ISLAMABAD (AP) – The death toll from widespread flooding in Pakistan has exceeded 1,000 since mid-June, officials said Sunday, as the country’s climate minister called the deadly monsoon season “a serious climate catastrophe”.
Flash floods caused by the heavy rains have washed away villages and crops as soldiers and rescue workers evacuated stranded residents to the safety of relief camps and provided food to thousands of displaced Pakistanis.
Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority reported the death toll since the monsoon season started earlier than usual this year – reaching 1,061 people in mid-June – after new fatalities were reported in several provinces.
Sherry Rehman, a Pakistani senator and the country’s top climate official, said in a video posted on Twitter that Pakistan is experiencing a “serious climate catastrophe, one of the worst in the decade”.
“We are currently at ground zero on the frontline of extreme weather, in a relentless cascade of heatwaves, wildfires, flash floods, multiple glacial lake eruptions, flooding and now the monster monsoon of the decade is not underway. -stop the havoc across the country,” she said. The statement on camera was retweeted by the country’s ambassador to the European Union.
Flooding from the Swat River overnight hit the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where tens of thousands of people – mainly in Charsadda and Nowshehra districts – have been evacuated from their homes to relief camps in government buildings. Many have also sought refuge on roadsides, said Kamran Bangash, a spokesman for the provincial government.
Bangash said about 180,000 people have been evacuated from Charsadda and 150,000 from the villages of Nowshehra.
Khaista Rehman, 55, unrelated to the climate minister, sought shelter on the side of the Islamabad-Peshawar highway with his wife and three children after his home in Charsadda flooded overnight.
“Thank goodness we are now safe on this road, quite high from the flooded area,” he said. “Our crops are gone and our house is destroyed, but I am thankful to Allah that we are alive and I will start life again with my sons.”
The unprecedented monsoon season has hit all four provinces of the country. Nearly 300,000 homes have been destroyed, countless roads have been made impassable and there have been widespread power outages, affecting millions of people.
Pope Francis said on Sunday he wanted to ensure his “proximity to the people of Pakistan affected by floods of disastrous proportions”. During a pilgrimage to the Italian city of L’Aquila, which was hit by a deadly earthquake in 2009, Francis said he was praying “for the many victims, for the injured and the evacuated, and for international solidarity to be swift and generous.” .”
Rehman told Turkish news channel TRT World that by the time the rains subside, “we may have a fourth or a third of Pakistan under water.”
“This is something that is a global crisis and of course we need better planning and sustainable development on the ground. … We need both climate-resilient crops and structures,” she said.
In May, Rehman told BBC Newshour that both the north and south of the country witnessed extreme weather events due to rising temperatures. “So in the north, we have now actually … experienced what is known as glacial lake eruption, of which we have many because Pakistan is home to the largest number of glaciers outside the Arctic.”
The government has deployed soldiers to assist civil authorities in rescue and relief operations across the country. The Pakistani military also said in a statement that it has rescued 22 tourists trapped in a valley in the north of the country.
Prime Minister Shabaz Sharif visited flood victims in the city of Jafferabad in Baluchistan. He vowed that the government would provide housing to all those who lost their homes.
Associated Press writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Asim Tanveer in Multan, Pakistan, and Frances D’Emilio in Rome contributed.