Pakistan Floods 2010

Flooding in Pakistan

Update added 16.09.10: ActionAid Resources (PPT & PDF)
Update added 14.09.10: Pakistan Floods 6 weeks on (PDF)

On 29 July 2010 flash floods and landslides caused by unusually heavy monsoon rains caused widespread flooding in North West Pakistan. The flooding continued throughout August and led to one of the biggest humanitarian disasters of recent times with more than 20 million people affected.

Floods are familiar to us, and many students will remember the flooding that took place in the UK in July 2007 and the 2009 floods in Cockermouth, but the vast scale of this event is striking. The scale of the floods in comparison with the UK can be seen on the impressive new BBC Dimensions website.

Most students will be aware of the floods in Pakistan upon their return to school this September and this is an opportunity to link geography lessons with a topical event that carries with it aspects of physical, social and political geography. Furthermore, the families of many UK students may well be caught up in the flooding in which case there may be great interest among your students in knowing more about why it has happened, and what can be done in the to prevent the same thing from reoccurring in the future.

Teaching Ideas

Here are some ideas to get your KS3 / GCSE geography students thinking about the impacts of the flooding in Pakistan.

What caused the flooding?

Before considering the aftermath of the flooding, explain to students why it happened in the first place. 'Indus floods, 2010: why did the Sindhu break its agreement?' is an excellent article by Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt of the Australian National University which explains how a combination of unusual weather patterns, physical geography and poor river management lead to such extreme flooding.

A slow-motion tsunami?

This event has been described by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as a 'slow-motion tsunami'. Ask students what they think he meant by this. You can then begin to make more explicit links with the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. With the students, use the internet to find out how the area and number of people affected by these two disasters differs.

The population factor

The SASI Research Group at the University of Sheffield have created this map which has been adapted to show the areas where the population of Pakistan lives. It shows that many of the roughly 170 million people in the country are living along the rivers and in the floodplains while the Eastern and Southeastern regions remain less populated. Ask students to think about why the population might be concentrated in this area and how this state of affairs exasperates the negative impact of the flooding.

From another point of view

Tell students that they are going to create a fictional account of someone who has been involved in the floods, such as an aid or rescue worker, or someone who has lost their home. This might take the form of a diary, like this real Diary of an Aid Worker that features on the BBC site. Alternatively students could work in pairs, taking it in turns to be interviewer and interviewee, or even create a role-play in small groups.

Whichever method is chosen, students will need to do some guided research first, and the links to news articles and aid agency websites provided below will be an excellent start for this. It is worth noting that some degree of sensitivity is needed here, because of the potential for actual family involvement in the floods.

What if?

Show students the BBC Dimensions website and get them to center the shaded area of the floods over their home town (you do this by typing the location name or postcode into the text box). Ask them to take a good look at the extent of the flooding. If this area of the UK really was flooded, in what ways would it affect them? First of all, think of friends and family throughout the UK directly affected by the flooding. Then think of the major centres of production and commerce in the UK; what indirect impacts would it have on students' lives if these areas were made inaccessible by extreme flooding?  Remind students that it is likely to take Pakistan many years to recover. Would it take the UK that long?

Of course, the UK is not really going to experience flooding on this scale due to rain any time in the near future. However, follow this activity by showing the students interactive flood maps which show projected sea level rises due by climate change such as this one. You can vary the number of metres of sea level rise. In this scenario, which areas of the UK will be most prone to flooding? What effects will this have?

Discussing aid

There is also the issue of international aid to tackle. There are many articles reporting that the amount of aid raised internationally for the flooding in Pakistan has been significantly lower than for other disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami (for example, see this article from the Big Issue). Can this be explained simply by the economic recession, or are there other factors at work? Here is an opportunity for some carefully guided and informed discussion.

Also worth thinking about is who is giving the most aid. Get students to compare this article from the Guardian in which the Chief Executive of the DEC is quoted as saying that "the UK public are leading the way and shaming politicians across the world" with the statistics represented in this visualisation. Is there a discrepancy here? Why might this be?

Create a display

These days there are always high quality photographs and satellite images available on the internet that can be used to demonstrate the effects of natural disasters. These satellite images on the BBC website show the environmental effects of the flooding. Further images are available on the NASA Earth Observatory website.

The BBC also has a Special Report area of their website which contains a range of video and audio resources. Similarly, the Guardian also has a large resource area with some striking images and an interactive map. Using these resources, students could contribute to a group interactive wall display with a map of Pakistan, showing areas and impacts of flooding. You might also use Google Earth to create a collaborative KML file.

You can some more teaching resources listed at the Global Dimension website.

Photo by Flickr user DFID provided for use under a Creative Commons Licence.


More about monsoons

The flooding in Pakistan was caused due to unusually heavy monsoon rains. Use some of the following links to explore the physical geography behind monsoons.

Extreme weather in August 2010 - a piece on the Met Office website which explains why there has been such extreme weather during the summer.
BBC weather forecast
- a video from the BBC on 3 August 2010, showing the continued heavy rain in the region
Monsoons on Wikipedia - helpful if text-heavy information
Major wind systems, the trade winds, monsoons - more useful information
Observe how the monsoon changes direction - animation showing average wind and precipitation data for the months of April through December over a five-year period
Asian-Australian Monsoons - another visualisation, this time showing a 16 year period
Pakistan monsoon floods kill at least 800 - some detailed information about the incident on the Weather Underground blog.

Charities and aid agencies

Many charities are working to provide aid for those affected by the flooding and their websites often contain real life stories that are of interest to those researching into the impacts of the disaster. Here are some examples:

Red Cross
Save the Children

A charity called Shelterbox are sending boxes to the affected areas. Their website is a model of how aid can be linked with the classroom. Within days, families were being sheltered by tents provided by the Charity, and there are more boxes on their way. It is likely that many schools will be fundraising on their return in September.

More about Pakistan

It may help to put the work in context by providing an overview of the physical, cultural, politcal and economic landscape of Pakistan.

BBC - Pakistan country profile

Guardian - Pakistan news and features

The Telegraph - Latest Pakistani news

Pakistan on the CIA World Fact Book

Pakistan at the World Bank website

Official tourist site for Pakistan

Official web gateway to the Government of Pakistan

Pakistan on Wikipedia

Photo by Flickr user DFID provided for use under a Creative Commons Licence.

Some more useful links

This series of maps from the emergency mapping service MapAction show the affected areas and there are also links to the resources that were used to make the maps.

Pakistan flooding 'social media map' from ESRI which enables contributions from users in the form of photos, videos and links.

OpenStreetMap has data for some of the affected areas.

Summary of UK aid provided to Pakistan available on the DFID website

List of deadliest floods on Wikipedia - Can students spot these most recent floods on the list? How reliable are the estimates for older floods? What parts of the world have been most susceptible to floods over the years? Is the UK anywhere on the list?

Indus floods, 2010: why did the Sindhu break its agreement? - This excellent article by Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt explains how a combination of unusual weather patterns, physical geography and poor river management lead to such extreme flooding.

ActionAid have produced a PowerPoint Presentation and Lesson Ideas to help students discover more about Pakistan before exploring the impact of the floods on local communities and some of the long-term solutions.

Don't forget that we also have a Flood Risk Management area on the website which contains case studies from four different UK locations. 

Get in touch

If you've created or used any resources related to the Pakistan floods, get in touch with Anne Greaves and we'll add them to this page.

(Updated 16.09.10)

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