Pakistan’s Floods Lay Bare Climate Change’s Compounding Risks

A look at Pakistan's historic flooding

Pakistan’s catastrophic floods, caused by record monsoon rains and glacial melts, have claimed more than 1,300 lives, displaced 33 million people, and left more than 6.4 million people in dire need of humanitarian aid. And last week, while Pakistani authorities struggled to prevent Manchar Lake, the country’s largest lake, from bursting its banks, large parts of Pakistan were already inundated with water, according to the Gro Climate Indicator (GCI) - Observed Flood, which shows the percentage of land covered by floodwater at the municipal, provincial, and national levels.

During the next 10 days, parts of Sindh province could receive 10-20 millimeters of rain, but most of the province, including the Manchar Lake area, is not expected to see heavy rainfall. But some heavier rainfall is possible toward the end of this month. La Nina, which has a 91% chance of sticking around through November and a 54% chance of lingering from January through March, has likely contributed to this year’s epic monsoon season. 

Rainfall totals in the most populated areas of Sindh, Pakistan’s second most populous province and the province where the Indus River flows into the Arabian Sea, have already surpassed every annual total since 2001, the earliest date with consistent aggregated precipitation data.

In Sindh, roughly 13% of Larkana, a region with a population of almost six million, is flooded, according to Gro’s flood indicator. 

The towering red line shows the current flooding in Larkana. This year’s flooding is not only the worst on record, it is also almost seven times greater than September 2020’s level, the previous highwater mark. 

A Climate Hotspot 

As the Sindh province produces a significant portion of Pakistan’s food supplies, this monsoon season’s unrelenting rains and flooding will exacerbate food insecurity in the debt-burdened country. 

Government data, released on September 1, showed that Pakistan’s consumer price index surged to a 49-year high of 27.3% in August, up 9.6% from in July. For much of this year, the Pakistani rupee’s (PKR) decline against the dollar has been aggravating domestic food insecurity, as we noted in early June. Year-to-date, the PKR has depreciated 19.5% against the US dollar. 

Due to flooding, Pakistan’s key rice crop, which got off to a rocky start this year after a two-week heat wave in late April and early May, is in jeopardy, and the country’s wheat crop is at risk for planting delays, as we reported here

This spring’s heat wave scorched parts of Himachal Pradesh, an Indian state that contains some glaciers that melt into Pakistan’s Indus River. It also melted glacial ice in Pakistan, causing several glacial lake outbursts through July and worsening monsoonal flooding in some areas. During this heat wave, Gilgit Baltistan, a glacier-filled region in Pakistan, saw record daily highs

Pakistan, which often ranks among the most climate vulnerable countries in the world, contains more glacial ice than anywhere else on Earth, excluding the polar regions. 

According to Gro Climate Risk Navigator projections, Pakistan’s mean daily average temperatures look set to rise by 1.2°C by 2050, under SSP2-4.5, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) “middle of the road” warming scenario. Our Climate Risk Navigators incorporate temperature projections from the Gro Climate Ensemble Model to allow users to view climate statistics and projections weighted by the population, agricultural production, or infrastructure of any country through 2100 under five IPCC climate change scenarios.

Additionally, by 2050, Gro’s heavy precipitation indicator is projecting that Pakistan could see a 10% increase in the magnitude of heavy precipitation events. Our heavy precipitation indicator represents the 95th percentile of daily precipitation, meaning that it shows the chronic climate risk facing the country. (It can’t be used to directly predict the likelihood of acute events, such as the recent flooding occurring again.) 

In the coming weeks, the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Sindh, and neighboring Balochistan province, will worsen if incidences of water and mosquito-borne diseases and food insecurity begin to rise. As drier places inside or near these provinces will likely host those seeking temporary refuge or permanent resettlement, internal displacement of citizens could also introduce water, power and other infrastructure and social stressors within the country.  

Last Wednesday, Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority estimated that since June 14 about 6,579km of roads and 246 bridges have been damaged by the flood waters.