August Deluge

South Asia is devastated by deadly deluges. Afghanistan, Pakistan and North India have witnessed unprecedented rainfall and floods in recent weeks. It’s climate change. Whether they admit it or not the climate change is dangerously changing the monsoon pattern in South Asia and making floods more likely. Right now one third of Pakistan is under water.

Hotter air, an unusually heavy monsoon, melting glaciers and a poverty-stricken population living with infrastructure incapable of protecting it–the recent floods in Pakistan, Afghanistan and north India were due to a number of factors. But the most important cause is, undeniably, the climate crisis.

South Asia has always been a victim of a hostile climate, but this year is turning out to be one of the worst for the region. Even traditionally arid regions in north India faced severe floods.

For one thing India and Pakistan were hit by the worst heatwave on record–made 30 times more likely due to the climate crisis–and now, multiple cycles of heavy downpours since June have sparked calamitous floods in August.

More than 1,191 people, including 399 children, have been killed so far, while 33 million people or 15 percent of Pakistan’s 220 million people have been affected.

“Monster monsoon” has also affected neighbouring Bangladesh, yet another populous country of South Asia this year.

The entire region is responsible for only a minuscule level of carbon emissions, with Pakistan and Bangladesh producing less than 1 per cent, but it is a “climate crisis hotspot”, as highlighted recently by UN secretary general António Guterres and previously in reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Early estimates put the damage from Pakistan’s floods at more than $10bn (£8.6bn).

Pakistan has never seen an unbroken cycle of monsoon [rains] like this. “Eight weeks of non-stop torrents have left huge swathes of the country underwater. This is a deluge from all sides.”

Pakistan has received nearly 190 per cent more rain than the 30-year average in the quarter from June to August this year, totalling 390.7mm (15.38 inches). July was the wettest month for the region on record since 1961.

Pakistan’s Sindh province, with a population of 50 million, has been hit the hardest, getting 466 percent more rain than the 30-year average. Major rivers such as the Indus are overflowing and low-lying areas around it have turned into swamps and lakes.

Surface air temperature has increased in the past century all over Asia, causing stronger, more frequent and longer heat waves. Both India and Pakistan had their highest temperatures on record this year during the deadly heatwave in April and May.

With a warming planet, such episodes are likely to become much more common in the coming years.

There’s an unusual trend in the monsoon pattern in the region, which contributed to increased rainfall in Pakistan–a trend that has increasingly become visible over the last five years, “The two back-to-back monsoon depressions [low-pressure system in the monsoon] travelled right from the Bay of Bengal via central India to south Sindh and Balochistan in Pakistan”. Experts think it is a rare event–as people usually do not see weather systems travelling in such a direction.

The long-term melting of the glaciers of the Himalayas already worsened by the record heatwave this year, also exacerbated flash flooding in Pakistan as more water raced downhill throughout the summer to contribute to the deluge.

Pakistan is home to more than 7,200 glaciers, more than anywhere outside the poles. They are a source for rivers that account for about 75 per cent of the stored water supply in the country.

Melting of glaciers is another impact of a warming planet.


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Vol 55, No. 12, Sep 18 - 24, 2022