Pakistan floods destroy mysterious ancient ruins as death toll rises

ISLAMABAD — Its millennia-old clay walls have stood silent witness to countless floods in the Indus River Valley over the centuries, but officials say this year’s devastating monsoon season could overwhelm the ancient archaeological site of Mohenjo-daro, Pakistan. Most of the ruins, located in the country’s flooded southern Sindh province, date back to around 4,500 years ago. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered one of the best-preserved ancient urban settlements in all of South Asia.

Now a disaster that scientists We say that the modern, developed world bears much of the blame destroying millions of lives across Pakistan and destroying archeological treasure in the process.

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

Ruins at Mohenjo Daro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, have been damaged by heavy rains that have flooded much of the country, September 6, 2022. / Credit: Fareed Khan/AP

The death toll from monsoon floods that have left a third of Pakistan underwater rose to 1,325 on Wednesday, including 466 children. The disaster has affected an estimated 33 million people across the country. Now officials say Mohenjo-daro is another casualty, with punishing rains already causing significant damage to the site.

The Mound of the Dead Rescue

“Many great walls, built nearly 5,000 years ago, have collapsed because of the monsoon rains,” site curator Ahsan Abbasi told The Associated Press this week.

He said dozens of construction workers, under the supervision of archaeologists, have already begun repair work. However, conservation efforts at some parts of the site were suspended as officials waited for the flood waters to recede.

Abbasi did not give an estimated cost to repair the damage to Mohenjo-daro, nor did he say whether all the expected damage to the ruins could be repaired.

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

A man walks at Mohenjo-daro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, after heavy rains in the area damaged some of the ruins at the site, September 6, 2022. / Credit: 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 rains have damaged some outer walls and also some larger walls that separate individual rooms or chambers within the maze of ruins.

Ironically, the civilization at Mohenjo-daro, which is known as the “Tomb of the Dead” in the local Sindhi language, built an elaborate drainage system that was critical in saving it from floods in the past.

Villagers were left homeless and stranded

While this year’s floods have touched almost all of Pakistan, Sindh province has been hit hardest.

On Tuesday, Pakistani army engineers rushed to make a second breach in an embankment along the swollen Lake Manchar, Pakistan’s largest freshwater lake, to relieve the rapidly rising water pressure hopes to save the nearby city of Sehwan by heavy floods.

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

Displaced persons who fled flood-affected areas sit on a tractor to cross a flooded area in Sehwan, in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, August 31, 2022. / Credit: AKRAM SHAHID/AFP/Getty

Water from the lake has already flooded dozens of nearby villages, forcing hundreds of families to rush out of their mud-brick homes – many of them fleeing in panic with only the clothes on their backs.

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

Ghulam Sabir, 52, from the outskirts of Sehwan, said on Tuesday that he fled 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,” Shabir told AP as he stood by the roadside where he has set up camp. He echoed the complaints of many other stranded villagers, who said no amount of government aid was enough for them.

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

Children whose families were displaced by floods sit in a tent along a road in Shikarpur, in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, August 30, 2022. / Credit: ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty

Shabir said he didn’t even know if his house was still standing.

Prime Minister Shabaz Sharif appealed to Pakistanis at home and abroad to donate to flood relief efforts and is stepping up calls to the international community for more emergency aid.

Call for ‘climate justice’

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

Hina Jllani, who chairs the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said in a press release on Tuesday that in light of the devastating floods, the Commission joined the appeals to the global community — and especially the countries that emit the most carbon dioxide of coal— to pay direct reparations to Pakistan for the damage caused to the Earth’s atmosphere.

The HRCP said that while the government’s relief and rehabilitation efforts for the flood-affected areas left “much to be desired”, “it is clear that Pakistan is paying the price for a disaster that could to be avoided and, most importantly, not by her own act.”

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

“The imbalance shows that all countries need to come together and devise not only solutions to climate change, but also climate justice measures that keep the principles of equity and accountability at the forefront,” HRCP said. “Providing climate change reparations is the bare minimum world leaders must be held accountable for.”

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has accused politicians in her country of ignoring the climate crisis, calling the floods in Pakistan “a very clear example” of the dangers of “focusing completely on other things”.

He told the Reuters news agency that politicians and the media “have chosen not to communicate that so many of the crises we are experiencing now are very closely linked.”

Last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also called on the world to stop “sleepwalking” through the climate crisis.

Guterres was due to visit flood-affected areas in Pakistan later this week. Pakistani officials said he would travel to Sindh, but it was not immediately clear whether the UN chief would visit Mohenjo-daro to see efforts to save the archaeological site.

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