Millions of people in Pakistan are faced with the ruins of their existence in the face of record floods. Due to climate change, such catastrophes could hit the country even more frequently in the future.
Islamabad – It was after midnight when Ahmad Aleem Khan was woken up by an unusual thunderstorm. Water falling from the mountains slammed against the walls of his home in the scenic Swat Valley, actually a popular tourist destination in north-west Pakistan.
The 62-year-old could only watch as his house collapsed under the masses of water on the morning of August 26. “I lost everything,” Khan told the German Press Agency (dpa) while looking at the ruins that were once his family’s home.
Homes of 1.9 million people damaged or destroyed
Shahzad Shakir is also facing the ruins of his existence. “The water washed away my dreams,” laments Shakir, who lost his hotel at the foot of the Swat River. Shahzad Shakir and Ahmad Aleem Khan are just two of 1.9 million people in Pakistan whose homes have been destroyed or damaged by the current flood disaster in the country.
Pakistan has been suffering from unusually heavy rainfall since mid-June. Now the country is experiencing the heaviest floods ever recorded in its history. A particularly early heat wave in the same year intensified the disaster: the parched ground could hardly absorb the masses of water. A third of Pakistan is under water, around 1,600 people have already lost their lives. A total of 33 million people are affected by the floods.
For Ahmad Aleem Khan it is unclear what will happen next. For 30 years he worked as a driver in Saudi Arabia to finance his house with his savings. He has no money to rebuild his house. His family of ten is currently staying with distant relatives. But they cannot stay there forever. “We are at the mercy of other people,” says Khan. He is angry that the government is not taking care of the people affected by the floods.
People look to the future with despair
More than 1,000 houses were destroyed in the Swat Valley alone, as Qari Bacha Zada, regional director of the organization Alkhidmat Foundation Pakistan in Madyan, emphasizes. Zada leads a group of volunteers who provide food, clothing and medical attention to those affected. “People are too poor to rebuild their houses,” says Zada.
The government has promised affected families financial help to rebuild their homes. Yet people like Ahmad Aleem Khan and Shahzad Shakir still look to the future with despair. Unlike many residents of the Swat Valley, Shakir does not believe in “God’s wrath” as the cause of the huge flood, but blames the people. “We didn’t take the changing weather seriously,” he says.
Aisha Khan of the Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change (CSCCC) is also a major concern about climate change. “Pakistan is in the eye of the storm,” she told dpa. Poor political leadership and an ailing economy would make the South Asian country even more vulnerable to climate change. No one had predicted such heavy rainfall as this summer. According to estimates by the Pakistani government, the flood damage is between 30 and 40 billion euros.
After water comes hunger
Many are now starving after the water has destroyed 45 percent of the country’s agricultural crops, according to Pakistan’s climate protection ministry. Many people also lost their livestock. Local officials estimate it could be months before the water recedes in the southern provinces of Baluchistan and Sindh. Until then, millions of people will have to survive outdoors, lacking access to drinking water, food and sanitation. According to the organization UNICEF, 3.4 million children are at risk of starvation, drowning and infectious diseases that spread in the water.
As UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized during his visit to Pakistan, he had never seen a climate catastrophe of this magnitude. He called for “massive support” for the country to avoid such disasters in the future. Pakistan is among the ten countries most affected by climate change, despite contributing less than 1 percent to global emissions. The Pakistani Climate Protection Minister Sherry Rehman has already called climate change an “existential crisis” for her country. For Aisha Khan, action is now clearly the order of the day: “There is a lot of lip service to climate change, but I hope that the moment of reckoning has now come.” dpa