Islamic Bloc Blames ‘Global Warming’ for Pakistan Flooding

By Patrick Goodenough | August 19, 2010 | 5:13 AM EDT

Flood survivors carry relief goods along a flooded area in Muzaffargarh, Punjab province, in Pakistan on Wednesday Aug. 18, 2010. (AP Photo / Aaron Favila)

( – The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has blamed the flooding in Pakistan on “global warming,” even though scientists are generally wary of linking any single or series of weather events to climate change.
The bloc of 56 Islamic states held an emergency meeting in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, and agreed to consider setting up an emergency fund to respond to future disasters like that one now unfolding in Pakistan, where millions of people have been displaced.

Addressing the gathering, OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu attributed the flooding to climate change.

“We have to act instantly and decide on the best way forward to support Pakistan which has been struck by the effects of global warming and climate change,” he said. “Indeed, the Islamic world is paying a heavy price resulting from the negative repercussions of climate change.”
In a communique released at the end of the meeting, participants called on the OIC “to consider seriously the establishment of an emergency fund to address efficiently and urgently natural disasters and catastrophes which might affect individual member states in the future, particularly in view of the phenomena of global warming and climate change.”

Many climate scientists and even some environmental activists have become more cautious about attributing various events and trends to man-made climate change, especially after a series of blows to the credibility of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

They include “Climategate”--the leaking of emails revealing the apparent manipulation of data by some IPCC-linked scientists--and the IPCC’s retraction of an assertion in a key 2007 report that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035.

The flooding of huge swathes of Pakistan began when much heavier than usual monsoon rains dumped massive amounts of water in the Indus River, which runs from the Himalayas through Kashmir and Pakistan, emptying into the Arabian Sea.

Among possible reasons put forward by scientists and meteorologists for the heavier rains are higher than usual temperatures in the Indian Ocean; unusual behavior in the jet stream--a high-altitude, fast-moving air current that affects weather patterns; and a shift from an El Nina, the warming Pacific Ocean pattern, to a La Nina, its cooling opposite.

Factors contributing to the scale of the disaster include topography and population--some 100 million people live in the fertile Indus Valley.
Also, the Indus River is more prone to flooding than most because it carries significant amounts of sediment, causing waterways to silt up and embankments to breach. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that so much water is diverted for irrigation that the water left in the main channel is less able to cope with the sediment.
“The unique thing about the Indus is that it has some of the highest silt loads in the world,” Daanish Mustafa, an expert on the Indus who teaches Environmental Politics and Development at King’s College London, told the BBC World Service on Wednesday.

He said river management practices over the past 150 years had contributed to the problem.

With previously unusual monsoonal patterns like this year’s one becoming more common, “the way we’ve been managing the system is not going to work.”
Wednesday’s OIC meeting also called on Islamic states, many of which have contributed relatively sparingly up until now, to give more to Pakistan emergency relief appeal.

The new U.S. envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Rashad Hussain (wearing blue tie), is seen with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and OIC head Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010. (AP Photo/HO)

Ihsanoglu praised those member states which have contributed significant amounts, singling out Saudi Arabia and several others, but he also hinted at some unhappiness at the response.
“I must admit that it is more than disheartening whenever I am approached by a member state in dire need of humanitarian assistance and help, to admit my helplessness as a secretary-general to provide any meaningful assistance,” he said.
“I am however confident that this unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Pakistan will be an eye-opener for all of us on the vital need to act collectively and pool our resources to efficiently address disasters in the Islamic world.”
The communique issued by the meeting stated that, “despite the significant support provided by some member states to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Pakistani people is still in a pressing need of further urgent relief support to be able to respond to its daily needs and overcome this plight.”
It urged Islamic states, the Islamic Development Bank and Islamic charities and organizations to “to urgently address the humanitarian needs of the Pakistani people.”
Pakistani Ambassador Umar Khan Alisherzai told the meeting that the disaster was “unprecedented in living memory.”
“One-fifth of the country is inundated. More than 1.7 million acres of crops have been destroyed,” Saudi Arabia’s Arab News quoted him as saying. “It may lead to a 10 to 15 percent decrease in agricultural production. The impact of this disaster on the economy is huge. The initial assessment suggests that the loss to economy may be to the tune of 1.3 percent of GDP.”
The scale was so huge it would be impossible for Pakistan to deal with it alone, Alisherzai said.
“We expect a more robust response from the international community, including our Islamic brothers, to complement our national efforts.”
The United States leads international contributions to the relief effort, having already committed around $90 million as well as millions of dollars of additional in-kind aid.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to announce a further increase in assistance during a special U.N. General Assembly session on Thursday, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Wednesday.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow