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Pakistan flooding

Flood-affected people gather by an embankment after heavy monsoon rains in Dadu district, Sindh province, Pakistan on September 9, 2022. (Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images)

Pakistan Floods Made Worse By Climate Crisis and Inequality: Study

"As climate-related losses rapidly mount, global demands for climate justice will only grow," one expert said.

Julia Conley

The catastrophic flooding that killed more than 1,500 people across Pakistan in recent weeks was driven largely by the climate crisis and the heating of the planet, a new analysis released Thursday says, adding that the devastating impact of the extreme weather event was made worse by long-term structural inequalities and injustices in the country—similar to those across the Global South.

International climate experts teamed up to conduct the study for World Weather Attribution, a project that determines how much the human-caused climate crisis is fueling individual extreme weather events.

"This disaster was the result of vulnerability that was constructed over many, many years."

In Pakistan, the heavy rainfall in recent weeks was unusually intense, even for the country's monsoon season, with the city of Karachi in Sindh province seeing 48 inches of rain between late June and late August. The desert city ordinarily gets about 10 inches of rain annually.

"In the world without climate change, it would have been less likely," Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College of London and the lead author of the study, told The Washington Post.

Focusing largely on the hard-hit Sindh and Balochistan provinces and using methods endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S., the scientists examined past annual records of rainfall and used computer simulations to compare August's intense rainfall with what would have happened if fossil fuel emissions had not already not caused the Earth's surface to warm by an average of 1.87°F since pre-industrial times.

Over five days, the researchers found, the intensity of rainfall increased by up to 50%, a change that was likely due to the climate crisis.

The monsoons left Sindh province with eight times its normal rainfall for the month of August and Balochistan with nearly seven times its average amount. The whole country experienced more than three times its normal rainfall.

The World Weather Attribution noted that several other factors contributed to the devastation that Pakistan is still experiencing, with 1.7 million homes, 269 bridges, 1,460 healthcare facilities, and more than 18,500 schools destroyed by the flooding that at one point submerged a third of the country.

The proximity of homes, infrastructure, and agricultural land to flood plains; "an outdated river management system"; and "underlying vulnerabilities driven by high poverty rates and socioeconomic factors" all made 33 million people in Pakistan more likely to have their lives severely disrupted by the extreme rainfall and resulting floods, said the researchers.

"This disaster was the result of vulnerability that was constructed over many, many years," Ayesha Siddiqi, a geographer at the University of Cambridge who participated in the study, told the Associated Press.

The study was released as world leaders prepare to meet in November in Cairo for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), during which wealthy governments are expected to face intense pressure from campaigners to commit to financing climate action and damage mitigation in the Global South, where millions of people live on the frontlines of the climate emergency while wealthy countries have done far more to cause global heating.

As Jeffrey D. Sachs of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University wrote in a column on Friday, between 1850 and 2020, Pakistan was responsible for emitting 5.2 billion tons of carbon—"roughly what the U.S. emits each year."

"All countries are responsible for decarbonizing their energy systems and managing their land and ecosystems responsibly and sustainably," wrote Sachs. "Yet the developing world will not forget the leading role that rich countries have played in creating today's worldwide climate disasters."

"As climate-related losses rapidly mount," he added, "global demands for climate justice will only grow."

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