Large parts of Pakistan were left underwater in 2022. Abdul Majeed / EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid, Flickr

Two years on, Pakistan is still reeling from its worst-ever floods

Communities struggle to rebuild from 2022 catastrophe

Two years ago, as it always did, the annual rainy season began in Pakistan.

But this was no normal monsoon, and no one could have predicted what was to come.

The summer of 2022 would see the worst floods in the country’s history, which claimed more than 1,700 lives and affected some 33 million people. The floods caused over USD 30 billion in damage and economic losses, according to World Bank estimates.

“I was helping with emergency aid in the worst-hit provinces, including Sindh and Balochistan,” says Pervez Ali, a policy advisor at Germanwatch and former country coordinator for Fridays for Future Pakistan.

“I can tell you it was the very worst experience of my life – being with people in the floodwater, seeing the effects of waterborne diseases and people suffering from the traumatic experience,” he reflects.

Mudasar Hyder, a member of the GLF Asia-Pacific Project Team, remembers his family telling him about the floods that inundated his home province of Sindh in 2005.

Then, in 2022, he saw the effects firsthand.

Aerial view of Pakistan floods
An aerial view of the flooding in Khairpur Nathan Shah, Sindh. Ali Hyder Junejo, Flickr

“The floodwaters rose to more than 10 feet [3 meters] in front of my house,” he recalls. “It was very frightening for all of us.”

Both young activists are now working with international organizations to prepare Pakistan and the world for the climate disasters still to come.

“South Asia has always been very vulnerable to flooding in the monsoon season, but now we’re seeing heavier floods, and obviously, this is because of climate change,” says Hyder.

Pakistan was the eighth most-affected country by climate disasters between 2000 and 2019, according to Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk Index.

Climate scientists say the deluge in 2022 was largely caused by a combination of rising temperatures and La Niña, which led to a drastic increase in rainfall and accelerated the melting of some of Pakistan’s 7,000 glaciers.

As a result, the five-day maximum rainfall over Sindh and Balochistan was about 75 percent more intense than it would have been without human-made climate change.

Destroyed house
A house destroyed by the floods in Quetta, photographed in October 2022. Assad Tanoli, Unsplash

How the floods changed Pakistan

The floods had a catastrophic impact on the country’s poorest and most vulnerable, plunging 8 to 9 million people into poverty.

Two years on, these communities have yet to recover from the devastation.

“When the floods came, they destroyed all the fields and all the structures, including homes and schools,” says Ali.

“Right now, things are still trying to get back on track. Even some schools damaged during the 2010 floods have still not been repaired, so it’ll probably take another 10 years or so to get there.”

Hyder notes that most Pakistanis live in rural areas, and the country’s economy relies heavily on agriculture. He says it has been particularly hard for smallholders to get back on their feet.

“Right when they were about to harvest their crops, the floods came – so they lost everything,” he says.

“Many farmers had to finance their crops themselves, so they couldn’t pay back the interest and went bankrupt. It can take years to get back to where they were.”

Last year, a report by Islamic Relief by Islamic Relief found that 40 percent of young children were experiencing stunted growth more than a year after the floods, while rates of diarrhea, malaria and dengue fever had skyrocketed.

Flood rescue
Many areas of the country were still flooded in September 2022, four months after the floods had started. Julien Harneis, Flickr

The disaster also took a major toll on mental health, with a recent study finding that almost half of survivors were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Ali says one of the most important and overlooked issues now is NELDS – the non-economic losses and damages that affect quality of life and emotional well-being.

“You need to count the mental health pressure and the problems that arise in families when climate change affects a region,” he says. “These issues last well beyond the immediate emergency.”

“I predict a very dark future for the younger generation who are growing up in a disastrous situation, completely clueless of what’s going to happen next summer and the summer after that.”

Ali says the experience of frequent floods left him scarred.

“Growing up, I used to hate summers because I knew there would be rain, and then flash floods everywhere, and my school would close, my playground would be closed and I would have to move to some other place,” he recalls. “I felt the trauma.”

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A call for climate justice

The way the world responded to the Pakistan floods would be a ‘litmus test’ for climate justice, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at the time.

Although Pakistan is the world’s fifth-most populous country, it emits only around 0.5 percent of global carbon emissions – less than the U.A.E., despite having 25 times the population.

“The developed world has to realize that we are the ones facing the consequences of their actions,” says Hyder.

Many Pakistanis are already bracing for worse to come. Hyder says people in his hometown have started building their houses at least 1.5 meters above the ground to prevent them from being flooded again.

“We are being affected, we are being displaced, and we are losing economic value. The world has to contribute to the development of Pakistan, India and other countries that are being heavily affected by climate change.”

Aid queue
Local people queue for humanitarian relief. Abdul Majeed / EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid, Flickr

A sign of things to come?

So, how can countries like Pakistan adapt and build resilience to the climate crisis? Ali believes governments and communities must address the problem on multiple fronts.

“There are gaps that need to be filled: there is a gap in financial aid to countries at the forefront of climate change. There is a gap in policy development. There is a gap of indices to be considered as serious goals – not something you just write about and do nothing about. There are also gaps in capacity building at many levels.”

Ali also stresses the importance of ensuring that local communities form a key part of the solution.

“When someone from Islamabad or a person from Germany comes and briefs local people and tells them how to tackle their problems, they may not understand,” he says.

“It’s important to consider how we disseminate information – that needs to be more inclusive.”

Hyder points to other worrying impacts of the climate crisis in Pakistan, including deforestation, biodiversity loss and rising sea levels.

“In some coastal areas, rising sea levels have left the land very salty, and farmers are unable to cultivate anymore, and eventually, their villages become uninhabitable,” he says.

“This means people are leaving rural areas and moving to cities like Karachi, which is already densely populated, and creating more challenges.”

Unfortunately, this trend is unlikely to change anytime soon: modeling suggests nearly 2 million Pakistanis could be internally displaced due to climate disasters by 2050.

Nor is the rest of the world immune to these struggles, Ali warns.

“If it’s us today, then it’s going to be the developed countries – the emitting countries – tomorrow.

“We are like a movie trailer: you can see what’s happening in small bits, but when you see the full movie, you will see the destruction everywhere around you.”

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