Study finds role of climate change in Pakistan floods

The first global level analysis of the floods


With Pakistan still reeling from the aftermath of devastating floods in its two southern provinces last month, a new study has blamed climate change for plunging the country into a national emergency that affected millions.

Since mid-June, Pakistan began receiving abnormally heavy rain which continued intermittently till late August. August rainfall in the Sindh and Balochistan provinces was eight and nearly seven times normal monthly amounts, according to the report by World Weather Attribution, a collection of volunteer scientists from around the world who study extreme weather situations and their links to climate change.

With more than 1.7 million homes destroyed, over 33 million people were affected by the devastating floods that also killed nearly 1500 people.

The study, yet to be peer-reviewed, is the first global-level analysis of the floods that caused damages worth $10 billion to the country’s economy.

“The majority of models and observations we have analyzed show that intense rainfall has become heavier as Pakistan has warmed,” the study released on Thursday, said. “Some of these models suggest climate change could have increased the rainfall intensity up to 50% for the five-day event definition.”

While scientists haven’t been able to quantify the exact involvement of climate change in enabling the floods and their frequency, Pakistan’s overall vulnerability in terms of economic, societal, and historical reasons also contributed to aggravating the crisis.

Had those vulnerabilities not existed in the cash-strapped nation, the situation might not be so much worse. It “would have been a disastrously high rainfall event without climate change, but it’s worse because of climate change,” said Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College of London and the senior author of the study.

“And especially in this highly vulnerable region, small changes matter a lot.”

According to Otto, Pakistan’s catastrophic floods attest to the projections made by climate change scientists over the years. “What we saw in Pakistan is exactly what climate projections have been predicting for years. It’s also in line with historical records showing that heavy rainfall has dramatically increased in the region since humans started emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” Otto told the BBC.

The future, Otto said, could bring more such events with increased impact.

“And our own analysis also shows clearly that further warming will make these heavy rainfall episodes even more intense.”

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