The United Nations has appealed for $160m to help Pakistan following “epochal” rains and flooding that have killed more than 1,100 people, affected 33 million others, and destroyed homes, businesses, infrastructure and crops.
Torrential rain has triggered flash floods that have crashed down from northern mountains, wrecking buildings and bridges and washing away roads and crops.
Colossal volumes of water are pouring into the Indus river, which flows down the middle of Pakistan from its northern peaks to southern plains, bringing flooding along its length.
“Pakistan is awash in suffering,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday in a video message to launch the appeal in Islamabad and Geneva.
“The Pakistani people are facing a monsoon on steroids – the relentless impact of epochal levels of rain and flooding,” Guterres said.
Pakistan estimates the floods have affected more than 33 million people, or more than 15 percent of its 220 million population.
The UN chief said the scale of the country’s needs required the world’s collective and prioritised attention.
Guterres also said Pakistan’s flooding was a signal to the world to step up action against climate change.
“Let’s stop sleepwalking toward the destruction of our planet by climate change,” he said.
“Today, it’s Pakistan. Tomorrow, it could be your country.”
Meteorologists have also warned of more rains in the coming weeks.
Nearly 300 stranded people, including some tourists, were airlifted in northern Pakistan, a state-run disaster management agency said in a statement, adding that more than 50,000 people had been moved to two government shelters in the northwest. Makeshift tent camps have sprung up along highways.
Early estimates put the damage from the floods at more than $10bn, the government has said, adding that the world had an obligation to help Pakistan cope with the effects of man-made climate change.
Pakistan’s foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, said hundreds of thousands of women, children and men were living outdoors without access to food, clean water, shelter or basic healthcare.
“We urgently need shelter and tents, and mosquito nets,” he said, adding that Pakistan would also need help with rehabilitation and reconstruction of the flood-hit areas.
Guterres said the $160m he hoped the appeal would provide 5.2 million people with food, water, sanitation, emergency education and health support.
General Akhtar Nawaz, chief of Pakistan’s national disaster agency, said at least 72 of the country’s 160 districts had been declared calamity-hit.
More than two million acres (0.8 million hectares) of agricultural land were flooded, he said, adding that rainfall had been three times the average, and up to six times higher in some areas.
The flooding catastrophe adds new burdens to the cash-strapped Pakistani government. It also reflects how poorer countries often pay the price for climate change largely caused by more industrialised nations.
‘Extreme weather patterns’
Since 1959, Pakistan has been responsible for only 0.4 percent of the world’s historic carbon dioxide emissions. The US is responsible for 21.5 percent, China for 16.5 percent, and the EU 15 percent.
Several scientists say the record-breaking flooding has all the hallmarks of being affected by climate change.
“This year, Pakistan has received the highest rainfall in at least three decades,” said Abid Qaiyum Suleri, the executive director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute and a member of Pakistan’s Climate Change Council.
“Extreme weather patterns are turning more frequent in the region and Pakistan is not an exception.”
World Health Organization spokesman Christian Lindmeier said Pakistan’s health facilities had been severely affected by the flooding, with 180 “completely damaged”.
He said there was already a vast disparity between rural and urban healthcare provision, while treatment for non-communicable diseases such as diabetes would be “severely” affected.
“It’s a vast problem which opens up here,” he said.