Not long ago, Sara Khan, the principal of a school for disadvantaged girls in Jacobabad, southern Pakistan, watched with dismay as some students fainted from the heat, a city that at one point in May was the hottest in the world.
Now, after heavy monsoon rains inundated much of the country, her classrooms are flooded and many of her 200 students are homeless, struggling to get food and care for injured relatives.
Such extreme weather events have wreaked havoc across the country in a short period of time, killing hundreds of people, cutting off communities, destroying homes and infrastructure, and raising concerns about health and food security.
Jacobabad has not been spared. In May, temperatures soared above 50 °C (122 F), drying out canal beds and causing some residents to collapse from heatstroke. Today, parts of the city are under water, although the floods have receded from their peak.
In the Khan neighborhood in the eastern part of the city, houses have been heavily damaged. On Thursday, she said she heard screams from the house next door as the roof collapsed from water damage, killing their nine-year-old son.
Many of his students are unlikely to return to school for months, having already lost class during the brutal summer heat wave.
“Jacobabad is the hottest city in the world, there are so many challenges … before people got heatstroke, now people have lost their homes, almost everything [in the flood]they have become homeless,” he told the Reuters news agency.
A deputy city commissioner said 19 people, including children, had died in the city of about 200,000, while local hospitals said many people were sick or injured.
More than 40,000 people are living in temporary shelters, mostly in overcrowded schools, with limited access to food.
One displaced person, Dur Bibi, 40, sat under a tent on the school grounds and recalled the moment he fled when water burst into his home late last week.
“I grabbed my children and rushed out of the house with bare feet,” she said, adding that the only thing they had time to take with them was a copy of the Koran.
Four days later, she has not been able to get medicine for her feverish daughter.
“I have nothing but these children. Everything in my home has been swept away,” she said.
Extreme weather conditions
The level of disruption in Jacobabad, where many people live in poverty, shows some of the challenges that extreme weather events linked to climate change can create.
“A manifestation of climate change is the more frequent and more intense occurrence of extreme weather events, and that is what we have been witnessing in Jacobabad and elsewhere in the world in recent months,” said Athar Hussain, head of the centre. Climate Research and Development at COMSATS University, Islamabad.
A study by World Weather Attribution, an international group of scientists, earlier this year found that the heat wave that hit Pakistan in March and April was 30 times more likely to have been caused by climate change.
Global warming also likely exacerbated the recent floods, said Liz Stephens, a climate scientist at the University of Reading in the UK. This is because the warmer atmosphere is able to hold more moisture, which is eventually released in the form of heavy rains.
Pakistan’s foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, said the country, which is heavily dependent on agriculture, was alarmed.
“If you’re a farmer in Jacobabad, you couldn’t plant your crops because of the lack of water and the heat during the heat wave, and now your crops have suffered because of monsoons and floods,” he told Reuters in an interview.
In Jacobabad, local health, education and development officials said record temperatures followed by unusually heavy rains were straining vital services.
Hospitals, which set up emergency heatstroke response centers in May, are now reporting patients suffering from gastroenteritis and skin diseases from people injured in the floods and unsanitary conditions.
The Jacobabad Institute of Medical Sciences (JIMS) said it has treated around 70 people for injuries, including deep wounds and broken bones, caused by flood debris in the last few days.
Hospital data showed that during the heavy rains in August, more than 800 children were admitted to JIMS due to symptoms of gastroenteritis, compared to 380 in the previous month.
At a nearby civil hospital, where the area is partially submerged, Dr Vijay Kumar said the number of patients suffering from gastroenteritis and other ailments had at least tripled since the floods.
Rizwan Shaikh, head of the Jacobabad Meteorological Office, recorded a high temperature of 51C (123.8F) in May. He now observes the continuous heavy rainfall and notes with alarm that there are still two weeks left for the end of the monsoon season.
“All neighborhoods are in a very tight spot,” he said.