A $160m (~£137.6m) emergency plan to help Pakistan deal with devastating flooding has been launched by the United Nations, aiming to reach more than five million of the most vulnerable people in the country.

In launching a six-month appeal in Islamabad and Geneva, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: “Pakistan is awash in suffering.”

He added: “The Pakistani people are facing a monsoon on steroids – the relentless impact of epochal levels of rain and flooding.”

An estimated 33 million people have been affected by the “worst flooding in decades “and more than 1,000 people, mostly children”, have died since mid-June when heavy rains began pounding the country, Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN humanitarian co-ordination office, OCHA, said.

Given the “tragic situation facing millions” across the country, the spokesperson’s office added: Guterres would travel to Pakistan on a solidarity visit, arriving on Friday in Islamabad.

“He will then travel to the areas most impacted by this unprecedented climate catastrophe.”

According to Laerke, 500,000 people displaced by the floods “are sheltering in relief camps … nearly one million homes have been damaged and over 700,000 livestock have been lost.”

The humanitarian situation has also been compounded by severe impacts to infrastructure. Damage to nearly 3,500 km of roads and 150 bridges has impeded the ability of people to flee to safer areas and compromised the delivery of aid to the millions in need.

Matthew Saltmarsh, a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), said that, to date, the agency’s response has focused on: “emergency provision going into the affected regions and providing emergency relief items. These include primarily shelter items, but also, cooking stoves, blankets, solar lamps.

“So far, we’ve delivered $1.5 million worth of aid, but much, much more will be needed in the coming weeks and also over the medium term, including development assistance.”

Pakistan has endured severe monsoon weather since June, which saw rainfall levels 67% above normal in that month alone. As of 27 August, rainfall in the country has been equivalent to2.9 times the national 30-year average.

To date, 72 districts across Pakistan have been declared “calamity-hit” by the government. Amid ongoing rains, the number of calamity-declared districts is expected to increase.

According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021 and Climate Watch, Pakistan is among the ten countries most affected by extreme weather events, despite its very low carbon footprint.

According to Clare Nullis, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) spokesperson, the deadly flooding is: “the footprint of climate change where it is becoming more extreme”. In March and April, Pakistan “was in the grips of this devastating heat wave and drought” and now “the pendulum has swung”, she warned.

Image: A child in flood-affected Balochistan province, Pakistan. © UNICEF/ A. Sami Malik.