Once unthinkable, Pakistan’s record rainfall could now happen once a century

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Climate change has made unprecedented monsoon rains that left a third of Pakistan under water last month much more likely, according to a team of scientists who analyzed the event.

The dramatic floods killed nearly 1,500 people, caused damage estimated at $30 billion and left hundreds of thousands homeless. In August, Sindh and Baluchistan provinces both recorded their highest ever rainfall totals for the month – around seven and eight times their usual monthly rainfall totals.

The new analysis found that such powerful rainfall could now be expected once every 100 years in the current climate and even more often in the future as the world continues to warm, researchers told a conference. press conference held Thursday by the World Weather Attribution initiative.

The initiative brings together scientists from around the world to analyze newsworthy weather events as quickly as possible and to help people understand the role of climate change at the most relevant time. The analysis has not been subject to outside scientific review or publication in a scientific journal, but is based on peer-reviewed methodology applied to many recent large-scale weather events. These analyzes are often published in journals months later.

Flooded residential areas after heavy monsoon rains in Balochistan province, Pakistan on September 5, 2022.Fida Hussain / AFP-Getty Images

To understand the imprint of climate change on the event, the researchers analyzed the annual maximum 60-day monsoon season rainfall in the Indus basin, where the flood was centered. They also looked at the heaviest five-day monsoon rain period in hard-hit Sindh and Balochistan.

The study found that climate change had inflated the chances of heavy rains for geographic areas and time periods. Up to a third of the rainfall that fell during the heaviest period in Sindh and Balochistan could be attributed to climate change, he found.

The intense monsoon rains “would have been a disastrous rainfall event without climate change, but it is worse because of climate change. Especially in these highly vulnerable regions, small changes matter a lot,” said Friederike Otto, senior lecturer in climate science at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment and co-founder of the initiative.

Image: Floods in Pakistan after the monsoon
Victims of unprecedented floods caused by monsoon rains line up to receive humanitarian aid organized by the Edhi Foundation, in Sindh province, Pakistan, September 7, 2022. Fareed Khan/AP File

The Pakistan floods involve more uncertainty than some other recent attribution studies because monsoon rainfall is highly variable, available climate records only date back to 1950, and because climate models struggle to represent some of the processes complex weather in the South Asian region. .

“Climate models are known to generally struggle to capture the characteristics of the monsoon in this part of the world,” said Mariam Zachariah, a research associate at the Grantham Institute, part of Imperial College London. “We have seen that there is great uncertainty around the model results.”

Climate change is not the only factor that has led to such a profound disaster, the analysis notes. Pakistan experienced catastrophic floods in 2010, which shared similar climatic and meteorological characteristics.

Research into the 2010 floods suggests that water management failures – including dam failures and irrigation system failures – played a crucial role. The development of floodplains and socio-economic factors like poverty have also contributed to making Pakistan more vulnerable to disasters, according to the analysis.

“This disaster is the result of a vulnerability that has built up over many, many years and should not be viewed ahistorically as the result of a sporadic event,” said Ayesha Siddiqi, assistant professor in the Department of Geography. from the University of Cambridge. .

Pakistan is responsible for less than 0.5% of historic global greenhouse gas emissions, but is among the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The floods have displaced millions of people.

World leaders have described aid to the country in terms of justice.

“Pakistan today needs massive financial support to overcome this crisis,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said last week. “It’s not about generosity, it’s about justice.”

Earlier this year, temperatures exceeded 122 degrees Fahrenheit in the county. The researchers carried out an attribution analysis of the heat wave and found that it was 30 times more likely due to climate change, according to Fahad Saeed, an Islamabad-based researcher at the Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Development.

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