'This is insanity': Pakistan's climate change nightmare comes into focus

With roughly 32 million people displaced, more than 1,300 killed and nearly a third of the country still underwater following a monsoon season intensified by climate change, Pakistan is offering a grim case study of the potential consequences of rising global temperatures.

“I have seen many humanitarian disasters in the world, but I have never seen climate carnage on the scale of the floods here in Pakistan,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said a weekend press conference in Karachi after touring the flooding that has resulted from the combination of melting glaciers and rainfall nearly six times the 30-year average.

While the flooding has turned much of the country’s southern provinces into vast inland lakes and destroyed more than 1.7 million homes, it is also covering farmland, wiping out cotton and rice crops (two of Pakistan's top exports), and preventing farmers from planting fall wheat, which helps feed the population of more than 220 million.

“Emissions are rising as people die in floods and famines. And this is insanity,” Guterres said. “This is collective suicide. From Pakistan, I am issuing a global appeal: Stop the madness; end the war with nature; invest in renewable energy now.”

Rising floodwater on the outskirts of Bhan Syedabad, Pakistan
Rising floodwater on the outskirts of Bhan Syedabad, Pakistan. (Akhtar Soomro/Reuters)

As the monsoon season nears its close, more rain is still in the forecast, raising fears that flooding could still worsen before the waters recede. Officials in Sindh province had worked over the last few days to try to shore up a major electricity station that supplies power to six provincial districts where millions of people live, Reuters reported.

Since last month, the flooding has disrupted the education of approximately 3.5 million children in Pakistan, the United Nations said late last week. Pakistan’s economy, which was already suffering due to debt and the worst inflation in 47 years, is expected to face an even greater test in the months ahead as food shortages are predicted and the estimates for the total financial losses from the flooding near $30 billion.

Motorists make their way through a flooded street in Karachi
Motorists make their way through a flooded street in Karachi. (Rizwan TabassumI/AFP via Getty Images)

In a call on Sunday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said that the massive flooding was likely to lower his country’s GDP by two percentage points.

“Pakistan is grappling with the immediate challenge of averting an imminent food insecurity in the country as well as providing for rescue and rehabilitation of the victims of this climate-induced calamity,” Sharif told Erdogan, NDTV reported.

“There is an acute sense of despair in all corners of the country. In the immediate term, families are likely to go hungry as employment dries up and they cannot afford food," Shabnam Baloch, Pakistan director for the International Rescue Committee, said in Monday press release. "Meanwhile, we know that during times of crisis, women and girls are at an increased risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, as pressures mount for households to access an income and source food and essential household supplies."

Flood victims in Sehwan
Flood victims in Sehwan. (Jan Ali Laghari/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The United States has sent troops to Sukkur Airport in central Pakistan to help deliver 600,000 pounds of supplies, and United States Agency for International Development administrator Samantha Power announced $20 million in new assistance for Pakistan late last week, in addition to the $30 million previously pledged.

Studies have shown that for every degree Celsius of temperature rise the atmosphere holds 7 percent more moisture, which unloads in extreme rainfall events such as the ones that have so far struck Pakistan, Kentucky, China, South Korea, Texas, Illinois, Wyoming, Missouri and California this summer.

A tent city is erected for flood victims in Sehwan
A tent city is erected for flood victims in Sehwan. (Jan Ali Laghari/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, raising the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and worsening the greenhouse effect and pushing temperatures more than 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Without a dramatic and immediate reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the devastation coming out of places like Pakistan will continue to become more commonplace, the United Nations has warned.

“Today it’s Pakistan, tomorrow it could be your country, wherever you live. This is a global crisis. ... It requires a global response,” Guterres said.