Not long ago, Sara Khan, headmistress of a school for disadvantaged girls in Jacobabad, southern Pakistan, watched in alarm as some students fainted from the heat – the city was the hottest in the world once in May.
Now after difficult monsoon rain submerged swathes of the country, their classrooms are flooded and many of the 200 students are homeless, struggling to get enough food and care for injured family members.
Such extreme weather events have in a short span of time wreaked havoc across the country, killing hundreds of people, cutting off communities, destroying homes and infrastructure, and raising concerns about health and food security.
Jacobabad was not spared. Temperatures in May exceeded 50C (122F), dried up canal beds and caused some residents to collapse from heat exhaustion. Parts of the city are now under water, although the flooding has passed its peak.
Houses were badly damaged in Khan’s neighborhood in the east of the city. On Thursday, she said she heard screams from a neighbor’s house as the roof collapsed due to water damage, killing her nine-year-old son.
Many of their students will probably only be back at school for months, having already lost class time during the brutal summer heatwave.
“Jacobabad is the hottest city in the world, there are so many challenges…before people had heat stroke, now people have lost their homes, almost everything [in the flood]they have become homeless,” she told Reuters.
Nineteen people in the town of about 200,000 are said to have died in the death floodingincluding children, according to the city’s assistant commissioner, while local hospitals reported many more were sick or injured.
More than 40,000 people live in makeshift shelters, mostly in overcrowded schools with limited access to food.
One of the displaced, 40-year-old Dur Bibi, was sitting under a tent on a school campus and recalled the moment of her escape when water rushed into her house overnight late last week.
“I grabbed my kids and ran out of the house barefoot,” she said, adding that the only thing they had time to take with them was a copy of the Qur’an.
Four days later, she was unable to get medicine for her daughter, who was suffering from a fever.
“I have nothing but these children. All belongings in my house were swept away,” she said.
The extent of the disruption in Jacobabad, where many people live in poverty, shows some of the challenges extreme weather events related to climate change can bring.
“One manifestation of climate change is the more frequent and intense occurrence of extreme weather events, and that’s exactly what we’ve witnessed in recent months in Jacobabad and elsewhere around the world,” said Athar Hussain, director of the Center for Climate Research and Development at COMSATS University in Islamabad.
A study conducted earlier this year by the World Weather Attribution Group, an international team of scientists, found that the heatwave that hit Pakistan in March and April was made 30 times more likely by climate change.
Global warming is also likely to have exacerbated recent floods, said Liz Stephens, a climate scientist at the University of Reading in the UK. That’s because a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, which is eventually released in the form of heavy rains.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said the country, heavily dependent on agriculture, was reeling.
“If you’re a farmer in Jacobabad…you couldn’t grow your crops because of the water shortage and the heat during the heatwave, and now your crops have been damaged by the monsoons and the floods,” he told Reuters in an interview.
In Jacobabad, local health, education and development officials said record temperatures followed by unusually heavy rains are straining vital services.
Hospitals that set up heatstroke emergency centers in May are now reporting an influx of people injured in the floods and patients suffering from gastroenteritis and skin conditions in unsanitary conditions.
The Jacobabad Institute of Medical Sciences (JIMS) said it has treated about 70 people for injuries from flood debris, including deep lacerations and broken bones, in recent days.
More than 800 children were admitted to JIMS for gastroenteritis symptoms in August during heavy rains, compared with 380 the previous month, hospital data showed.
At the nearby civilian hospital, where the site is partially submerged, Dr. Vijay Kumar said cases of patients with gastroenteritis and other diseases had at least tripled since the floods.
Rizwan Shaikh, head of Jacobabad Meteorology Office, recorded a high of 51°C (123.8°F) in May. Now following continued heavy rains, he notes with concern that there are still two weeks of monsoon season ahead.
“All districts are in a very tense situation,” he said.