While Europe, China and some other regions of the world are experiencing a severe drought, Pakistan is facing one of the worst floods in its recent history. Reports say about 110 of the 150 districts in the country are affected by the flooding. Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said on Sunday that over 1,000 people were confirmed dead in the floods so far. The flooding, the result of an unusually wet monsoon season in Pakistan this year, started in July, but has worsened over the last couple of weeks. The regions of Sindh and Balochistan, comprising the western half of Pakistan, have been badly hit, although Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa too have been affected.
Pakistan’s Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman on Sunday shared data from Pakistan’s NDMA that said nearly 33 million people, about 15% of the country’s population, had been affected by the floods. That makes this a more widespread flooding event than the one in 2010, described as a ‘superflood’ in which about 20 million people were affected, according to most assessments. More than 2,000 people are supposed to have been killed in the 2010 event.
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported on Sunday that “more than half of Pakistan” was currently under water, and that millions had been rendered homeless. At least half a million people had been evacuated and shifted to safer places, news reports said, citing Pakistan’s NDMA. News television has been running eyewitness accounts about people, especially children, getting swept by raging rivers. Several people are reported to have died in house collapses triggered by flash floods and landslides in the hilly areas.
Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) has said that most of the country was likely to remain dry — “hot and humid” — over the next two days, but some rain was expected in the upper catchments of the major rivers. That means the flow in the rivers is unlikely to subside for the next few days.
The Flood Forecasting Division of the PMD in its bulletin on Sunday warned that the Kabul river, which originates in Afghanistan and flows through the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province before joining a tributary of the Indus river not very far from Islamabad, was in a “very high flood level” near Nowshera city, and that this situation was likely to continue for at least one more day. The Indus was flowing at “high flood level” near Chashma town in Punjab and Sukkur in Sindh province, it said.
The current flood is a direct result of an extremely wet monsoon season this year. The same southwest monsoon that brings the bulk of India’s annual rainfall causes rain in Pakistan as well. The monsoon season in Pakistan, however, is a little shorter than in India. That is because the rain-bearing monsoon winds take time to travel northward from India into Pakistan. The official monsoon season in Pakistan begins on July 1 and extends until September, although most of the rainfall happens during the months of July and August. The active rainfall season is only one and a half months.
The normal rainfall for Pakistan as a whole during this three-month monsoon season is 140 mm, according to PMD. But because the season is quite short, there is a wide variation in the monsoon rainfall every year.
This year, the country saw plenty of rain from late June itself. But August has been exceptionally wet. Minister Rehman shared PMD data that showed until Friday, August had produced two and a half times its normal rainfall — 176.8 mm against the expected 50.4 mm. In Sindh, it has rained almost eight times the normal amount during this period; Balochistan has received over five times more.
“Pakistan has never seen an unbroken cycle of monsoon like this. Eight weeks of non-stop torrents have left huge swathes of the country under water. This is no normal season. This is a deluge from all sides, impacting 33 million plus people which is the size of a small country,” Rehman said on Twitter.
Thus far in this season, Pakistan has already received 354.3 mm of rain, more than three times the normal of 113.7 mm until this time. Rehman said Pakistan is currently witnessing the eighth spell of rain in this season. Normally, there are about four to five spells in the entire season.
Meanwhile, the PMD director general said that the flood situation could have been even worse but for the timely forecast. The predictions for very heavy rainfall were made in April and May, which gave some time for the government agencies to prepare.
The rainfall situation in Pakistan has been quite different from that of India so far, though incidents of extreme rainfall and flooding have happened here as well. In August, India has received rainfall that is barely 6 per cent more than the normal. For the entire season so far, the country has received 7 per cent more than normal rainfall.
However, because India is such a huge country, the overall numbers hide marked variations at the regional and local levels. Just last week, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand experienced torrential rainfall, triggering landslides and flashfloods that killed over 30 people. In August, central India, comprising mainly Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Maharashtra, has received 26% excess rainfall.