The floods came, and then the sickness.
Muhammad Yaqoob stood on his concrete porch and watched the black, angry water swirl around the acacia trees and rush toward his village last September, the deluge making a sound that was like nothing he had ever heard. “It was like thousands of snakes sighing all at once,” he recalled.
At first, he thought villagers’ impromptu sandbags, made from rice and fertilizer sacks, had helped save their homes and escape Pakistan’s worst floods on record. But Yaqoob — whom villagers call a wadero, or chief — soon realized it was just the beginning of a health disaster. The temperatures rose to triple digits, as the water that would not recede festered in the sun.
An elderly woman died in a boat on the way to the hospital, overcome by heat and dehydration. Dark clouds of mosquitoes bit through even the toughest donkey’s hide, spreading malaria to Yaqoob and four dozen of his neighbors. People came down with itchy dermatitis from walking through the floodwaters. Farmers who could not plant in drenched fields began cutting back their simple meals of vegetables and rice from three a day to two. And then, for some, just one.
“I had no idea what miseries this flood would bring for us,” said Yaqoob, whose village is in Sindh, the hardest hit province in a disaster that left a third of the country underwater.
Pakistan is the epicenter of a new global wave of disease and death linked to climate change, according to a Washington Post analysis of climate data, leading scientific studies, interviews with experts and reporting from some of the places bearing the brunt of Earth’s heating. This examination of climate-fueled illnesses — tied to hotter temperatures, and swifter passage of pathogens and toxins — shows how countries across the globe are ill-prepared for the insidious, intensifying risks to almost every facet of human health.
To document one of the most widespread threats — extreme heat — The Post and CarbonPlan, a nonprofit that develops publicly available climate data, used new models and massive data sets to produce the most up-to-date predictions of how often people in nearly 15,500 cities would face such intense heat that they could quickly become ill — in the near-term and over the coming decades. The analysis is based on a measure called wet-bulb globe temperature (WBGT), which takes into account air temperature, humidity, radiation and wind speed, and is increasingly used by scientists to determine how heat stresses the human body…
…Researchers who have formed a group dubbed the Climate Impact Lab found in a recent study that heat-related mortality will expand dramatically in the coming decades and in the world’s poorest and hottest places, exacerbating inequality.
They projected that higher temperatures will lead to a staggering 150,000 added deaths per year in Pakistan by 2040 — unless the country can grow substantially more wealthy and better adapt to frequent bouts of extreme heat. The rising death rate, 50 per 100,000, is higher than that of nearly all other countries, barring some of the least developed parts of Africa and the Middle East. It is more than twice the number estimated for neighboring India, which has more financial resources to shield its population from the worst climate impacts.
“The way the rich countries are going to respond is by spending more to protect ourselves, and in many parts of the world those opportunities don’t exist,” said Michael Greenstone, a University of Chicago economist and the study’s co-author.
In many cases, improving odds of survival means one thing — access to air conditioning. A study led by scientists at the University of California at Berkeley projects that less than 1 in 10 Pakistani households will have air conditioning in 2030, compared with 25 percent of Indian homes. In the United States, 92 percent of residents had air-conditioned homes as of 2021.