By Kara Fox | CNN and Reuters
Pakistan is home to more glaciers than anywhere in the world outside of the polar regions, but as the climate warms it becomes more vulnerable to sudden outbursts of melting glaciers that have the power to cause widespread destruction. of his people.
The country’s chief meteorologist has warned that this year alone Pakistan has seen triple the usual number of glacial lake outbursts – a sudden release of water from a lake fed by melting glaciers – which can cause catastrophic floods.
Sardar Sarfaraz of Pakistan’s Meteorological Department said on Thursday there had been 16 such incidents in the northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan in 2022, compared to just five or six in previous years.
“Such incidents occur after the melting of glaciers due to [a] increase in temperature,” Sarfaraz told Reuters, adding: “Climate change is the fundamental reason for such things.
The melting of glaciers is one of the clearest and most visible signs of the climate crisis and one of its most direct consequences.
It is not yet clear to what extent the current flood crisis in Pakistan could be linked to the melting ice. But unless global warming emissions are brought under control, Sarfaraz suggests that the country’s glaciers will continue to melt at high speed.
“Global warming won’t stop until we reduce greenhouse gases and if global warming doesn’t stop, these effects of climate change will be on the increase,” he said.
Pakistan is responsible for less than 1% of global warming gasesyet according to data from the European Union, it is the eighth most vulnerable country to the climate crisis, according to the Global Climate Risk Index.
This vulnerability has been visible for months, with record monsoon rains and melting glaciers in the country’s northern mountains causing floods that have killed at least 1,191 people – including 399 children – since mid-June.
New flood fears
Southern Pakistan braced for further flooding on Thursday as a surge of water poured into the Indus River, adding to the devastation in a country a third of which is already inundated by the climate change-induced disaster.
The United Nations has appealed for $160 million to help deal with what it called an “unprecedented climate catastrophe”.
“We are on high alert as water arriving downstream from the northern floods is expected to enter the province over the next few days,” Sindh provincial government spokesman Murtaza Wahab told Reuters.
Wahab said a flow of around 600,000 cubic feet per second is expected to swell the Indus, testing its flood defenses.
Pakistan received almost 190% more rain than the 30-year average in the June to August quarter, totaling 390.7 mm (15.38 inches).
Sindh, with a population of 50 million, was the hardest hit, receiving 466% more rain than the 30-year average.
Parts of the province resemble an inland sea with only occasional patches of trees or raised roads breaking the surface of the murky floodwaters.
Hundreds of families took refuge on the roads, the only land in sight for many of them.
Villagers rushed to meet a Reuters news crew passing along a road near Dadu town on Thursday, begging for food or other aid.
The floods washed away homes, businesses, infrastructure and roads. Growing and stored crops were destroyed and some two million acres (809,371 hectares) of farmland were flooded.
The government says 33 million people, or 15% of the 220 million population, have been affected.
The National Disaster Management Authority said some 480,030 people have been displaced and are being cared for in camps, but even those not forced to leave their homes are at risk.
“More than three million children are in need of humanitarian assistance and are at increased risk of water-borne diseases, drowning and malnutrition due to the most severe floods in Pakistan’s recent history,” the official warned. United Nations children’s agency.
The World Health Organization has said more than 6.4 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid.
Aid began arriving in planes loaded with food, tents and medicine, mainly from China, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Aid agencies have asked the government to allow food imports from neighboring India, across a largely closed border that has for decades been a frontline of confrontation between nuclear-armed rivals .
The government has not indicated its willingness to open the border to Indian food imports.