The south of Pakistan, particularly affected by the floods that have already killed more than 1,000 people in the country, is preparing for a new deluge in the coming days, caused by flooding rivers.
Fed by dozens of rivers and mountain streams that have burst their banks as a result of record rains and melting glaciers, the Indus, a river that flows through the Sindh province in the south of the country, is growing steadily.
“The Indus is in full flood,” confirms the person in charge of the imposing colonial-era dam near the city of Sukkur, where some 500,000 people live.
The gates have been opened to cope with a flow of more than 600,000 cubic meters per second, the official said.
Authorities have warned that torrents of water are expected to reach Sindh province in the next few days, adding to the hardship of millions of people already affected by the floods.
Pakistani officials blame the devastating weather on climate change, saying Pakistan is suffering the consequences of irresponsible environmental practices elsewhere in the world.
According to the latest toll from the National Disaster Management Authority released on Sunday, 1033 people have been killed by the torrential rains, including 119 in the last 24 hours.
One in seven Pakistanis affected
More than 33 million people – one in seven Pakistanis – were affected by the storms and nearly one million homes were destroyed or severely damaged, according to the government.
In Sindh province, tens of thousands of rural residents took shelter on elevated roads and railroad lines. Near Sukkur, tents were erected for two kilometers to accommodate evacuees who kept arriving by boat, loaded with wooden beds and crockery, the only possessions they could save.
Water has already invaded the streets of Sukkur, seeping through the walls of the buildings that line the main road to Bandar along the dam.
“The city is already one meter below the river level,” said Water Resources Minister Syed Khursheed Shah.
The dam redistributes water through nearly 10,000 kilometers of canals that distribute water to farmland but, after years of neglect, are no longer able to handle the record volumes now being recorded.
“The silt has accumulated and could not be removed,” he explained, adding that due to a lack of equipment, the canals have not been dredged since 2010.
In northern Pakistan, thousands of people were ordered Saturday to evacuate their homes. Helicopters and rescuers continued Sunday to shelter the stragglers.
“We had to rescue children and women,” a rescue worker, Umar Rafiq, told AFP from the Swatt Valley.
In this region, a popular tourist destination for its rugged mountains, many rivers have burst their banks, demolishing dozens of buildings, including a 150-room hotel that collapsed in a raging torrent.
Already hard hit by the 2010 floods, guesthouse owner Nasir Khan says he lost everything. “The part of the building that was spared 12 years ago has been swallowed by the waters,” he told AFP.
These bad weather conditions are comparable to those of 2010, when 2,000 people were killed and nearly a fifth of the country was submerged by the monsoon rains that fall each year between June and September.
The government declared a state of emergency on Friday and mobilized the military to deal with the “disaster of rare magnitude,” in the words of Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman.
The country is particularly vulnerable to climate change. It is the eighth most threatened country by extreme weather events, according to a study by the NGO Germanwatch.
In addition, corruption and poorly designed urban planning programs have led to the construction of thousands of buildings in flood-prone areas.
The floods come at the worst possible time for Pakistan, which is experiencing economic collapse and a deep political crisis since the ouster of Prime Minister Imran Khan in April following a vote of no confidence in the National Assembly.
While the capital Islamabad and the neighbouring city of Rawalpindi, with a population of more than 2 million, have escaped the worst of it, the first consequences are already being felt: “Supplies are very limited,” says Muhammad Ismail, a fruit and vegetable vendor in Rawalpindi.
“Tomatoes, peas, onions and other vegetables are not available because of the floods,” he told AFP, adding that prices had also soared.