The Pakistan floods have left 1,300 dead, millions homeless, villages submerged and farms and livelihood lost. Almost all experts have pointed towards "climate disaster" for the catastrophic floods in Pakistan.
A third of Pakistan is underwater. The affected people are trying to migrate to safe locations even as many still remain stranded on patches of land in the middle of heavily-flooded streams. Heat waves, heavy monsoon rains, and melting glaciers are major environmental factors that are being held responsible for the catastrophic deluge.
The disaster has brought to focus — the fast-shrinking glaciers in the Himalayas, which appeared to have worsened the floods in Pakistan. At the same time, rich and developed countries are under fire for what is happening in Pakistan. Why? How they are linked to it?
Pakistan floods are seen as a key symptom of global warming — a fallout of carbon emissions by the wealthier countries.
While Pakistan's contribution to the global carbon emission is less than 1 percent, the country has become one of the most climate vulnerable places in the world. Now voices are raised in support of the Pakistan flood victims who lived in mud houses, contributed virtually nothing to the global emissions but ended up becoming the biggest victims of global warming.
This year's floods alone have inflicted USD 10 billion loss on Pakistan's economy.
Pakistan Floods: What Role Did Climate Change Play?
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the impacts of climate change are becoming evident faster than projected earlier.
Pakistan has seen an increase in the frequency of floods and subsequent devastation since 2009. South Asia is a climate hotspot and it is considered the epicentre of global climate change. Besides Pakistan, India too has witnessed record-smashing heatwaves and frequent floods in recent years.
While some would express doubt over attributing these environmental changes to climate change, the scientific modelling and estimates in recent years cleared the role climate change plays.
Dr Anil Kulkarni, distinguished visiting scientist at Divecha Centre for Climate Change, told BOOM that scientific observations show the Pakistan floods occurred due to climate change.
"These floods occurred due to a combination of three major reasons. There was a higher level of rainfall. Numerous lakes that were formed in higher Himalayas were burst. On top of that the unprecedented heatwaves accelerated the glacial melting, which played an important role in worsening the flood," Kulkarni told BOOM. Divecha Centre for Climate Change is established in Bengaluru-based Indian Institute of Science (IISc).
Are The Pakistan Floods A Sign Of Global Warming?
Pakistan had witnessed floods in 2010 too, which affected one-fifth of its area. UN officials and scientists had then warned it was a sign of global warming. The Indus River was at its highest water level ever recorded in the previous 110 years.
Now in 2022, the same river has flooded an area about 100-km wide, inundating large swaths of Sindh province in southern Pakistan.
Many parts of Pakistan saw extreme weather conditions this year. Phenomenal heat waves in the months of April and May caused temperatures to cross 40 degrees Celsius for a prolonged period in many places. The high moisture in warmer air is likely the reason behind causing 'above normal' level of rains during the monsoon season.
Also, the intense heat rendered the Himalayan glaciers melt fast, which led to a surge in water flow in the tributaries that feed the Indus River. The torrent of water broke the river's banks, submerging villages, and razing standing crops and infrastructure.
Predictions by climate scientists show climate change causes the average monsoon rainfall in the Indian subcontinent to increase.
How Are Himalayan Glaciers Making Floods Worse?
The melting of glaciers is an impact of global warming.
Pakistan is home to over 7,000 glaciers; the highest for any country in the world outside the polar region. And that means, the impact of glaciers melting will be more in that region, thus causing floods. The Himalayan glaciers make other Asian nations such as India and Bangladesh vulnerable to similar conditions as well.
The intense heatwaves earlier this year caused extreme melting in the Himalayan glaciers, researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Indore noted. For over 15 years, they have been tracking the extent of snow cover, ice formations, and discharge from seasonal snowmelt. This year, a record-breaking glacial melt washed the discharge measuring station clean away.
"We had installed it in June and by August we couldn't even find the remnants. We had an intense heat wave in early summer when temperatures in March and April broke 100-year records. And we have had resulting glacial melt. Our team was on a glacier last week and we have seen record-breaking melt in the Himalayas," Mohammad Farooq Azam, a glaciologist at IIT Indore told Bloomberg.
Glaciers have been shrinking over the past several decades as they have been unable to regain their mass. The reasons are the rapid melting of glaciers due to a spike in average temperature and also winter snowfall becoming fickle.
A study report named 'Accelerated mass loss of Himalayan glaciers since the Little Ice Age' asserted that the glacial recession in the Himalayas had accelerated over the past decade and that too at a higher rate than the glaciers in other regions of the world. "Our findings clearly show that ice is now being lost from Himalayan glaciers at a rate that is at least ten times higher than the average rate over past centuries," Dr Jonathan Carrivick, the lead author of the study said in a statement when the study was published in 2021.
Carrivick and many other scientists find a direct relation between the rapid glacier recession and human-induced climate change.
Their climate models suggest that human-induced global warming may be intensifying downpours, and warmer climate would lead to more frequent and more intense rainfall.
UN Secretary General António Guterres said the catastrophic floods in Pakistan was a warning to every nation of the potential destruction the human-induced global warming can do. Scientific studies revealed that man-made factors such as greenhouse gases and aerosol generated through human activities are to be blamed majorly for the accelerating glacier melting.
Why Are Rich Countries Responsible For It?
"We are suffering from it but it is not our fault at all," said Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
According to a think tank named Center for Global Development, the developed countries are responsible for 79 percent of historical carbon emission. Yet the poor nations that contributed least to the emissions are going to be most harmed. People living in these countries are more exposed to the negative effects of climate change as their habitats are prone to floods, droughts while having no means of resilience.
The Pakistan floods have shown how the section of climate vulnerable communities will face difficulties in protecting their livelihoods, mainly agriculture-based and in having access to enough food, drinking water, and sanitation. Some are calling it "climate apartheid".
The richest 1 percent of the global population account for more carbon emissions that the poorest 50 percent.
The United States tops the list of biggest carbon emitters, followed by China and the European Union. The rich states are urged to take climate action to redress historic injustices. Many have demanded they must make mandatory contributions to compensate the poor countries for loss and damage caused due to effects of climate change.
Climate activists believe the world's richest countries need to step up and take concrete steps for climate change mitigation by reducing or preventing emission of greenhouse gases.
What Should Countries With High Emissions Do?
Pakistan's foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told CNBC that the flooding is a "climate disaster of biblical proportion".
"Pakistan at this point in time, is paying with their lives and in their livelihoods for a climate disaster that is not of their making," he said.
Leaders from poor countries, climate activists and scientists have urged the rich countries with high emission records to provide compensation and remedy for the loss and damage in Pakistan caused by the climate crisis.
"States that have enriched themselves using fossil fuels and other unsustainable practices must meet their international obligations. They must provide compensation and other forms of remedy for the loss and damage people are suffering in Pakistan," said Rimmel Mohydin, Amnesty International's Pakistan Campaigner.
Switzerland-based climate justice activist Payal Parekh told BOOM that it was the "cruel irony of climate change" that the countries with the least emissions, such as Pakistan, bear the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
"To this end the climate negotiations must establish a financing mechanism to cover Loss and Damage. Furthermore a poor country like Pakistan can only deal with this calamity if debt is dropped in order to focus on rebuilding the country and caring for the 33 million internal displaces," Parekh told BOOM.
Experts believe the brutal Pakistan deluge is "a wake-up call" to all global businesses and governments. The floods are likely to take centre stage at the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Egypt in November.
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