Disasters in the making

Cameron Dueck
Cameron Dueck |

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A flood survivor hangs on to a hovercraft and waits to get relief food distributed by naval officials near Sukkur, in southern Pakistan.
Massive floods have spread across Pakistan, killing hundreds of people and ruining property, crops and livelihoods. The floods are the worst the country has seen in 80 years, and more than 20 million people have been made homeless.

China has also suffered severe flooding in the past few weeks. The floods caused massive mudslides, killing about 1,500 people and causing billions of dollars in damage across 28 provinces and regions.

Russia has experienced its worst heatwave in 130 years and wildfires have burned huge areas of forest outside Moscow.

Are this summer's natural disasters being caused by climate change?

Scientists say climate change is being caused by gases that trap the earth's heat instead of letting it escape. Those gases, such as carbon dioxide, are being produced by human activity, such as burning oil and factory fumes. Does that mean we are to blame for these catastrophes? Scientists are not ready to blame all these problems on climate change. But they do say that weather systems seem to be getting more violent and extreme.

Insurance company Munich Re says the number of extreme weather conditions like windstorms and floods has tripled since 1980.

"These are events which reproduce and intensify in a climate disturbed by greenhouse gas pollution," said Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, vice-president of the United Nations body set up to monitor global warming.

"Extreme events are one of the ways in which climatic changes become dramatically visible."

Scientists say that while climate extremes have always occurred, climate change due to greenhouse gases may be making these temperature swings worse.

In the case of Pakistan, scientists say this region may experience more intense floods in the future. Higher temperatures in the Indian Ocean, combined with the mountains in the area, are leading to more rain in Pakistan, they say.

The other factor is that humans have changed the landscape. We have cut down trees and dug up the natural vegetation, making it harder for the soil to absorb water. Instead, the water runs across the land, causing floods and mudslides.