Pakistan Taliban Claim Suicide Blast Killing Three

Security officials inspect a burnt car after a suicide bomb attack targeting a police truck in Quetta on November 30, 2022. Three people were killed and 23 injured on November 30 when a suicide bomber targeted a police truck in western Pakistan, an official said, an attack claimed by the domestic chapter of the Taliban.
(Photo by Banaras KHAN / AFP)

 

Three people were killed and 23 injured Wednesday when a suicide bomber targeted a police truck in western Pakistan, an attack claimed by the domestic chapter of the Taliban.

Tehreek–e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), separate from the Afghan Taliban but sharing a common hardline Islamist ideology, earlier this week called off a shaky months-long ceasefire agreed with Islamabad and ordered its fighters to resume attacks across the nation.

Senior police official Azhar Mehesar told AFP that Wednesday’s blast targeted a security force preparing to escort polio vaccinators in the city of Quetta, and those killed “include a policeman, a woman and a child”.

In a statement, the TTP said a “holy warrior” detonated a car bomb near a customs post to avenge the killing of founding member Umar Khalid Khurasani during the truce.


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“Our revenge operations will continue,” the statement added.

The TTP was founded in 2007 by Pakistani jihadists who fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990s before opposing Islamabad’s support for the US-led intervention there after 9/11.

For a time they held vast tracts of Pakistan’s rugged tribal belt, imposing a radical interpretation of Islamic law and patrolling territory just 140 kilometres (85 miles) from the Pakistan capital.

School attack

The Pakistani military came down hard after 2014 when TTP militants raided a school for children of army personnel and killed nearly 150 people, most of them pupils.

Its fighters were largely routed into neighbouring Afghanistan, but Islamabad claims the Taliban in Kabul are now giving the TTP a foothold to stage assaults across the border.

In the year since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan, Pakistan has seen a 50 percent surge in militant attacks, according to the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS).

Most of these attacks have been focused in the western provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, which neighbour Afghanistan.

The 2014 school assault deeply shocked Pakistan, and since then the TTP have vowed only to target state security forces.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only nations in the world where polio is endemic.

There is resistance to vaccine campaigns in rural areas and among conservative communities who falsely believe they are an effort to sterilise them.

Polio vaccination teams are routinely escorted by police in the western regions, and the TTP has regularly ambushed officers in remote restive areas.

Pakistan officials on Monday launched a week-long immunisation campaign aiming to inoculate over 13 million children living in “high-risk districts”.

In April, Pakistan reported its first case of polio in 15 months. Since then 20 cases have been reported, according to the government-funded End Polio Pakistan programme.

20 Dead As Bus Plunges Into Ditch In Pakistan

A policeman stands beside a damaged passenger minibus after an overnight accident in Sehwan of Sindh province on November 18, 2022. (Photo by Husnain ALI / AFP)

 

At least 20 people were killed, including 11 children, when a minibus crashed into a deep and water-logged ditch in southern Pakistan, police said Friday.

Pakistan has a staggeringly high rate of road deaths, blamed on decrepit highways and reckless driving.

Late Thursday in Sindh province, the bus “fell into a water-filled ditch on a road swept away by floods this summer”, local police official Khadim Hussain told AFP.

“The driver could not see the diversion sign on the road and so the van plunged into a 25-foot (eight-metre) deep ditch” near the town of Sehwan Sharif.

Hussain said the children killed were between two and eight years old, likely sitting on their parents’ laps when they were fatally injured.

READ ALSO: Pakistan Taliban Kill Six Police Officers In Gun Ambush

A further 14 people were injured in the accident.

Pakistan was lashed by record monsoon rains this year that put a third of the country underwater, displaced eight million people, and battered its already crumbling infrastructure.

Credible research has linked the catastrophic flooding to climate change.

According to World Health Organization estimates, more than 27,000 people were killed on Pakistan’s roads in 2018.

AFP

Pakistan Taliban Kill Six Police Officers In Gun Ambush

Pakistan map

 

Six police officers were killed in an ambush in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday, officials said, an assault claimed by the nation’s homegrown Taliban.

The Pakistan Taliban share common lineage with the Afghan Taliban and have staged an increasing number of strikes in the year since Kabul fell into the hands of the hardline Islamists.

Gunmen with automatic rifles launched an attack at around 7 am (0200 GMT) on a police vehicle patrolling the village of Shahab Khel, 100 km (60 miles) from the Afghan border.

“All the six policemen were killed” under fire from both sides, Tariqullah Khan, a district official in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told AFP.

The death toll was confirmed by a second police official.

In a separate incident on Wednesday, the military said two soldiers were killed in a clash with militants in the northwestern district of Bajaur that borders Afghanistan.

The Pakistan Taliban — known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — said the police were “coming for a raid” when they were gunned down in Shahab Khel.

It said in a statement to AFP its own fighters “managed to reach their base safely” after looting weapons and ammunition.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif offered his condolences and said on Twitter, “terrorism continues to be one of Pakistan’s foremost problems”.

The TTP were at the height of their power in Pakistan between 2007 and 2009, when they held sway over the Swat valley just 135 km (85 miles) north of Islamabad.

They were pushed into Afghanistan by an army offensive after perpetrating a barbaric schoolhouse bombing that killed nearly 150 students in 2014.

US-led forces hunted Taliban of all stripes in Afghanistan during their two-decade occupation following the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Analysts say the TTP have found a vital foothold and shelter there since the chaotic US departure and the Afghan Taliban takeover in August 2021.

AFP

Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan Stable After ‘Assassination Attempt’

Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan (C) addresses his supporters during an anti-government march towards capital Islamabad, demanding early elections, in Gujranwala on November 1, 2022. (Photo by Arif ALI / AFP)

 

 

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was in stable condition after being shot in the foot Thursday at a political rally in what the country’s president deemed “a heinous assassination attempt”.

Khan has been leading a march since Friday from the city of Lahore towards the capital, Islamabad, campaigning for fresh elections after being ousted from office in April.

Khan was wounded when shots were fired from the crowd near Gujranwala, his senior aide, Raoof Hasan, told AFP.

“This was an attempt to kill him, to assassinate him,” Hasan said, adding that one alleged attacker had been shot dead and a second taken into police custody.

In a tweet, Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi also called it “a heinous assassination attempt”.

“I thank Allah that he is safe but injured with few bullets in his leg & hopefully non-critical,” he tweeted.

Pakistan has been grappling with Islamist militants for decades, and politicians are frequently targeted by assassination attempts.

In 2007 the nation’s first female leader Benazir Bhutto was slain in a suicide attack which still remains unsolved.

Each day during his so-called “long march” 70 year-old Khan has mounted a shipping container towed by a lorry, making speeches from the open top to crowds of thousands in cities and towns along the way.

– ‘Die for the country’ –
The former international cricket star was booted from office in April by a no-confidence vote after defections by some of his coalition partners, but he retains mass public support in the South Asian country.

Khan was voted into power in 2018 on an anti-corruption platform by an electorate tired of dynastic politics.

But his mishandling of the economy — and falling out with a military accused of helping his rise — sealed his fate.

Since then, he has railed against the establishment and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government, which he says was imposed on Pakistan by a “conspiracy” involving the United States.

Khan has repeatedly told supporters he was prepared to die for the country, and aides have long warned of unspecified threats made on his life.

Pakistan Orders Inquiry Into Killing Of Journalist In Kenya

In this picture taken on June 22, 2022, a top Pakistani news anchor Arshad Sharif speaks during an event on “Regime Change Conspiracy and Pakistan’s Destabilisation” in Islamabad. – Arshad Sharif was shot dead in Kenya, his wife said on October 24, 2022, just months after he fled his home country to avoid arrest over sedition charges. Sharif was a frequent critic of the powerful military establishment and supporter of former prime minister Imran Khan, who was ousted in a parliamentary no-confidence vote in April. (Photo by Aamir QURESHI / AFP)

 

 

Pakistan will hold a formal inquiry into the killing in Kenya of a top TV news anchor who fled the country to avoid sedition charges, the prime minister said Tuesday.

Arshad Sharif, a strident critic of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment and supporter of former premier Imran Khan, died when Kenyan police opened fire on his car at a roadblock outside the capital at the weekend.

Kenyan officials say it was a case of mistaken identity, as officers thought they were firing on a stolen vehicle involved in an abduction.

“I have decided to form a Judicial Commission to hold an inquiry into the killing of journalist Arshad Sharif in order to determine the facts of the tragic incident in a transparent & conclusive manner,” Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif tweeted on Tuesday.

Mainstream and social media in Pakistan were rife with speculation that Sharif, who had spoken publicly about death threats against him, had been deliberately targeted.

“It was a planned assassination,” tweeted Shireen Mazari, a Khan loyalist and cabinet minister in his previous government, calling the official version of events a “lie”.

“We know, you know so don’t in our time of grief add to our anger also.”

Sharif fled the country in August, days after interviewing senior opposition politician Shahbaz Gill, who said junior officers in Pakistan’s military should disobey orders that went against “the will of the majority”.

The comment led to the news channel being briefly taken off air and an arrest warrant issued for Sharif.

Gill was detained following the interview, and Khan’s criticism of the judiciary over the detention led to his own appearance in court.

Pakistan has been ruled by the military for several decades of its 75-year history and criticism of the security establishment has long been seen as a red line.

It is ranked 157 out of 180 countries in a press freedom index compiled by Reporters without Borders, with journalists facing censorship and intimidation.

 

Media representatives shout slogans during a protest in Karachi on October 24, 2022, against the killing of Pakistani news anchor Arshad Sharif in Kenya. – Arshad Sharif was shot dead in Kenya, his wife said on October 24, 2022, just months after he fled his home country to avoid arrest over sedition charges. Sharif was a frequent critic of the powerful military establishment and supporter of former prime minister Imran Khan, who was ousted in a parliamentary no-confidence vote in April. (Photo by Asif HASSAN / AFP)

 

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said the establishment had “a long, grim record of violent tactics to silence journalists”.

Journalist Hamid Mir, who has survived at least two assassination attempts, cautiously welcomed the inquiry.

“Please remember that a judicial commission comprising three Supreme Court judges was announced in 2014 to investigate assassination attempt on my life in Karachi,” he tweeted.

“I got six bullets. 8 years have been passed and I am still waiting for the commission report.”

The killing has also sparked outrage and suspicion in Kenya, where earlier this month, President William Ruto disbanded a police unit accused of extrajudicial killings, and vowed to overhaul the country’s security forces.

Sharif’s body was due to be returned to Pakistan on Wednesday, his wife tweeted.

Former Pakistan PM Khan Barred From Elections For Five Years

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan (C) speaks at an event of Karachi Bar Association in Karachi on October 14, 2022. (Photo by Asif HASSAN / AFP)

 

 

Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan was disqualified Friday from running for political office for five years, after the country’s election commission ruled he misled officials about gifts he received from foreign leaders while in power.

The decision is another twist in political wrangling that began even before Khan’s April ouster, and is one of several legal battles being fought by the former international cricket star and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

“The ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan) has declared Imran Khan was involved in corrupt practices,” Gohar Khan, one of his lawyers, told reporters, adding he had been disqualified for five years.

“We are going to challenge it in the Islamabad high court right now.”

Pakistan’s courts are often used to tie up lawmakers in lengthy proceedings that rights monitors criticise for stifling political opposition, but the commission’s involvement in this case stems from the obligation of elected officials to declare all their assets.

The case centres on a government department known as “Toshakhana”, which during the Mughal era referred to the “treasure houses” kept by the sub-continent’s princely rulers to store and display gifts lavished on them.

Government officials must declare all gifts, but are allowed to keep those below a certain value.

More expensive items must go to Toshakhana, but in some cases the recipient can buy them back at around 50 percent of their value — a discount Khan raised from 20 percent while in office.

Pakistan newspapers have for months carried lurid stories alleging Khan and his wife received lavish gifts worth millions during trips abroad.

They included luxury watches, jewellery, designer handbags and perfumes.

Khan is accused of failing to declare some gifts, or the profit made from selling them.

The complaint to the election commission was first brought when Khan was still in office by the Pakistan Democratic Movement, a coalition whose members now make up the government.

At the time, Khan said he had not made public some gifts on national security grounds, but in a written submission admitted buying items worth nearly 22 million rupees ($100,000), and later selling them for more than twice that amount.

He says the valuation was done through proper channels.

This week, Khan won six of eight national assembly seats he stood for in a weekend by-election, a vote he called a referendum on his popularity.

Individuals can stand in multiple constituencies in Pakistan elections and choose which to forfeit if they win more than one, but it is rare for a candidate to contest as many as Khan.

The 70-year-old has attempted to disrupt Pakistan’s political process since his April ouster when he ordered all his lawmakers to give up their seats, leaving no PTI members in the National Assembly.

He has also vowed to soon announce the date of a “long march” of his supporters on the capital to pressure the government to announce an earlier national election than that scheduled for October next year.

Khan regularly holds rallies drawing tens of thousands across the country, giving fiery speeches criticising state institutions — including the powerful military — for allegedly conspiring to topple his government.

He rode to power in 2018 on a populist platform promising social reforms, religious conservatism and a fight against corruption, overturning decades of rule by two feuding political dynasties interspersed with military takeovers.

But, under his tenure, the economy stagnated and he lost the support of the army, which was accused of helping to get him elected.

Former Pakistan PM Khan Facing Politics Ban In Gifts Case

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks at an event of Karachi Bar Association in Karachi on October 14, 2022. (Photo by Asif HASSAN / AFP)

 

 

 

Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan could be barred from political office Friday when the election commission rules on charges he misled officials about gifts he received from foreign leaders while in power.

The case is another twist in political wrangling that began even before Khan’s April ouster, and is one of several being fought by the former international cricket star and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

Pakistan’s courts are often used to tie up lawmakers in lengthy proceedings that rights monitors criticise for stifling political opposition, but the commission’s involvement in this case stems from the obligation of elected officials to declare all their assets.

“In our opinion the Election Commission of Pakistan is not a court, therefore they can’t give a declaration to disqualify anyone,” PTI senator Syed Ali Zafar, a barrister representing Khan, told a press conference Friday ahead of the ruling.

The case centres on a government department known as “Toshakhana”, which during the Mughal era referred to the “treasure houses” kept by the sub-continent’s princely rulers to store and display gifts lavished on them.

Government officials must declare all gifts, but are allowed to keep those below a certain value.

More expensive items must go to Toshakhana, but in some cases the recipient can buy them back at around 50 percent of their value — a discount Khan raised from 20 percent while in office.

Pakistan newspapers have for months carried lurid stories alleging Khan and his wife received lavish gifts worth millions during trips abroad.

They included luxury watches, jewellery, designer handbags and perfumes.

Khan is accused of failing to declare some gifts or the profit made from selling them.

The complaint to the election commission was first brought when Khan was still in office by the Pakistan Democratic Movement, a coalition whose members now make up the government.

At the time Khan said he had not made public some gifts on national security grounds, but in a written submission admitted buying items worth nearly 22 million rupees ($100,000), and later selling them for more than twice that amount.

He says the valuation was done through proper channels.

If the commission does rule against Khan, he could face punishment ranging from suspension to being banned from public office, but extreme rulings are usually challenged in court and frequently overturned.

18 Flood Victims Killed In Pakistan Bus Fire

 

At least 18 Pakistanis, including 12 children, were killed in a bus fire as they journeyed home after fleeing catastrophic monsoon flooding, officials and rescue workers said Thursday.

Pakistan has been hit by unprecedented monsoon rains this year, putting a third of the nation underwater, displacing eight million people, and causing $28 billion worth of devastation.

As the waters slowly recede, thousands of the displaced — many living in ramshackle tent cities — are travelling back to their sodden homes to remake their lives.


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Police said the passengers died when flames broke out overnight on a northbound bus outside the city of Karachi, where they settled after fleeing one of the worst flood-hit areas.

“They were going back to their village when they were overtaken by this accident,” Vinod Kumar, a district health official present at the scene, told AFP.

“Apparently, the fire broke out in the air-conditioning system of the bus but investigations will reveal the real cause,” said police officer Hashim Brohi, who was also present.

Pakistan has a dismal record of fatal traffic accidents due to badly maintained vehicles, poor roads, reckless driving and poorly trained emergency services.

The historic floods across the nation — which have killed 1,700 — have been linked to climate change.

UN Appeals For $160 mn To Help Worst Hit In Pakistan Floods

People gather in front of a road damaged by flood waters following heavy monsoon rains in Madian area in Pakistan's northern Swat Valley on August 27, 2022. Photo by Abdul MAJEED / AFP
People gather in front of a road damaged by flood waters following heavy monsoon rains in Madian area in Pakistan’s northern Swat Valley on August 27, 2022. Photo by Abdul MAJEED / AFP

 

The United Nations and Pakistan launched an emergency appeal for $160 million on Tuesday as the country was submerged by floods, with the United States quickly offering $30 million.

The funds will provide 5.2 million of the worst-affected and most vulnerable people with aid including food, clean water, sanitation and emergency education, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, calling the disaster a “colossal crisis”.

“Pakistan is awash in suffering. The Pakistani people are facing a monsoon on steroids — the relentless impact of epochal levels of rain and flooding,” he said in a video statement before announcing plans to visit Pakistan next week.

The United States, the largest donor to Pakistan, said it was providing a fresh $30 million for urgent needs including food, safe water and hygiene.

The US Agency for International Development in a statement announcing the aid said that one of its disaster specialists was working out of Islamabad to assess needs and coordinate with the Pakistani government and other local partners.

The United Nations said the aid would cover the initial six months of the crisis response and help to avoid outbreaks of diseases such as cholera, as well as providing nutrition to young children and their mothers.

It will also provide assistance to refugees and facilitate schemes to reunite families separated by the disaster.

“The people of Pakistan urgently need international solidarity and support,” Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, told a press briefing in Geneva.

He said some 500,000 people displaced by the floods were sheltering in relief camps, with many more temporarily staying with host families.

Around 150 bridges have been washed away, he said, and 3,500 kilometres (2,175 miles) of roads damaged in flooding and landslides, hampering access.

“The heavy rains are forecast to continue and with many dams and rivers already at flood levels, the flooding is likely to get worse before it gets better,” Laerke said.

Health facilities wrecked

Tens of millions of people have been affected by relentless monsoon rains that have submerged a third of Pakistan and claimed more than 1,100 lives.

The rains that began in June have unleashed the worst flooding in more than a decade, washing away swathes of vital crops and damaging or destroying more than a million homes.

World Health Organization spokesman Christian Lindmeier said Pakistan’s health facilities had been severely affected by the flooding, with 180 “completely damaged”.

He said there was already a vast disparity between rural and urban healthcare provision, while treatment for non-communicable diseases such as diabetes would be “severely” impacted.

“It’s a vast problem which opens up here,” he said.

The UN refugee agency said there were 1.3 million Afghan refugees registered in Pakistan and it had already delivered $1.5 million worth of emergency relief and shelter items — but “much, much more” would be needed in the coming weeks.

‘Climate catastrophe’

Guterres branded the floods a “climate catastrophe”, saying South Asia was one of the world’s hotspots where people are “15 times more likely to die from climate impacts”.

“It is outrageous that climate action is being put on the back burner as global emissions of greenhouse gases are still rising, putting all of us — everywhere — in growing danger,” he said.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization said that Pakistan and northwest India have been witnessing an intense 2022 monsoon season.

One site at Padidan in the southern Sindh province was reporting 1,288 millimetres of rain so far in August, compared to the monthly average of 46 millimetres, said WMO spokeswoman Clare Nullis.

AFP

Pakistan Flood: Death Toll Tops 1,000

A flood-affected man walks over his collapsed mud house after heavy monsoon rains in Jaffarabad district, Balochistan province, on August 28, 2022. AFP

 

The death toll from monsoon flooding in Pakistan since June has reached 1,033, according to figures released Sunday by the country’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

It said 119 people had died in the previous 24 hours as heavy rains continued to lash parts of the country.

READ ALSO: Pakistan Orders Thousands To Evacuate Near Flood-Swollen Rivers

The annual monsoon is essential for irrigating crops and replenishing lakes and dams across the Indian subcontinent, but each year it also brings a wave of destruction.

Officials say this year’s monsoon flooding has affected more than 33 million people — one in seven Pakistanis — destroying or badly damaging nearly a million homes.

The NDMA said more than two million acres of cultivated crops have been wiped out, 3,451 kilometers (2,150 miles) of roads destroyed, and 149 bridges washed away.

Pakistan Orders Thousands To Evacuate Near Flood-Swollen Rivers

 People gather in front of a road damaged by flood waters following heavy monsoon rains in Madian area in Pakistan's northern Swat Valley on August 27, 2022. Photo by Abdul MAJEED / AFP
People gather in front of a road damaged by flood waters following heavy monsoon rains in Madian area in Pakistan’s northern Swat Valley on August 27, 2022. Photo by Abdul MAJEED / AFP

 

Thousands of people living near flood-swollen rivers in Pakistan’s north were ordered to evacuate Saturday as the death toll from devastating monsoon rains neared 1,000 with no end in sight.

Many rivers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — a picturesque province of rugged mountains and valleys — have burst their banks, demolishing scores of buildings including a 150-room hotel that crumbled into a raging torrent.

“The house which we built with years of hard work started sinking in front of our eyes,” said Junaid Khan, 23, the owner of two fish farms in Chrasadda.

“We sat on the side of the road and watched our dream house sinking.”

The annual monsoon is essential for irrigating crops and replenishing lakes and dams across the Indian subcontinent, but each year it also brings a wave of destruction.

Officials say this year’s monsoon flooding has affected more than 33 million people — one in seven Pakistanis — destroying or badly damaging nearly a million homes.

On Saturday, authorities ordered thousands of residents in threatened areas to evacuate their homes as rivers had still not reached maximum capacity.

“Initially some people refused to leave, but when the water level increased they agreed,” Bilal Faizi, spokesman for the Rescue 1122 emergency service, told AFP.

Officials say this year’s floods are comparable to 2010 — the worst on record — when over 2,000 people died and nearly a fifth of the country was under water.

Farmer Shah Faisal, camped by the side of a road in Chrasadda with his wife and two daughters, described how he saw his riverside home swallowed by a river as the powerful current eroded the bank.

The Jindi, Swat and Kabul rivers flow through the town before joining the mighty Indus, which is also flooding downstream.

“We escaped with our lives,” Faisal told AFP.

Climate change

Officials blame the devastation on man-made climate change, saying Pakistan is unfairly bearing the consequences of irresponsible environmental practices elsewhere in the world.

Pakistan is eighth on the Global Climate Risk Index, a list compiled by the environmental NGO Germanwatch of countries deemed most vulnerable to extreme weather caused by climate change.

Still, local authorities must shoulder some of the blame for the devastation.

Corruption, poor planning and the flouting of local regulations mean thousands of buildings have been erected in areas prone to seasonal flooding — albeit not as bad as this year.

The government has declared an emergency and mobilised the military to deal with what Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman on Wednesday called “a catastrophe of epic scale”.

According to the National Disaster Management Authority, since the monsoon started in June more than two million acres of cultivated crops have been wiped out, 3,100 kilometres (1,900 miles) of roads have been destroyed and 149 bridges have been washed away.

In Sukkur, more than 1,000 kilometres south of Swat, farmlands irrigated by the Indus were under water, and tens of thousands of people were seeking shelter on elevated roads and highways as they waited for fresh torrents from the north.

“We have opened the gates fully,” dam supervisor Aziz Soomro told AFP, adding the main rush of water was expected Sunday.

The flooding could not come at a worse time for Pakistan, whose economy is in free fall and whose politics are gripped by crisis following the ousting of former prime minister Imran Khan by a parliamentary vote of no confidence in April.

AFP

India, Pakistan Must Brace For Even Worse Heatwaves

Monkeys sit in shade inside a temple on a hot summer day in Allahabad on May 6, 2022. (Photo by SANJAY KANOJIA / AFP)

 

 

The devastating heatwave that gripped India and Pakistan over the last two months is unprecedented, but worse — perhaps far worse — is on the horizon as climate change continues apace, top climate scientists said. 

Even without additional global warming South Asia is, statistically speaking, ripe for a “big one” in the same way that California is said to be overdue for a major earthquake, according to research published this week.

Extreme heat across much of India and neighbouring Pakistan in March and April exposed more than a billion people to scorching temperatures well above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). The hottest part of the year is yet to come.

“This heatwave is likely to kill thousands,” tweeted Robert Rohde, lead scientist at Berkeley Earth, a climate science research non-profit.

The number of excess deaths, especially among the elderly poor, will only become apparent in hindsight.

Heatwave mortality in India has increased by more than 60 percent since 1980, according to the country’s Ministry of Earth Sciences.

But “cascading impacts” on agricultural output, water, energy supplies and other sectors are already apparent, World Meteorological Organization chief Petteri Taalas said this week.

Air quality has deteriorated, and large swathes of land are at risk of extreme fire danger.

Power blackouts last week as electricity demand hit record levels served as a warning of what might happen if temperatures were to climb even higher.

For climate scientists, none of this came as a surprise.

“What I find unexpected is most people being shocked, given how long we have been warned about such disasters coming,” Camilo Mora, a professor at the University of Hawaii, told AFP.

“This region of the world, and most other tropical areas, are among the most vulnerable to heatwaves.”

 

Men take rest on a platform at Daraganj railway station on a hot summer day in Allahabad on May 6, 2022. (Photo by SANJAY KANOJIA / AFP)

 

– The new normal –
In a benchmark 2017 study, Mora calculated that nearly half the global population will be exposed to “deadly heat” 20 days or more each year by 2100, even if global warming is capped under two degrees Celsius, the cornerstone target of the Paris Agreement.

To what extent is climate change to blame for the scorched Earth temperatures just now easing up in India and Pakistan?

Scientists at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute led by Friederike Otto, a pioneer in the field of attribution science, are crunching the numbers.

“How much more likely and intense this particular heatwave has become is something we’re still working on,” she told AFP.

“But there is no doubt that climate change is a huge game changer when it comes to extreme heat,” she added. “What we see right now will be normal, if not cool, in a 2C to 3C world.”

Earth’s surface, on average, is 1.1C above preindustrial levels. National carbon cutting pledges under the Paris Agreement, if fulfilled, would still see the world warm 2.8 degrees.

In India and Pakistan, “more intense heat waves of longer durations and occurring at a higher frequency are projected,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a recent landmark report.

“Before human activities increased global temperatures, we would have seen the heat that hit India around once in 50 years,” said Marian Zachariah, a researcher at Imperial College London.

“But now we can expect such high temperatures about once ever four years.”

Continued global warming, in other words, guarantees greater heat extremes in the coming decades.

– Wet-bulb temperature –
But things may get worse even sooner, according to a new study in Science Advances.

A team led by Vikki Thompson of Bristol University ranked the world’s most severe heatwaves since 1960. Their benchmark, however, was not maximum temperatures, but how hot it got compared to what would be expected for the region.

Surprisingly, South Asia was nowhere near the top of the list.

“When defined in terms of deviation from the local norm, heatwaves in India and Pakistan to date have not been all that extreme,” Thompson explained in a commentary.

By that measure, the worst scorcher on record over the last six decades was in Southeast Asia in 1998.

“An equivalent outlier heatwave in India today would mean temperatures over 50C across large swathes of the country,” Thompson said.

“Statistically, a record-breaking heatwave is likely to occur in India at some point.”

What makes extreme heat deadly is high temperatures combined with humidity, a steam-bath mix with its own yardstick: wet-bulb temperature (WB).

When the body overheats, the heart ups the tempo and sends blood to the skin where sweating cools it down. But above a threshold of heat-plus-humidity this natural cooling system shuts down.

“Think of it as a sunburn but inside your body,” said Mora.

A wet-bulb temperature of 35C WB will kill a healthy young adult within six hours. Last week, the central Indian city of Nagpur briefly registered 32.2 WB.

“The rise in heatwaves, floods, cyclones and droughts that we have seen in this region so far are in response to just one degree Celsius,” Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, told AFP.

“It is difficult for me to even imagine the impacts when the increase in global temperatures are doubled.”