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The Ripple Effect: Unraveling the Challenges of Climate Change in Third World Countries through the Lens of Pakistan's 2022 Flood

Executive Summary

The 2022 floods in Pakistan emerged as the most devastating in the nation's history, highlighting the profound impact of climate change. In May 2022, an intense heat wave accelerated glacier melting, contributing to the overflow of lower basins. Subsequently, an unusually high volume of rainfall, nearly four times the norm, worsened the situation, causing flash floods in the northern and western mountain belt, resulting in widespread damage to lives and infrastructure.

In the intermontane and foreland basins, floodwaters inundated croplands and residential areas, leading to severe losses of lives and in both agricultural and residential structures. The extended presence of floodwaters in low-lying areas created a breeding ground for diseases, intensifying the impact on public health. The nation was compelled to acknowledge the urgency of implementing a comprehensive, nationwide, multi-faceted strategy to prepare for anticipated future floods.

During the flood period, 1,800 lives were lost, 13,000 people were injured, and 2.2 million were left homeless. Thirty-three million people were affected, approximately 30% of the population of the country, which occupies about 13% (83,000) of Pakistan's land area. Damages included the destruction of about 900,000 houses and damage to another 1.4 million. In addition, 14,000 kilometers of roads, 450 bridges, 100 dams, and 22,000 schools were destroyed. The cumulative economic losses are estimated to be $30 billion, almost 10% of the country's GDP.

While preparedness efforts in the northern mountain belt and intermontane region showed some effectiveness, the southern mountain belt and foreland basins lacked the necessary capabilities. The economic, health, and infrastructural impacts of the floods were profound, aggravating an already difficult and limited development situation in the region. These recurring floods underscore the imperative need for developing countries to adopt resilient policies and sound planning to cope with the growing threats of climate change, ensuring that they can meet the challenges and minimize the impact on their fragile economies compared to their more stable counterparts.


Introduction

The frequency of extreme weather events has increased significantly worldwide, driven by global warming. However, the disproportionate impact of these events is unmistakably felt in the developing countries of South Asia, where higher vulnerability and exposure exacerbate the consequences. Each catastrophic event pushes these nations further into the complexities of development. Pakistan, home to the world's largest glacier, once considered a valuable resource, is now facing its greatest threat due to the impacts of climate change.

Pakistan experiences flooding in every monsoon, which is a recurring seasonal calamity for the country. The incidence of extreme floods is on the rise, and is expected to become more frequent in the future due to climate change. Historically, floods were primarily associated with the northern mountain region, where glaciers and precipitation are prevalent. However, recent trends indicate a shift towards more regional floods, impacting even the usually dry southern provinces. In 2022, a remarkable event occurred that affected the entire country. This flood had two consequences — rapid devastation in the mountainous regions and prolonged inundation in plains, affecting lives and finances. The flash floods in the mountainous region were particularly destructive, while in the plains, floodwaters lingered, submerging fields for an extended period. The evolving nature of these events underscores the urgency for comprehensive climate resilience strategies in vulnerable regions, especially in the face of an anticipated increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.



The anomalous precipitation during August 2022 caused the monster flood in the region.
Figure 1: The anomalous precipitation during August 2022 caused the monster flood in the region.

The monster floods 

The exact cause of this monster flood was never known. Some scientists speculate that due to some unusual climate fluctuation, the usual monsoon which passes and precipitates through India and enters northern Pakistan, this time passes quickly over India and entered in the southern provinces and precipitated extensively (Nanditha, et. al., 2022). The pre-flood May-2022 heatwave is also considered as possible factor of this flood which itself greatly affected the livelihood and livestock in the region.

The flood has two-pronged impact based on the geomorphology and routine climate adjustment in governance and preparedness.

This flood can be examined from two perspectives: the regional distribution in the context of geomorphology, and the governance and preparedness for such calamities. The first phase of the flood, the northern and western mountain belts received extensive rainfall. In August 2022, precipitation nearly tripled (260%) the region's nominal annual rainfall. This intense rainfall resulted in extreme flash floods, debris flow, and landslides that caused significant damages to housing, infrastructure, communication and farms in the first three days of the long-duration flood season.


Roads were flooded and disrupted the transportation for days in northern Pakistan during flooding period.
Figure 2: Roads were flooded and disrupted the transportation for days in northern Pakistan during flooding period.

A similar situation develops in the western mountain belts. The western mountain belt is climatologically considered as a semi-arid region with an average of 22 mm of annual precipitation. But during this monster flood, an 8th time more precipitation occurred in the region. This extreme rainfall was devastating for this semi-arid region that was not prepared for such situation as the region never experience such an extensive precipitation. Almost 100 dams collapsed in the region which definitely aggravated the situation and caused further damages and destruction. After the extensive rainfall on the mountains, the floodwater accumulated in the intermontane basin and foreland basins. This enormous flooding water floods all the foreland plains in the south of Pakistan. These accumulated waters in the plains create an artificial lake about 100 kilometres long that floods 100 towns and villages. It took almost 12 months for the water to drain out of the region.



Towns and country side in foreland areas were flooded for month by flowing flooding from mountains. Drone scene of town (34° 4'6.23"N/ 72°30'42.67"E), Swabi district, Pakistan.
Figure 3: Towns and country side in foreland areas were flooded for month by flowing flooding from mountains. Drone scene of town (34° 4'6.23"N/ 72°30'42.67"E), Swabi district, Pakistan.


Response to the Flood 

The response to such a devastating flood fell considerably short of expectations, mainly due to Pakistan's economic constraints and the unexpected flooding in the southern mountain belt. In the northern mountain belt, which has a history of seasonal floods, a rapid and effective rescue response was developed and the destruction was small as compared to the south. The most severe impact unfolded in the southern region, where inadequate preparation collided with extensive unexpected precipitation, leading to substantial damage and loss of lives.

Adding to the challenge, in the southern foreland basin, water accumulated in the form of a stagnant lake for months. The absence of plans for drainage and discharge exacerbated the situation, prolonging the impact on the affected areas. Overall, the authorities' response to the flood was inadequate, reflecting the economic limitations of the country and, more broadly, the challenges faced by many developing nations in effectively managing such climate change crises. To mitigate the impact of future calamities it is imperative to improve preparedness, particularly in economically constrained regions. Beside all effort and preparedness, the flood caused a unrepairable loss of thousand of precious lives and an economic losses estimated to be $30 billion, almost 10% of the country's GDP.


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