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In Pakistan, deadly floods in an unprecedented monsoon season have destroyed lives, livelihoods and infrastructure, its climate minister says called “a serious climatic catastrophe”.
Some 33 million Pakistanis have been affected by floods since it started in June. It killed more than 1,100 people – including hundreds of children – and the death toll is expected to rise.
Over a million homes, 2 million acres of crops and some 3,000 miles of roads were damaged. Half a million people are now in displacement camps and many more are completely homeless, jostling just to get to higher ground.
Sherry Rehman, Pakistani Minister for Climate Change, Told morning edition Thursday that an area larger than the state of Colorado is currently submerged, with towns and entire farms under water (the flooding has also created a massive inland lake which is visible from space, according to satellite imagery).
She says it’s not a regular monsoon season, but “a monstrous new phenomenon ‘beyond anything she’s experienced, including 2010 in Pakistan’super flood.”
The country is generally prepared with water pumps to respond to monsoons and helicopters to rescue people from river floods, but authorities now have nowhere to pump the water as it is just everywhere and could not send helicopters in some areas because of the incessant rain. .
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All three branches of the military have been deployed, Rehman says, “and we’re still overwhelmed.” The government is working to fund flood relief and provide humanitarian aid like tents and food parcels – and also hopes to raise $160 million in emergency funds through an appeal to the United Nations – but, according to Rehman, “the volume is too high to just do [it] In one time.”
Worldwide aid in the form of tents, food and medicine is starts to arrive from China, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. The European Union has also pledged financial supportand the United States just will provide $30 million humanitarian aid to respond to the floods.
In the meantime, many civilian volunteers are working on the front line to carry out rescue operations and provide emergency relief. morning edition spoke with one of them: Imran Lodhi, climate activist and university professor who led a group of students to deliver tents and food in Punjab province.
He spoke to host Steve Inskeep while perched on a rare and precious height: a levee between a flooded area and a rushing river.
“I see hundreds and thousands of people, defenseless people. I see a complete blackout in this area,” he said, describing his view. “There is no electricity here, and there is no internet connection. People are trying to call for help. The water level has gone down a bit. is that it has already overwhelmed hundreds of villages in this region, and people have come out of their homes.”
People take refuge on roads and islands to avoid water, he says, but focus on keeping their families safe rather than packing their belongings. Their biggest concern now is where their next meal will come from and how to protect their loved ones – especially vulnerable children – from waterborne diseases.
The government has tried to help, adds Lodi, but its response has been limited and “it seems the crisis is beyond their capacity”. Volunteer groups like his help mobilize people in communities trying to reach affected areas.
There was a brief interruption in the middle of the conversation, when Lodi got out of his vehicle to speak to someone. When he got back on the phone, he explained that people on the seawall had just tried to break into his car because they thought it was full of much-needed supplies – and not for the first time.
“It happened several times in different regions, but I learned to manage this situation,” he says.
Lodi says many flood survivors, including those around him on the levee, remain at high risk. He describes two consecutive life-threatening situations: first homes and lives were lost due to a flash flood, now thousands of people have lost everything and need basic support.
“And this thing is alarming,” he says, “because if a large-scale relief effort doesn’t happen, it can turn into a humanitarian crisis.”