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As flooding death toll hits 1,325, Pakistan's unprecedented rains damage ancient ruins of world heritage site Mohenjo-daro

WFP looks to expand aid in Pakistan amid floods
World Food Programme looks to expand aid in Pakistan amid devastating flooding 03:45

Islamabad — Its millennia-old clay walls have borne silent witness to countless floods in the Indus River valley over the centuries, but officials say this year's catastrophic monsoon season could overwhelm Pakistan's ancient archaeological site of Mohenjo-daro. Most of the ruins, which sit in the country's inundated southern province of Sindh, date back around 4,500 years. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and considered to be among the best-preserved ancient urban settlements in all of South Asia.

Now a calamity that scientists say the modern, developed world bears much of the blame for is devastating millions of lives across Pakistan, and damaging the archaeological treasure in the process.

Mohenjo-daro was first discovered in 1922, but mystery still surrounds the disappearance of the civilization that once thrived there, which coincided with those of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The enigmatic script used by the city-state's people has never been deciphered, so little is understood about their beliefs or customs.

Pakistan Floods
Ruins at Mohenjo Daro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Pakistan's southern Sindh province, suffered damage from heavy rainfall that has flooded much of the country, September 6, 2022. Fareed Khan/AP

The death toll from the monsoon flooding that has left an estimated third of Pakistan underwater stood Wednesday at 1,325, including 466 children. The disaster has impacted some 33 million people across the country. Now officials say Mohenjo-daro is another victim, with the punishing rains already causing significant damage to the site.

Rescuing the "Mound of the Dead"

"Several big walls, which were built nearly 5,000 years ago, have collapsed because of the monsoon rains," the site's curator Ahsan Abbasi told The Associated Press this week.

He said dozens of construction workers, under the supervision of archaeologists, had already begun repair work. But conservation efforts in some parts of the site were being held up as officials waited for the floodwaters to recede. 

Abbasi did not give an estimated cost to repair the damage at Mohenjo-daro, or say if all the expected damage to the ruins could even be repaired.

Pakistan Floods
A man walks at Mohenjo-daro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Pakistan's southern Sindh province, after heavy rainfall in the region damaged some of the site's ruins, September 6, 2022. Fareed Khan/AP

The site's landmark "Buddhist stupa," a large hemispherical structure associated with worship, meditation and burial, was still intact, he said. But the downpours have damaged some outer walls and also some larger walls separating individual rooms or chambers within the maze of ruins.

Ironically, the civilization at Mohenjo-daro, which is known as the "Mound of the Dead" in the local Sindhi language, built an elaborate drainage system that has been critical in saving it from flooding in the past.

Villagers left homeless and stranded 

While this year's floods have touched virtually all of Pakistan, Sindh province has been among the worst hit.

On Tuesday, Pakistani Army engineers raced to make a second breach in an embankment along the swollen Lake Manchar, Pakistan's largest freshwater lake, to ease the pressure of fast-rising water in hopes of saving the nearby city of Sehwan from major flooding.

Displaced people who fled from flood-hit areas sit on a tractor to cross a flooded area at Sehwan, in Pakistan's southern Sindh province, August 31, 2022. AKRAM SHAHID/AFP/Getty

The water from the lake has already inundated dozens of nearby villages, forcing hundreds of families to leave their mud-brick homes in a hurry — many of them fleeing in panic with only the clothes on their backs.

Rescue operations have continued, with troops and volunteers using helicopters and boats to reach thousands of people stranded in flooded areas and evacuate them to relief camps. Tens of thousands of people have sought shelter in the camps already, and thousands more have found high ground wherever they can, with makeshift tents lining some major roads.

Ghulam Sabir, 52, from the outskirts of Sehwan, said Tuesday that he left his home three days earlier, after authorities told his family to evacuate.

"I took my family members with me and came to this... safer place," Sabir told the AP as he stood by the roadside where he's set up camp. He echoed the complaints of several other stranded villagers, who said no government help was reaching them.

Children whose families were displaced by flooding sit in a tent along a roadside in Shikarpur, in Pakistan's southern Sindh province, August 30, 2022. ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty

Sabir said he didn't even know if his home was still standing.

Prime Minister Shabaz Sharif has appealed to Pakistanis at home and abroad to donate to flood relief efforts, and stepped-up appeals to the international community for more emergency aid.

Calls for "climate justice"

Sharif and other Pakistani officials have repeatedly said the unprecedented scale of this year's monsoon floods is at least partially the result of climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from developed nations.

Hina Jllani, who chairs the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said in a Tuesday news release that in light of the devastating floods, the Commission was joining calls for the global community — and particularly countries that emit the most carbon dioxide — to pay immediate reparations to Pakistan for the damage inflicted on the Earth's atmosphere.

The HRCP said that while there has been "much left to be desired" from the government's relief and rehabilitation efforts for the flood-affected regions, have left much to be desired, "it is clear that Pakistan is paying the price for a disaster that was preventable and, more importantly, not of its own doing."

The Commission cited data from both the World Bank and Asian Development Bank showing that Pakistan has historically accounted for less than half of 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the country's topography and poor infrastructure make it "one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world."

Death toll tops 1,000 in Pakistan floods as officials declare a "climate catastrophe" 01:50

"The imbalance indicates that all countries must join together and devise not just climate-change solutions, but also climate justice measures that keep the principles of equity and accountability at the forefront," said the HRCP. "Providing climate change reparations is the bare minimum, for which global leaders must be held responsible."

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg accused politicians in her own country for ignoring the climate crisis, calling the Pakistan floods "a very clear example" of the risks of "completely focusing on other things."

She told the Reuters news agency that politicians and the media had "chosen not to communicate that so many of the crises that we are experiencing now are very closely interlinked."

Scientists warn world needs to prepare for risks of "climate endgame" 01:13

Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also called on the world to stop "sleepwalking" through the climate crisis.

Guterres was set to visit flood-hit areas in Pakistan later this week. Pakistani officials said he would travel to Sindh, but it wasn't immediately clear if the U.N. chief would visit Mohenjo-daro to see the efforts to rescue the archaeological site.

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