Climate change: The Pakistani communities still under water six months after historic floods

"The climate-change bomb is ticking," says the UN in an urgent global warming warning, as ITV News Science Editor Emily Morgan reports

The rains have stopped, but the waters remain.

Six months after the wettest August in 60 years, parts of southern Pakistan are still flooded.

In fact, the Red Cross claimed in December 25% of the country still was. It’s an astonishing figure and one barely believable until you see it for yourself. And we did. We travelled back to the worst hit area this month. It’s a region called Sindh, in the south east of the country, seven hours north of the biggest city, Karachi.

It’s been dubbed "ground zero" for its ferocious heat and record rainfall. In fact the country’s top climate minister, Sherry Rehman, has warned the whole of Pakistan is at the ground zero of climate disasters, and it’s not hard to see why. After a five-hour drive it quickly became apparent. Acres of water on either side of the road went on and on into the distance.

A once-prosperous area of farmland in Jacobabad is also known as 'ground zero' Credit: ITV News

They aren’t pretty lakes but cropland, only recognisable from tufts of wheat sticking out of the water. We stopped at the side of the road to speak to a family whose tiny stone houses were marooned by water.

Just a tiny strip of land still connects them to the road. Manzoora told me they haven’t worked the wheat and rice fields since June.

Her brother and her children have been trekking into the nearest town to find work so they can eat. I asked if there is work, no was the answer, so there is no food. They lost all their livestock and their livelihood in the floods and have no idea when the waters will recede.

We were about to leave when Manzoora’s brother tells us he lost two children during the rains too. One died shortly after being born and the other died from diarrhoea.

Victims, he said, of the rains caused by climate change. We drove on and things began to get worse, if that is possible. The Indus River, which millions of people live along, always floods. There’s nothing new in that. What is new though is the amount of water still cutting off communities, isolating villages and displacing people.

As we drove north along the river we came across makeshift camps along the road. Rudimentary tents built from sticks and large pieces of thick canvas.

Children played in the dust and stagnant waters, animals wandered in and out of tents and adults stood around looking at their ruined crops, willing the waters to drain away.

This was their new home, their village was still inaccessible, surrounded by water and barely visible from the roadside.

Abdul said all of the village's livestock died in the flood

Abdul and around 40 others walked us down to the water’s edge to show us where they used to live. In the distance we could see the rough outline of stone houses. They haven’t been back to their homes in six months.

They eat, sleep and drink on the side of the road with no work and nothing to do.

I ask Abdul if he feels like a victim of climate change.

Yes, he says, and everyone nods in agreement.

The floods killed everything, they are getting ill, they’ve lost their homes and there are no prospects. The area saw some of the highest temperatures the world has ever seen last year so they are getting it on all fronts.

Heatwaves and torrential rain. In a country with more glaciers than anywhere outside of the Arctic and Antarctic, it’s a dangerous combination.

We met many other people like Abdul, whose family is now living on a verge.

Some are forced to even drink the flood water as there is no clean running water available anymore. That brings its own problems.

Water borne diseases are rife and people are getting ill. We visited a temporary medical centre, set up by aid teams to ensure medicine is accessible.

People queue for hours to visit a temporary medical tent after falling ill Credit: ITV News

In 35 degree heat, mothers and children queued for hours to get what they need. The health official at the site said children are suffering from scabies, diarrhoea, malaria, respiratory illnesses and hepatitis A - all preventable diseases.

Clinicians prescribe medicine but they know that same child will no doubt return within weeks with another illness.

Gulshan queued to get treatment for her son, who has malaria.

She has seven children, all of whom have been ill since the floods came and she worries it’s only a matter of time before one of them is seriously sick. This is what climate change does.

It ruins lives, kills children, livelihoods, livestock and prospects. Thirty-three million in Pakistan have been affected by the floods, eight million displaced and made homeless.

Credit: ITV News

The Global Climate Risk Index put together by NGO Germanwatch says Pakistan is the eighth most vulnerable country in the world to extreme weather. That extreme weather is being made worse by global warming, according to scientists.

A study by the World Weather Attribution group found climate change contributed to up to 50% of the rains that made Sindh province the wettest on record.

Previous studies have found that global warming has exacerbated recent heatwaves too, not just in Pakistan but in India, the UK and Europe. Professor Dr Moazzam Ali Khan, who researches climate change at the University of Karachi, is blunt in his assessment. He told me warming is not a myth, it is now a reality that we see every day.

The weather patterns in Pakistan have changed, he tells me. The dry period is getting longer and hotter and the wet season is getting shorter but more intense.

It means short bursts are so torrential, the country can’t cope with the volume of water.

'Climate change is a reality. It is no more a myth'

He says Pakistan is suffering from what is being produced in other countries, richer, more developed countries need to get together and help the more vulnerable, developing countries. Any increase in the warming of the world will only exacerbate extreme weather events further.

I asked Professor Ali Khan whether it is a crisis.

"Yes, it’s a crisis."

He went on: "Everybody is facing it. Last year, the entire world has suffered from intense spells of heatwaves. So this is not only a question of one country or one region, this is a question of the whole world, everybody is suffering". It’s hard to feel that crisis or to really see it in other parts of the world.

It’s why Khadija wanted to speak to us. Her eleventh baby was born on the side of a road, she sleeps on a wooden framed bed with all her children, her husband and the animals who shelter with them.

The dry season is coming and they’re preparing for 53 degree heat.

With no water, no food and very little shelter, one can only hope her one-month-old baby survives until the rainy season.

But then of course, what on earth will that bring?

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