Pakistan's catastrophic floods captured in pictures

Aafter a Pakistani man saved a neighbor from drowning, he stopped for a moment and put his hand on his head. “I lost my own son in this water a few days ago,” he told local climate journalist Zuhaib Pirzada. The man who needed rescuing fell into the water while trying to cross a flimsy makeshift bridge made of wood, Pirzada said. The original bridge that allowed people to cross between the village of Hayat Haskheli and the town of Judo in lower Sindh was destroyed in an attempt to allow the trapped water to drain.

Pirzada still has trouble talking about the incident and the man’s pain. He learned of the story while accompanying Karachi-based photographer Hasan Gondal on a three-day reporting trip for TIME to capture Pakistan’s record floods. Gondal visited the towns of Thatta and Judo in Sindh, the worst-affected province in the country. “The hardest thing when I was taking a picture was how to keep my emotional distance,” says Gondal, who captured the rescue on camera.

A heavily flooded home in the village of Rajo Nizamani, near Jirk, September 10.  (Hasan Gondal for TIME)

A heavily flooded home in the village of Rajo Nizamani, near Jirk, September 10.

Hasan Gondal for TIME

Residents rush to save a man from drowning on an embankment between Hayat Haskheli village and Judo town, September 9.  (Hasan Gondal for TIME)

Residents rush to save a man from drowning on an embankment between Hayat Haskheli village and Judo town, September 9.

Hasan Gondal for TIME

Bano and Abdul Ghani in their flooded house in Judo, September 9.  (Hasan Gondal for TIME)

Bano and Abdul Ghani in their flooded house in Judo, September 9.

Hasan Gondal for TIME

Catastrophic floods in Pakistan inundate a third of the country – displacing people over 30 million people and pushing more than 600,000 people into relief camps. The government admitted it was terrible food and shortage of medicines. Although rainfall has eased, pools of stagnant floodwater are accumulating in Sindh and Balochistan provinces – still reaching half the power poles in some areas.

“Especially in Sindh because it is the lower part of the Indus [River] pool, that water just doesn’t drain into the sea. It just hangs stagnant because of the way the river is designed,” says Ayesha Siddiqui, a geographer at the University of Cambridge.

An establishment frequented by the other residents of Rajo Nizamani, where they gather to watch the news while waiting for the water to clear, 10 September.  (Hasan Gondal for TIME)

An establishment frequented by the other residents of Rajo Nizamani, where they gather to watch the news while waiting for the water to clear, 10 September.

Hasan Gondal for TIME

There is nowhere for the water to go, Siddiqui adds, because the natural water flow is disrupted. Dams and dams in Pakistan are designed to control water flow and have increased the impact of flooding. “Why Pakistan’s agricultural heartland is under water, not the big cities; there is a very strong colonial imperative from the time of the British Raj in South Asia that allowed you to break embankments to flood the central part of the countryside so that the more populated urban areas would not be flooded,” she says.

And there could be more floods in Sindh. In Jhuddo, residents are keeping a 24-hour watch on the city’s embankment for any signs of a potential breach, Gondal says. If they spot a problem, they immediately work to add more mud bags for extra protection.

A Jhuddo resident sleeps on a temporary embankment to protect the town from further flooding, September 9.  (Hassaan Gondal for TIME)

A resident of Jhuddo sleeps on a temporary embankment to protect the town from further flooding, September 9.

Hasan Gondal for TIME

Residents collect belongings from their flooded homes in Jhuddo, September 9.  (Hassaan Gondal for TIME)

Residents collect belongings from their flooded homes in Jhuddo, September 9.

Hasan Gondal for TIME

Even those who are safe in the rural provinces must contend with enormous challenges. Farmers in Sindh and Balochistan, for example, have lost the livestock they depended on for their livelihood. “Life became very difficult because the man who had only cattle and depended on them for living and he died in the flood, how will he continue?” asks Pirzada.

As a result of stagnant floods, outbreaks of skin diseases, malaria and dengue are also increasing. Abandoned homes appear to be beginning to crumble.

Meanwhile, the catastrophic damage has drawn attention to the responsibility of wealthier nations in the global north. The US and European nations broadcast dramatically more CO2 than Pakistan and other countries that disproportionately face the severe consequences of increasing global warming.

Pakistan reportedly received more than 3 times its normal rainfall in August, making it the wettest August since 1961, according to a World Weather Attribution studya group of mostly academic volunteers.

“It’s really hard to argue that this disaster would have been in any way as extreme if human-induced climate change had not played a role,” says Siddiqui.

A shopkeeper in Hayat Khaskheli, Jhuddo, next to his flooded shop, September 9.  (Hassaan Gondal for TIME)

A shopkeeper in Hayat Khaskheli, Jhuddo, next to his flooded shop, September 9.

Hasan Gondal for TIME

<b>Left:</b> Bughio, an elderly man in a village near Sohni Lath, Thatta, September 8;  <b>Center:</b> Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) gather around a drinking water tank on the Jhuddo Bypass, September 9;  <b>Right:</b> Displaced family on Judo Bypass, September 9.  (Hasan Gondal for TIME)” class=”fix-layout-shift”/><br />
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Left: Bughio, an elderly man in a village near Sohni Lath, Thatta, September 8; Center: Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) gather around a drinking water tank on the Jhuddo Bypass, September 9; right: Displaced family on Judo Bypass, September 9.

Hasan Gondal for TIME

Residents of Rajo Nizamani in Sindh province wade through floods to reach their home, September 10.  (Hasan Gondal for TIME)

Residents of Rajo Nizamani in Sindh province wade through floods to reach their home, September 10.

Hasan Gondal for TIME

Flooded Bazaar at Hayat Khaskheli, Jhuddo.  (Hasan Gondal for TIME)

Flooded Bazaar at Hayat Khaskheli, Jhuddo.

Hasan Gondal for TIME

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Write to Sanya Mansoor c [email protected].

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