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Climate change likely helped cause deadly Pakistan floods, scientists find

People wait in line for food in Sindh province, Pakistan, on Sept. 19, 2022. The province was one of the hardest hit by recent deadly floods. A new analysis confirms that climate change likely helped cause the disaster.
Pervez Masih
/
AP
People wait in line for food in Sindh province, Pakistan, on Sept. 19, 2022. The province was one of the hardest hit by recent deadly floods. A new analysis confirms that climate change likely helped cause the disaster.

It is likely that climate change helped drive deadly floods in Pakistan, according to a new scientific analysis. The floods killed nearly 1500 people and displaced more than 30 million, after record-breaking rain in August.

The analysis confirms what Pakistan's government has been saying for weeks: that the disaster was clearly driven by global warming. Pakistan experienced its wettest August since the country began keeping detailed national weather records in 1961. The provinces that were hardest hit by floods received up to eight times more rain than usual, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

Climate change made such heavy rainfall more likely, according to the analysis by a group of international climate scientists in Pakistan, Europe and the United States. While Pakistan has sometimes experienced heavy monsoon rains, about 75 percent more water is now falling during weeks when monsoon rains are heaviest, the scientists estimate.

The analysis is a so-called attribution study, a type of research that is conducted very quickly compared to other climate studies, and is meant to offer policymakers and disaster survivors a rough estimate of how global warming affected a specific weather event. More in-depth research is underway to understand the many ways that climate change affects monsoon rainfall.

For example, while it's clear that intense rain will keep increasing as the Earth heats up, climate models also suggest that overall monsoon rains will be less reliable. That would cause cycles of both drought and flooding in Pakistan and neighboring countries in the future.

Such climate whiplash has already damaged crops and killed people across southeast Asia in recent years, and led to a water crisis in Chennai, India in 2019.

The new analysis also makes clear that human caused climate change was not the only driver of Pakistan's deadly floods. Scientists point out that millions of people live in flood-prone areas with outdated drainage in provinces where the flooding was most severe. Upgrading drainage, moving homes and reinforcing bridges and roads would all help prevent such catastrophic damage in the future.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rebecca Hersher
Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.