Raging floodwaters caused by the heaviest monsoon rains in Pakistan’s history have wiped out entire villages, killing at least 1,600 people. At least 20 million people have been directly driven from their homes and are in urgent need of food and shelter. The loss of crops and farm animals has been severe, and long-term effects of the floods, such as the threat of waterborne diseases, could be even more devastating.
U.S. military helicopters have airlifted thousands of Pakistanis to safety, as marines and naval personnel conducted rescue and relief operations in the flood-stricken South Asian nation. As America has also supplied much of the humanitarian aid to meet the crisis.
According to experts, river mismanagement may have made the extreme flooding far worse. Many of Pakistan’s rivers have been dammed to divert water for farming, creating “the largest irrigation system in the world.” Over six decades, Pakistan has developed a system of levees and canals that greatly restricts the natural flow of the country’s rivers, which carry very high levels of silt. Instead of the natural flow from the Himalayas in the north to the Arabian Sea in the south, the Indus courses east or west, depending on where water is needed most to support agriculture. Wetlands that used to absorb some floodwaters have been converted to farmland, and people have settled in former floodplains. These human actions have changed the river’s boundaries and tributaries. As a result, the Indus River Basin no longer holds as much water as it once. And each summer, Pakistan’s river basins receive a huge volume of water – not only from monsoon rainfall but from the snowmelt in the Himalayas and Karakoram Mountains.
Image © AP Photo/Khalid Tanveer
- BBC News: Pakistan Floods
This BBC Web site includes extensive coverage of the disastrous floods in Pakistan; includes links to eyewitness accounts and a photo gallery.
(Source: BBC News, August 24, 2010)
- Pakistan Flooding Because of Farms?
This analysis of the floods in Pakistan addresses the way modern farming methods and irrigation has contributed to the severity of the crisis.
(Source: National Geographic, August 16, 2010)
- In Pakistan Floods, US Military Shows Its Softer Side
This article shows how the United States is leading aid efforts in Pakistan, with the military particularly equipped to make a difference in rescuing lives and distributing aid.
(Source: Global Post, August 25, 2010)
- Cholera Confirmed in Pakistan’s Floods
This article discusses the threat of water-borne disease like cholera that could be the worst aspect of the crisis of flooding in Pakistan.
(Source: VOA News, August 14, 2010)
Critical Thinking Questions
- Explain What two factors combine to increase the volume of water in Pakistan’s river systems during the summer?
- Make Inferences Why might some Pakistanis be suspicious of the United States military’s efforts to offer assistance for flood
- Form and Support Opinions Do you think humans’ efforts to change the course of rivers for irrigation and flood control bring
more benefits than harm?