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Climate catastrophes of the past

June 6, 2024

ISLAMABAD – IF words could cool people down, writers would be very busy these days. As the heat index rises to previously unheard of levels, it is tempting as an author to write columns that evoke the very opposite of the fiery hot reality that most Pakistanis are enduring these days.

Alas! Words fail when it comes to making the discomfort of such unbearable heat any more tolerable. The sweat, the dehydration and the danger of heatstroke are real threats that can kill a human being and cannot be imagined away. Even more troubling is the fact that the prognosis for the future threatens a continuation of, even an increase in, the hellish heat of the present.

Another strategy of diversion from the cataclysms of the present is to place them in a historical perspective. The wider the lens and the further back one looks, the more one realises that nearly every catastrophe that confronts human beings in the present moment is one that people in the past have already had to endure. One of the highest temperature readings these past days was in the ancient site of Mohenjodaro, where the temperature reached 52 degrees Celsius. The settlement, which is said to date back to 2500 BCE, may be among the places that tell us most about climate catastrophes of the past.

Analyses of Mohenjodaro’s layers of sand and soil reveal that the city was flooded multiple times during its period of inhabitancy. These floods are believed to have caused destruction on the scale of the recent ones in Sindh. Scholars have long argued over what caused the Indus Valley Civilisation, of which Mohenjodaro was a central settlement, to simply disappear. Archaeological findings suggest that this city, which was a highly developed metropolis