) due to lack of clean drinking water and sanitation pose a serious new risk to flood victims. On 14 August, the first documented case of cholera emerged in the town of Mingora, striking fear into millions of stranded flood victims, who were already suffering from gastroenteritis and diarrhoea. Pakistan also faced a malaria outbreak.
The International Red Cross reported that unexploded ordnance, such as mines and artillery shells, had been flushed downstream by the floods from areas in Kashmir and Waziristan and scattered in low-lying areas, posing a future risk to returning inhabitants.
The United Nations estimated that 800,000 people were cut off by floods in Pakistan and were only reachable by air. It also stated that at least 40 more helicopters are needed to ferry lifesaving aid to increasingly desperate people. Many of those cut off are in the mountainous northwest, where roads and bridges have been swept away.
By order of President Asif Ali Zardari, there were no official celebrations of Pakistan's 63rd Independence Day on 14 August, due to the calamity.
Potential long-term effects
Floods submerged 17 million acres (69,000 km2) of Pakistan's most fertile crop land, killed 200,000 livestock and washed away massive amounts of grain. A major concern was that farmers would be unable to meet the fall deadline for planting new seeds in 2010, which implied a loss of food production in 2011, and potential long term food shortages. The agricultural damage reached more than 2.9 billion dollars, and included over 700,000 acres (2,800 km2) of lost cotton crops, 200,000 acres (810 km2) of sugar cane and 200,000 acres (810 km2) of rice, in addition to the loss of over 500,000 tonnes of stocked wheat, 300,000 acres (1,200 km2) of animal fodder and the stored grain losses.
Agricultural crops such as cotton, rice, and sugarcane and to some extent mangoes were badly affected in Punjab, according to a Harvest Tradings-Pakistan spokesman. He called for the international community to fully participate in the rehabilitation process, as well as for the revival of agricultural crops in order to get better GDP growth in the future.
In affected Multan Division in South Punjab, some people were seen to be engaging in price-gouging in this disaster, raising prices up to Rs 130/kg. Some called for Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited to write off all agricultural loans in the affected areas in Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa especially for small farmers.
On 24 September, the World Food Programme announced that about 70% of Pakistan's population, mostly in rural areas, did not have adequate access to proper nutrition.
Already resurgent in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, agricultural devastation brought on by the floods left Pakistan more susceptible to an increase in poppy cultivation, given the crop's resiliency and relatively few inputs.
Floods damaged an estimated 2,433 miles (3,916 km) of highway and 3,508 miles (5,646 km) of railway and repairs are expected to cost at least 158 million USD and 131 million USD, respectively. Public building damage is estimated at 1 billion USD. Aid donors estimate that 5,000 schools were destroyed.
Climate-resilient model villages
Following the 2010 floods, the Punjab government subsequently constructed 22 'disaster-resilient' model villages, comprising 1885 single-storey homes, together with schools and health centres. The Climate & Development Knowledge Network was engaged to advise on how to make the new infrastructure resilient to extreme weather events occurring in the future. The idea was that the villages should provide 'triple wins' of limiting greenhouse gas emissions, promoting development and building resilience to climatic events. Now inhabited, the model villages incorporate biogas plants, solar energy systems, livestock sheds, covered sewerage, brick-paved streets, parks, play areas, markets and community centres.
It was reported that the flood would divert Pakistani military forces from fighting the Pakistani Taliban insurgents (TTP) in the northwest to help in the relief effort, giving Taliban fighters a reprieve to regroup. Helping flood victims gave the US an opportunity to improve its image.
Pakistani Taliban also engaged in relief efforts, making inroads where the government was absent or seen as corrupt. As the flood dislodged many property markers, it was feared that governmental delay and corruption would give the Taliban the opportunity to settle these disputes swiftly. In August a Taliban spokesperson asked the Pakistani government to reject Western help from "Christians and Jews" and claimed that the Taliban could raise $20 million to replace that aid.
According to a US official, the TTP issued a threat saying that it would launch attacks against foreigners participating in flood relief operations. In response, the United Nations said it was reviewing security arrangements for its workers. The World Health Organization stated that work in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was already suffering because of security concerns.
A self-proclaimed Taliban spokesperson based in Orakzai told The Express Tribune: "We have not issued any such threat; and we don't have any plans to attack relief workers." Nevertheless, three American Christians were reported killed by the Taliban on 25 August in the Swat Valley.
The floods' aftermath was thought likely contribute to public perception of inefficiency and to political unrest. These political effects of the floods were compared with that of the 1970 Bhola cyclone. The scepticism within the country extended to outside donors. Less than 20% of the pledged aid was scheduled to go through the government, according to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, with the remainder flowing through non-governmental organisations. The government's response was complicated by insurgencies (in Balochistan and Waziristan), growing urban sectarian discord, increasing suicide bombings against core institutions and relations with India.
On 7 September 2010, the International Labour Organization reported that the floods had cost more than 5.3 million jobs, stating that "productive and labour intensive job creation programmes are urgently needed to lift millions of people out of poverty that has been aggravated by flood damage". Forecasts estimated that the GDP growth rate of 4% prior to the floods would turn to −2% to −5% followed by several additional years of below-trend growth. As a result, Pakistan was unlikely to meet the International Monetary Fund's target budget deficit cap of 5.1% of GDP, and the existing $55 billion of external debt was set to grow. Crop losses were expected to impact textile manufacturing, Pakistan's largest export sector. The loss of over 10 million head of livestock along with the loss of other crops would reduce agricultural production by more than 15%. Toyota and Unilever Pakistan said that the floods would sap growth, necessitating production cuts as people coped with the destruction. Parvez Ghias, the chief executive of Pakistan's largest automotor manufacturer Toyota, described the economy's state as "fragile". Nationwide car sales were predicted to fall as much as 25%, forcing automakers to reduce production in October–2010 from the prior level of 200 cars per day. Milk supplies fell by 15%, which caused the retail price of milk to increase by Pk Rs 4 (5 US cents) per litre.
By the end of July 2010, Pakistan had appealed to international donors for help in responding to the disaster, having provided twenty-one helicopters and 150 boats to assist affected people, according to its National Disaster Management Authority. At that time the US embassy in Pakistan had provided seven helicopters. The United Nations launched its relief efforts and appealed for US$460 million (€420 million) to provide immediate help, including food, shelter and clean water. On 14 August, UN Secretary-GeneralBan Ki-moon visited Pakistan to oversee and discuss the relief efforts. A Pakistani army spokesman said that troops had been deployed in all affected areas and had rescued thousands of people. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani visited the province and directed the Pakistan Navy to help evacuate the flood victims. By early August, more than 352,291 people have been rescued.
By the end of August, the Relief Web Financial Tracking service indicated that worldwide donations for humanitarian assistance had come to $687 million, with a further $324 million promised in uncommitted pledges. At that time, the Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) stated that Muslim countries, organisations and individuals had pledged close to US$1 billion (€950 million) to assist in Pakistan's flood emergency, a statement placed in doubt by findings from the UN Financial Tracking Service, which indicated that only three of the OIC's 56 member states – Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Kuwait – had pledged more than single digit millions. Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani stated that by the end of August, Saudi Arabia's support exceeded that of the US, yet both UN data and data from Pakistan's Disaster Management Authority failed to support this claim.
Since the early stages of the emergency, the United Nations had warned of a potential "second wave of death" that would result from post-flood disease and food shortages, stating that 3.5 million children were at risk of death if they did not get assistance, including due to cholera. UN spokesperson Maurizio Giuliano stated that "an already colossal disaster [was] getting worse and requiring an even more colossal response", referring to the relief operations as "a marathon at sprint pace" and acknowledging shortcomings in the response insofar as the needs were outpacing available resources also due to endless rains. He indicated that the floods had a worse impact than several other recent natural disasters combined, and that they were the worst natural disaster in United Nations history.
According to UNOCHA, by 2011, a total of $2,653,281,105 had been raised in humanitarian support, the largest amount by the US (25.8%), followed by private individuals and organisations (13.4%) and Japan (11.3%).
With need for substantial support to repair infrastructure, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested that the Pakistani government enlarge its tax base by asking the wealthy citizens of Pakistan to contribute more for their country; by that time both the US and the EU each had contributed about US$450 million, €395 million for the relief effort.
Response by national governments
- Afghanistan finance minister Omar Zakhilwal handed a cheque worth US$1 million (45 million Afghanis) to Pakistani ambassador Mohammad Sadiq at the end of a press conference in Afghan capital Kabul.
- Algeria donated €100,000 to Pakistan.
- Argentina sent drinkable water.
- Australia announced that it will double its aid program to Pakistan to $66.5 million in official development assistance in 2010–2011, as well as committing two C17 Globemaster aircraft to deliver emergency supplies and to assist relief efforts and deploying a medical task force consisting of up to 180 personnel and more than 33 tonnes of equipment.
- Austria donated €5.6 million to Pakistan.
- Azerbaijan gave US$2 million financial assistance to help the victims and eliminate the aftermath of the disaster. The Azerbaijani embassy in Pakistan said the Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev ordered to send two Il-76 planes with a humanitarian assistance on board to Pakistan. One of the planes delivered 40 tonnes of humanitarian cargo to Pakistan. Also the staff of Azerbaijan embassy in Pakistan also transferred its two-days' salary worth around $2,000 to relief fund.
- Bahrain donated $6.9 million to Pakistan.
- Belarus donated blankets, tents, canned meat, water, and medicines, all worth around €200,000.
- Belgium donated €150,000 for the victims.
- Botswana donated US$103,040.
- Brazil donated US$0.7 million through World Food Programme or life-saving assistance to the affected.
- Canada announced that it would donate C$2 million worth of emergency aid. C$750,000 are expected to be donated to the ICRC for distribution of shelter-materials and water, sanitation and health-services, while the remainder goes to the WFP to provide much-needed food-assistance. On 14 August the Canadian government announced an additional C$32 million in aid. The Canadian government announced on 22 August that it will match, dollar-for-dollar, citizen donations made to registered charities between 2 August and 12 September, later extended to 3 October 2010. On 14 September, an additional $C7.5 million in relief aid was announced by the Canadian government.
- In September 2010, China had provided 320 million yuan (47.1 million USD) worth of humanitarian supplies to Pakistan in four batches with $200 million USD more aid promised by Premier Wen Jiabao. which will total 1.86 billion yuan (274 million USD). China initially announced that it would provide emergency aid worth 10 million yuan (approx. US$1.48 million) to help the flood-victims. The People's Liberation Army donated another 10 million yuan to Pakistan. The Chinese Red Cross also gave $50,000 USD in cash to Pakistan. The Chinese ambassador to Pakistan travelled to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and expressed his condolences to those affected by the tragedy. On 13 August, China announced further emergency humanitarian aid worth 50 million yuan (US$7.35 million) bringing the total official Chinese relief aid then to more than 70 million yuan (approx. US$10.3 million). A Chinese search and rescue team arrived in the southern Pakistani city of Thatta, Sindh Province, where heavy floods swept away hundreds of villages. The Chinese rescue team, consisting of more than 60 members, set up tents and field hospitals to provide medical services to flood victims. The Red Cross Society of China and some of China's local governments had also offered cash and material assistance to Pakistan. China announced another aid package of 200 million RMB on 6 September. Chinese ambassador in Pakistan Lui Jian said that the Chinese total contribution had reached 50 million dollars with another batch of $200 million promised by China's premier Wen Jiabao on 23 September. On 20 September, China dispatched 4 of its military helicopters to aid in the search and rescue to Pakistan, which is the first time China had ever dispatched military helicopters overseas to perform such duties. The helicopters also provided flood relief aid.
- Cyprus donated €131,062 to Pakistan.
- The Czech military have sent 24 flights with humanitarian aid.
- Denmark donated 63 million DKK (11 million euro) in relief efforts and another 130 million DKK (22 million euro) in further development aid.
- Egypt donated medicine, medical supplies and foodstuffs.
- Estonia donated 64,000 €.
- The European Union released €10 million to help Pakistan's flood victims on 11 August, as part of emergency aid to flood-stricken country. By 18 August, the EU had committed to spending €70 million (90 million dollars) on aid for victims of the floods.
- Finland government donated €1.2 million for humanitarian assistance to the flood victims. €600,000 were channelled through the World Health Organization, €400,000 through the UNHCR and €200,000 through Finn Church Aid.
- France donated 1.05 million € and 35 tonnes of emergency supplies, tarpaulins, tanks, blankets, jerry cans, kitchen sets, water purification tablets, 200 shelters and anti-cholera medicines.
- Georgia donated €100,000 in aid to Pakistan.
- Germany initially committed €1 million for the victims, which was further increased to €2 million on 6 August. On 12 August, Germany announced a €13 million aid package. On 13 August Germany increased its aid commitment by €10 million to now €25 million in direct help plus €43 million via contributions through international organisations with which it is associated. In addition there have been private donations to charities in the scale of €24 million up to 18 August. The Muslim community in Germany also donated generously for the victims of Pakistan floods.
- Greece donated €100,000.
- Hong Kong donated HK$ 3 million to World Vision for a relief project for flood victims in Pakistan.
- Hungary donated €50,000.
- Iceland contributed ISK 23 million (€190,000) to emergency aid in areas impacted by the monsoon floods in Pakistan.
- Indonesia The Government of Indonesia dispatched a cargo flight carrying humanitarian assistance of US$1million for the flood victims. The relief assistance which arrived at the Chaklala Air base by a charted cargo flight consisted of 15 tons of emergency supplies included 4.5 tons of ready to eat meals' packets, 3 tons of medicines, 5 tons of powdered milk for children, 4000 blankets and 4000 Sarongs.On behalf of the Government of the Republic of Indonesia the donation of the relief goods was handed over by the Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia H.E. Mr. Ishak Latuconsina to the State Minister for Information and Broadcasting Mr. Sumsam Ali Shah Bukhari at the Chaklala Air base on 7 August 2010.
- India, on 13 August, offered condolences and $5 million in financial aid. Pakistan accepted the offer on 20 August, a day after the meeting between Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers. On 1 September 2010, India raised the aid amount to US$25 million. Nearly 400 Indian medical staff have been waiting for the Pakistan government's visa approval to help flood victims. India had also already supplied the first consignment of 25 truck-loads of potato to Pakistan.
- Iran had committed over 400 tonnes of relief goods; out of which 330 tonnes had already been delivered by the Iranian transport aircraft as of 24 August 2010. Iran also offered to set up field hospitals and community centres for flood victims in Pakistan. In response to the UN's appeal for help at New York, Iran committed US $10 million towards the flood relief. In addition to this fund, Imam Khomeini Relief Committee was directed to collect private donations from Iranians and donate it to Pakistani government. Iranian interior minister during a meeting with Pakistani interior minister informed the latter that Iran is the third largest donor nation in terms of delivered aid. Iran also assured Pakistan of its continued support and aid into the future. In order to better supply relief to flood victims, Iranian president Dr. Ahmadinejad would visit the flood hit areas of Pakistan. Iran also donated 50,000 tents and sent 500 doctors and nurses to help with ongoing international relief operation. Iran started to send an additional 1,100 tonnes of relief goods to Pakistan on 5 September 2010 as part of its ongoing relief operation. Iran is also setting up 15 relief and medical camps in every Pakistani province each capable of holding 1,000 families. On 12 September 2010, Iran allocated an additional US $100 million for Pakistan flood relief. 51% of all relief distributed by International red crescent in Pakistan had been donated by Iran. Iran announced on 8 November 2010 that in addition to 5,300 tonnes of aid cargo shipped by Iran to Pakistan, the Iranian hajj pilgrims will donate money and the 103,000 slaughtered sheep of Iranian pilgrims to Pakistan.
- An initial €200,000 was donated by the government of the Republic of Ireland. An additional €550,000 was added on 9 August 2010. Then the total was €960,000. The Irish media were critical of the country's government for providing less than half the aid it donated to Haiti after the earthquake there. €1.19 million was added on 19 August, bringing the total at that stage to €2 million, the total given to the Haiti disaster.Minister for Overseas DevelopmentPeter Power, TD, said at the time that more aid would be forthcoming from Ireland and that the country had provided a "proportionally greater" amount than "most other European countries". The Irish public had provided an additional sum of more than €2.5 million by 20 August. Ireland proved to be the most generous European country in donating aid to Pakistan.
- Israel offered aid to Pakistan, but the officials said they have not received an answer from Pakistan on whether or not the aid should be forwarded.
- Italy provided €1.33 million, including a humanitarian aid flight carrying emergency supplies such as medicines, generators, water purifiers and containers.
- Japan provided $230,000 USD for emergency relief goods, while additional assistance of up to $3 million USD was committed for the disaster aftermath.In a press release, Japan announced to extend the aid to 14.4 million USD (approx. 1.22 billion JPY) in total, in the form of the provision of emergency relief goods, as well as food, water, sanitation etc. Japan is also expected to send a unit of six helicopters and some 300 SDF Troops
UNITED NATIONS -- Devastating flooding that has swamped one-fifth of Pakistan and left millions homeless is likely the worst natural disaster to date attributable to climate change, U.N. officials and climatologists are now openly saying.
Most experts are still cautioning against tying any specific event directly to emissions of greenhouse gases. But scientists at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in Geneva say there's no doubt that higher Atlantic Ocean temperatures contributed to the disaster begun late last month.
Atmospheric anomalies that led to the floods are also directly related to the same weather phenomena that a caused the record heat wave in Russia and flooding and mudslides in western China, said Ghassem Asrar, director of the World Climate Research Programme and WMO. And if the forecasts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are correct, then Pakistan's misery is just a sign of more to come, said Asrar.
"There's no doubt that clearly the climate change is contributing, a major contributing factor," Asrar said in an interview. "We cannot definitely use one case to kind of establish precedents, but there are a few facts that point towards climate change as having to do with this."
There's also no doubt that the Pakistan flooding will join the ranks of the worst natural disasters in recorded history.
The flooding started slowly at the end of July and gradually accelerated over the past two weeks. Disaster assessment maps show that almost the entire northern part of Pakistan and most of its central region have been hit.
During the most intense storms, about a foot of rain fell over a 36-hour period. Parts of the affected areas, in particular Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province (formerly Northwest Frontier province) received 180 percent of the precipitation expected in a normal monsoon cycle. More rain is expected in the days ahead.
Records show that the famed Indus River is at its highest water level ever recorded in the 110 years since regular record-keeping began. Estimates put the number of displaced people at somewhere between 15 million and 20 million, and the government believes about 1,600 are confirmed dead.
6.5 million need food, drinking water and medicine
The International Organization for Migration says the greatest immediate need is in Punjab, where roughly 500,000 families pushed out by the floods are awaiting assistance. All told, agencies guess that about 6.5 million Pakistanis need shelter, food, potable water and medicine.
"This is a disaster which has affected many more people than I have ever seen," said John Holmes, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who also leads relief efforts in Haiti.
Zamir Akram, Pakistani ambassador to the U.N. center in Geneva, said floodwaters now cover an area roughly the size of England. Satellite surveys show about 160,000 square kilometers (62,000 square miles) is underwater, or about one-fifth of Pakistan's landmass and roughly equivalent to the areas of Austria, Belgium and Switzerland combined.
Asrar at the WMO says higher-than-average Atlantic temperatures and conditions made ripe by the La Niña cycle of lower temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean created the perfect conditions for the rains. Experts acknowledge that the scale of this disaster has been made worse by a history of deforestation and land-use changes in the affected areas, but Asrar insists that the sheer volume of precipitation absorbed by clouds and then dumped on Pakistan is chiefly to blame.
Climate scientists at WMO and elsewhere, including those with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, say this year's summer is one of the hottest ever, with high temperatures breaking records across the United States, Europe and Central Asia. Consequently, the surface of the Atlantic has also been much warmer than usual.
The IPCC assessment reports note that higher ocean temperatures lead to more water vapor entering the atmosphere. This fact, Asrar said, already pointed toward a stronger than usual monsoon season in store for South Asia.
Abnormal airflow dumps supersaturated air
Normal air patterns would have dispersed this precipitation over as wide an area as possible. But an abnormal airflow caused by La Niña created a ridge of pressure that blocked the warm, saturated air from moving west to east normally, Arar said.
This same ridge prevented the rains from reaching western Russia, where a severe drought has been blamed for raging wildfires and the destruction of 20 percent of the wheat crop there. And with nowhere else to go, Pakistan and China's far west bore the brunt when the clouds became too saturated with moisture and opened up.
"Basically, this rift that was forming blocked the warm air moving from west to east, and then, on the other side, this air that was super saturated with water vapor had to precipitate all this excess water that was in the atmosphere, which created this unprecedented amount of rain in short period of time," Asrar explained. "The connecting factor is that clearly the warming is a driver for all these events."
The United Nations says that $459 million is need for international and nongovernmental relief agencies to respond to the disaster. About 35 percent of that appeal is now funded, mostly by contributions from the U.S. and U.K. governments.
Donations from other corners and the private sector have been slow in coming, though aid officials are reporting an uptick in contributions in recent days.
"The response has been a bit slower than perhaps with other disasters but definitely donations are starting to come now," said Airlie Taylor at the London offices of ActionAid International. "I think the world is now starting to wake up to the magnitude of the crisis."
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is asking for $16 million in donations to buffer the emergency relief activities of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society.
Though more rain is expected and the southern reaches of the country can expect further flooding as the rivers drain out, rumors that India might release even more water from dams upstream are causing a panic in some areas. Pakistani authorities say the rumors are baseless and are desperately trying to get the word out to prevent a spread of disorder.
"The data collected about the Indian dams on Ravi, Sutlej and Beaus Rivers indicate that these dams are not yet filled to their capacity and further no flood producing strong monsoon rainy system is in sight," said Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudry, head of the Pakistan Meteorological Department, in a release. "As such we may not expect that India would release sudden flood water in these rivers in the next five to ten days at least."
Hundreds of thousands of homes lost
Hundreds of thousands of homes have been completely swept away all over the country, and several communities have been cut off from the outside world as floodwaters washed bridges and roads away. Officials don't yet know what the full cost of recovery will be, but all expect it to be tremendous -- Akram in Geneva told reporters that the cost to rebuild Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, one of the hardest hit, would be at least $2.5 billion.
"The needs on the ground require a massive response," said IFRC chief Bekele Geleta. "It's not just about saving people's lives today; we need to plan for their long-term recovery tomorrow."
The litany of weather incidents during the summer of 2010 reads like the latest Hollywood global disaster movie.
The hottest summer ever recorded in 130 years has sparked thousands of wildfires in Russia, burning some entire villages to the ground, killing 53 and leaving 3,500 homeless, according to Russian state media. Cooler temperatures are finally bringing some relief, shrinking the extent of the flames from more than 100,000 acres down to about 54,000 acres.
Next to Pakistan, record rainfall and subsequent flooding and mudslides in western China are estimated to have left roughly 1,200 dead and scores more homeless. China's government has been handling that crisis on its own and has yet to appeal for international support.
Russia's drought has reduced its wheat crop by 20 percent, and droughts in Canada are anticipated to reduce the crop there by an equal proportion. Though the Food and Agriculture Organization says the United States alone has enough grain in storage to meet the gap, the U.S. Department of Agriculture put out a warning last week that reduced yields from droughts in Europe and Africa have lowered food stores to levels close to those seen just before the onset of the 2007 food crisis in the developing world.
Less reported, on Aug. 5, a sensor on a NASA satellite recorded a massive chunk of ice breaking off a glacier in Greenland. The huge block measures more than 77 square miles in size and is one of the largest calving incidents witnessed in the Northern Hemisphere.
Asrar and other WMO officials argue that the evidence linking all these events to climate change is strong.
"The occurrence of all these events at almost the same time raises questions about their possible linkages to the predicted increase in intensity and frequency of extreme events, for example, as stipulated in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report published in 2007," WMO says in a report.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500