Heavy rain lashed much of Pakistan after the government declared a state of emergency to deal with monsoon flooding that it said had affected more than 30 million people.
The annual monsoon is essential to irrigate crops and replenish lakes and dams on the Indian subcontinent, but each year it also brings a wave of destruction.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said on Friday that more than 900 people have died this year – including 34 in the last 24 hours – as a result of monsoon rains that began in June.
Officials say this year’s floods are comparable to 2010, the worst on record, when more than 2,000 people died and almost a fifth of the country was under water.
“I have never seen such huge floods in my life due to rains,” Rahim Baksh Brohi, an octogenarian farmer near Sukkur in southern Sindh province, told AFP.
Like thousands of others in rural Pakistan, Brohi sought refuge near the national highway, as the roads are among the few dry places amid endless watery landscapes.
A statement from Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s office on Friday said 33 million people were “severely affected” by the floods, while the country’s emergency agency said nearly 220,000 homes had been destroyed and another half a million severely damaged.
Two million acres of crops were destroyed in Sindh province alone, the provincial disaster management agency said, where many farmers live hand-to-mouth, season to season.
“My cotton crop, which was sown on 50 acres of land, has disappeared,” Nasrullah Mehar told AFP.
“It’s a great loss for me…what can be done?”
Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman, who called the flooding a “disaster of epic proportions” on Wednesday, said the government had declared a state of emergency and appealed for international help.
Pakistan ranks eighth in the Global Climate Risk Index, a list of countries considered most vulnerable to extreme weather conditions caused by climate change, compiled by environmental NGO Germanwatch.
– From drought to flood –
Earlier this year, much of the country was gripped by drought and heat, with temperatures reaching 51 degrees Celsius (124 Fahrenheit) in Jacobabad, Sindh province.
The city is now battling floods that have submerged homes and swept away roads and bridges.
In Sukkur, about 75 kilometers (50 miles) away, residents struggled to make their way through muddy streets clogged with debris brought in by the flood.
“If you had come earlier, the water would have been so high,” 24-year-old student Akil Ahmed told AFP, raising his hand to his chest.
Prime Minister Sharif canceled a planned trip to the UK to monitor flood relief and ordered the army to commit all resources to relief operations.
“I saw from the air and the devastation is indescribable,” he said on state television after visiting Sukkur.
“Cities, villages and crops are flooded with water. I don’t think this level of destruction has ever happened before.”
The Pakistani military said that each officer would donate a month’s salary for this.
Baluchistan and Sindh in the south and west of the country were the worst affected, but almost all of Pakistan has been affected this year.
On Friday, images circulated on social media of swollen rivers destroying buildings and bridges built along their banks in the mountainous north.
Junaid Khan, deputy commissioner of Swat district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told AFP that 14 riverside hotels had been demolished, as well as two small hydroelectric plants.
In Chaman, a western border town adjacent to Afghanistan, travelers had to wade through waist-high water to cross the border after a nearby dam burst, exacerbating rain-induced flooding.
Pakistan Railways said nearby Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, was shut down and train services suspended after a key bridge was damaged by flash flooding.
Much of the province’s mobile networks and internet services were down, in what the country’s telecommunications authorities called “unprecedented”.