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Climate Official: Floods Turn South Pakistan Into 'Veritable Ocean of Water'


A man rows his boat as he passes through flooded market, following rains and floods during the monsoon season in Bajara village, at the banks of Manchar lake, in Sehwan, Pakistan, Sept. 6, 2022.
A man rows his boat as he passes through flooded market, following rains and floods during the monsoon season in Bajara village, at the banks of Manchar lake, in Sehwan, Pakistan, Sept. 6, 2022.

Officials in Pakistan said Wednesday weeks of nationwide flooding had turned southern parts of the country into an "ocean of water" and relief workers were struggling to find dry ground to place tents for millions of displaced families.

Torrential monsoon rains have triggered what is being described as the most severe flooding in Pakistan's recent history, drenching one-third of the South Asian nation of about 220 million people since mid-June when the seasonal rainfall began.

Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman told reporters in Karachi, the capital of the hardest-hit southern Sindh province, it is totally inundated.

"The water is standing everywhere. Outside of Karachi, if you go a little further up in Sindh, you will see just a veritable ocean of water, with no break. Where to place the tents, where to find dry ground?" she asked.

Rehman stated that feeding more than 33 million people affected by the flooding across the country's 81 out of 160 districts and getting them health care "is the real emergency" facing Pakistan.

The United Nations says the seasonal monsoon downpours "have broken a century-long record" and dumped more than five times the 30-year average for rainfall in some parts of Pakistan.

Rehman again blamed the global warming for this year's destructive rains and flooding, urging the international community to help Pakistan deal with the crisis.

She stressed the world needs to urgently work toward tackling the climate change challenge because even if the "entire Pakistan is turned green and there is 100 percent afforestation" it would remain vulnerable to future natural disasters.

UN chief's visit

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres is due to visit Islamabad later this week to tour flood-hit areas.

He told reporters Tuesday he would be flying to Pakistan to express his "deep solidarity" with the Pakistani people and to appeal for the "massive support" of the international community after the devastating floods.

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"There is a lot of attention on the war in Ukraine. But people tend to forget there is another war – the war we are waging on nature, and nature is striking back, and climate change is supercharging the destruction of our planet," the U.N. chief warned.

"Today it is Pakistan. Tomorrow it can be anywhere else. To deal with climate change, that is the defining issue of our time, with a business-as-usual approach is pure suicide," Guterres said.

The U.N has called for $160 million in urgent international assistance to help the flood victims. The World Health Organization has said more than 6.4 million flood victims need humanitarian support.

Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority, or NDMA, said in its latest situation report that the flooding had "badly affected" more than 33 million people across the 81 districts declared calamity-hit, and it has claimed the lives of 1,343 people, including 474 children. More than 633,000 people are sheltering in relief camps.

The NDMA noted the raging floodwaters had washed away or damaged close to 1.7 million homes, 246 bridges, nearly 6,500 kilometers of roads and swamped more than 809,370 hectares of farmland across the country.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, while addressing flood victims in a northwestern flood-hit region Wednesday also described the scale of destruction as massive, saying during his visit to Sindh earlier this week he saw "water everywhere as far as you could see. It is just like a sea."

Sharif said his government has boosted cash handouts for flood victims to more than $300 million and will buy 200,000 tents to house displaced families.

Meteorologists have forecast more rains, which aid workers say could worsen the situation in flood-hit areas of Pakistan.

Pakistani officials estimate the flooding has caused at least $10 billion in losses and rehabilitation could take years.

Swelling lake

Meanwhile, authorities and troops in Sindh were struggling to deal with another emergency stemming from the country's largest freshwater lake, which is dangerously close to bursting its banks even after having been breached at two places to ease the water pressure in a bid to protect densely populated areas.

But the strategic breaching of the Manchar Lake still has inundated more than 100 villages and displaced at least 125,000 people, according to provincial officials.

The WHO has warned that stagnant water can give rise to water-borne and vector-borne diseases in flood-affected districts, saying almost 10 percent of Pakistan's health facilities have been damaged or destroyed. The organization says it has stepped up its operations to respond to the health challenge.

Nearly 50 international humanitarian relief flights have arrived in Pakistan as of Wednesday from countries such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. China, France, Iran, Britain, Azerbaijan, Norway and Kazakhstan. The foreign ministry in Islamabad said more flights were on the way.

VOA U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.