The death toll from widespread flooding in Pakistan has topped 1,000 since mid-June, officials said on Sunday, as the country’s climate minister called the deadly monsoon season a “serious climate disaster”.
Flash flooding caused by heavy rains washed away villages and crops as soldiers and rescue workers evacuated stranded residents to the safety of relief camps and provided food for thousands of displaced Pakistanis.
Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority reported that the death toll since the monsoon season started earlier than normal this year – in mid-June – reached 1,033 people after further deaths were reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and southern Sindh provinces.
Sherry Rehman, a Pakistani senator and the country’s top climate official, said in a video posted to Twitter that Pakistan is experiencing a “serious climate catastrophe, one of the most difficult in a decade”.
“We are right now at ground zero on the front line of extreme weather events, in a relentless cascade of heat waves, wildfires, flash floods, multiple glacial lake outbursts, flooding and now the monstrous monsoon of the decade is wreaking havoc – stop the havoc across the country,” she said. The filmed statement was retweeted by the country’s ambassador to the European Union.
Floods from the Swat River have affected the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where tens of thousands of people – particularly in Charsadda and Nowshehra districts – have been evacuated from their homes to relief camps set up in government buildings. Many have also taken refuge on the roadsides, said Kamran Bangash, a spokesman for the provincial government.
Bangash said some 180,000 people had been evacuated from Charsadda and 150,000 from villages in Nowshehra district.
Khaista Rehman, 55, unrelated to the climate minister, took refuge with his wife and three children on the edge of the Islamabad-Peshawar highway after his house in Charsadda was submerged overnight.
“Thank goodness we are now safe on this fairly high road from the flooded area,” he said. “Our crops have disappeared and our house is destroyed, but I am grateful to Allah that we are alive and I will start life again with my sons.”
The unprecedented monsoon season affected all four provinces of the country. Nearly 300,000 homes were destroyed, many roads rendered impassable and power cuts became widespread, affecting millions of people.
Pope Francis said on Sunday that he wanted to ensure his “proximity to the people of Pakistan hit by floods of disastrous proportions”. Speaking during a pilgrimage to the Italian city of L’Aquila, hit by a deadly earthquake in 2009, Francis said he prayed “for the many victims, for the injured and evacuated, and that international solidarity be prompt and generous”.
Rehman told Turkish newspaper TRT World that by the time the rains recede, “we could well have a quarter or a third of Pakistan under water.”
“This is something that is a global crisis and of course we will need better planning and sustainable development on the ground. … We will need climate resilient crops as well as structures,” he said. she declared.
In May, Rehman told BBC Newshour that both the north and south of the country were witnessing extreme weather events due to rising temperatures. “So in the north right now we’re having what’s called glacial lake flooding, which we have a lot of because Pakistan has the most glaciers outside of the polar region.”
The government has deployed soldiers to assist civil authorities in rescue and relief operations across the country. Pakistan’s military also said in a statement that it had airlifted 22 trapped tourists to a valley in the north of the country to safety.
Prime Minister Shabaz Sharif visited flood victims in the city of Jafferabad in Balochistan. He vowed that the government would provide housing for anyone who lost their homes.
Associated Press writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Asim Tanveer in Multan, Pakistan and Frances D’Emilio in Rome contributed.
Zarar Khan, The Associated Press
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