Authorities and humanitarian groups are responding to the worst floods Pakistan has experienced in decades, as the devastation has impacted some 33 million people and led to the deaths of almost 1,200 others over the past two months.
Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman said Monday that one-third of Pakistan, a country of about 220 million people, was under water, creating a "crisis of unimaginable proportions” since June when the monsoon seasonal rainfall began.
"It's all one big ocean; there's no dry land to pump the water out," Rehman said.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), leading the response in coordinating assessments and directing humanitarian relief to affected people, declared 72 out of the country’s 160 districts as calamity-hit in its latest situation report.
The NDMA noted that at least 1 million homes, 162 bridges, and nearly 3,500 kilometers of roads have been damaged or destroyed across the South Asian nation.
The flooding has also killed more than 800,000 farm animals and damaged vital farmlands and crops.
Pakistan has already appealed for international help to deal with the massive floods. Some countries, including China, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, have already sent cargo planes that are carrying tents, food, medicines and other relief supplies, and rescue teams, the Pakistani military said Monday.
Pakistani and United Nations officials said the death toll is likely to rise as erratic monsoon rains continue and more rivers burst their banks, with many communities in the mountainous northern regions cut off.
Officials say that relief and rescue operations have almost concluded but that it may take "years" to rehabilitate flood victims. They also say the country will require international help to confront the emergency.
Julien Harneis, the U.N. resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan, said the flooding and landslides had brought widespread destruction across the country, creating its “biggest challenge” in decades.
Harneis called for “burden-sharing and solidarity” internationally in the wake of the “climate-change-driven catastrophe.” He warned that the humanitarian situation is expected to worsen, with diseases and malnutrition expected to rise.
The U.N. is set to launch a $161 million flash appeal for Pakistan on Tuesday, saying the funding will provide critical food and cash assistance to nearly one million people in districts across the four provinces, Baluchistan, Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The flooding comes at a time when the country faces an economic crisis, with dwindling foreign cash reserves and historic inflation.
Finance Minister Miftah Ismail told a news conference in Islamabad the economic impact could reach at least $10 billion. He also hinted at reopening some trade with arch-rival India to import vegetables in the wake of widespread devastation the flooding has unleashed on the agriculture sector.
Pakistan suspended already limited trade with India in 2019 when New Delhi unilaterally ended a semi-autonomous status of the disputed Kashmir region.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) anticipates a sharp increase in food insecurity and a severe impact on the national economy.
“Our needs assessment showed that we are already seeing a major increase in cases of diarrhea, skin infections, malaria and other illnesses,” the group said in a statement.
Shabnam Baloch, the IRC country director, was quoted as saying Pakistan has been facing increasingly devastating climate-driven drought and flooding.
“Despite producing less than 1% of the world’s carbon footprint, the country is suffering the consequences of the world’s inaction and stays in the top 10 countries facing the consequences,” Baloch said.
The flash floods in Pakistan are comparable to those of 2010 when more than 2,000 people were killed.
AFP contributed to this report.