The floods hitting Pakistan could soon cover a third of the country in water and kill many thousands more people. It is a terrifying vision of what climate chaos means in the Global South.
High temperatures melted glaciers in the country’s north east and have since swelled rivers to bursting point. Then came eight weeks of continuous monsoon rains on a scale never before seen. Floods hit huge swathes of the country from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where Pakistan meets Afghanistan and Kashmir in the north, all the way to Sindh and Balochistan on the Arabian Sea in the south west.
So far, some 33 million people have been affected. Already more than 1,000 people are dead. Millions of the world’s poorest people have lost their homes, and even some large modern buildings have been washed away. Water levels are so high in some areas that people have moved to makeshift camps on higher ground. Others are even less fortunate and still live amid ruins.
They now survive waist-deep in dirty water, some desperately trying to salvage the bamboo beams that once formed part of their homes in the hope they can be rebuilt. But the passing of the floods will also reveal the full extent of the devastation.
Crops in many parts of the country are all but destroyed and more than 710,000 livestock are lost. Miles of roads and bridges have been washed away, leaving survivors completely cut off. The sense of abandonment among those hit hardest is already palpable.
In the Manoor valley, in the mountains of Kaghan, flash floods swept away the only concrete bridge connecting villages to the local town. A woman sat at the side of the river told the BBC that she can see her home but cannot reach it. “My home and my children are on the other side of the river,” she said.
“I’ve been waiting here for two days now thinking the government might come and repair the bridge. But authorities are telling us that we should start walking around the other side of the mountain to reach our homes. But that’s a hike of eight to ten hours. I am an old woman. How can I walk this much?”
The floods of 2010 were supposed to be a “once in lifetime” event. Yet, just twelve years later, it has happened again. Climate scientists say that in the era global warming, melting glaciers and unpredictable monsoons are part of the “new normal” and we should expect more of the same.
Sherry Rehman, a Pakistani senator and the country’s top climate official, agrees. “We are at the ground zero of the front line of extreme weather events, in an unrelenting cascade of heatwaves, forest fires, flash floods, multiple glacial lake outbursts, flood events and now the monster monsoon of the decade is wreaking non-stop havoc throughout the country,” she said.
Pakistan is proof that the people that have contributed least to the problem of fossil fuel-driven climate change are now in the frontline of its effects. The poor, driven from their land and homes, generally own little more than a few cattle, seeds, hay and basic household items.
But they are paying the price for world leaders and bosses’ deliberate sabotage of even the mildest reductions in the use of fossil fuels. It was revealed this week that Britain is paying the German owners of a coal‑fired power station in Nottinghamshire to keep it operational through the winter.
The Ratcliffe-on-Soar power plant was due to close at the end of September. But climate denying politicians are now using the high price of fuel and the resulting crisis to roll back on measures agreed long ago. Deals with the Drax and EDF firms to extend the running of two other plants have already been agreed.
That means the government’s aim of ending all coal power in Britain by October 2024 will almost certainly not be met. It’s a pattern repeated across the developed world.
Western politicians will in the coming days talk about their sorrow for the people of Pakistan. They will pledge funds and aid as acts of goodwill. But what really matters now is real action on climate change—the kind of action the ruling class is utterly incapable of delivering.
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