Officials said on Sunday that Pakistan’s death toll from widespread flooding has topped 1,000 since mid-June, as the country’s climate minister called the deadly rainy season a “major climate disaster.”
Flash flooding from heavy rain washed away villages and crops as soldiers and rescuers evacuated stranded residents to safe relief camps and provided food for thousands of displaced Pakistanis.
Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority said the death toll as the rainy season started earlier than usual this year – in mid-June – reached 1,061 after more deaths were reported in different provinces.
Sherri Rehman, a Pakistani senator and the country’s top climate official, said in a video posted on Twitter that Pakistan is facing “a major climate disaster, one of the worst in a decade.”
“We are currently in the midst of extreme weather events, in an ongoing cascade of heat waves, wildfires, flash floods, multiple glacial lake outbursts, floods, and now the monstrous monsoon of a decade is raging. ongoing chaos across the country,” she said. The statement was retweeted on camera by the country’s ambassador to the European Union.
We need to plan for climate shock adaptation after this cycle of catastrophic floods ends, but in reality, no one could see the inexorable cycles of monsoon flows crashing down week after week, flooding vast swaths of the country. @BBCWorld pic.twitter.com/5cf9mXNIdP
Flooding from the Swat River overnight affected the northwest of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where tens of thousands of people, especially in Charsadda and Nowshahr districts, were evacuated from their homes to relief camps set up in government buildings. Many also took shelter on the roadsides, said Kamran Bangash, a provincial government spokesman.
Bangash said about 180,000 people were evacuated from Charsadda and 150,000 people from villages in Novshehr district.
Haysta Rehman, who is not related to the climate minister, took refuge with his wife and three children on the side of the Islamabad-Peshawar highway after the 55-year-old man’s home in Charsadda sank overnight.
“Thank God we are now safe on this road, quite high from the flood zone,” he said. “Our crops are gone and our house is destroyed, but I am grateful to Allah that we are alive and I will return to life with my sons.”
The unprecedented rainy season has affected all four provinces of the country. Nearly 300,000 homes were destroyed, many roads became impassable, and power outages became widespread, affecting millions of people.
Pope Francis on Sunday said he wanted to reassure his “closeness to the people of Pakistan affected by flooding of catastrophic proportions.” Speaking during a pilgrimage to the Italian city of L’Aquila, hit by a devastating earthquake in 2009, Francis said he was praying “for the many victims, for the wounded and evacuees, and for international solidarity to be swift and generous.”
Rehman told Turkish news outlet TRT World that by the time the rains stop, “we could very well have a quarter or a third of Pakistan under water.”
“This is a global crisis, and of course we will need better planning and sustainable development on the ground… We will need climate-resilient crops as well as facilities,” she said.
In May, Rehman told BBC Newshour that both the north and south of the country were experiencing extreme weather due to rising temperatures. “So in the north we’re actually now … experiencing what’s known as glacial lake outburst floods, which we have a lot of because Pakistan has the most glaciers outside of the polar region.”
The government sent soldiers to assist civilian authorities in rescue and relief operations throughout the country. The Pakistani army also said in a statement that it had airlifted 22 tourists stranded in a valley in the north of the country to safety.
Prime Minister Shabaz Sharif visited flood victims in the city of Jafferabad in Balochistan. He promised that the government would provide housing for anyone who lost their homes.