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Officials call the Pakistan floods that killed over 1,000 a climate nightmare


Monsoon rains are a normal part of life in South Asia, but the monsoon rains of recent days have not been normal at all.


A changing climate means changing storm patterns. And in Pakistan, the monsoon that normally brings life has taken it away. Widespread flooding has killed more than 1,000 people, many of them children.

FADEL: On the line to tell us more is NPR's international correspondent Diaa Hadid, who lives in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Good morning, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So, Diaa, you've been reporting that Pakistan is facing its heaviest rains in decades. But these images we're seeing because of the flooding - they're just so devastating. Can you describe what's going on on the ground?

HADID: Yeah. So there's multiple crisises happening at once. In the north, there's gushing rivers, and they're washing away dams and threatening to flood whole areas. They've already swept away bridges, homes, hotels and even people. There's devastating footage of men stranded on a rocky outcrop. And residents are shouting for help for them to be saved. But one by one, the water just takes them away. In the south, there's around 2 million acres of cropland that are now under water. And so are homes. People are sheltering on roads, railway tracks, in mosques and schools. And Pakistani aid workers who I speak to - like, they're pretty used to dealing with disasters, but even they say they're shocked. Yeah. So look. I spoke to a woman called Zoone Hasan, and she and her husband run an aid group called Thali. Have a listen.

ZOONE HASAN: I haven't seen this in the 20 years that I've been running this charity. I've never seen this sort of a calamity. I've spoken to so many mothers who are actually crying because either they've lost their sons or their grandchildren.

FADEL: Wow. Either they've lost their sons or their grandchildren. And experts and officials are calling this a climate change disaster. It's being called a monster monsoon. If you could just lay out for us how different this is from regular heavy rains.

HADID: Yeah. So to understand how myself, I spoke to Ali Tauqeer Sheikh. He's an expert on the impacts of climate change in Pakistan. And this is what he had to say.

ALI TAUQEER SHEIKH: And in the recorded history that we have since 1918, we have never had this much of rain and the torrential rain.

HADID: So he's saying it's the heaviest rains in a century. But it's not just the rain that's the problem. There's a few disasters happening at once. So in Pakistan's far north, where the Himalayas are, there's a lot of glaciers, and they're melting faster than ever because of climate change. And that's swelling up the rivers. And there's been unseasonably heavy rains up there, too. And then further down in southern Pakistan, as you noted, like, the monsoon patterns have changed, and the rain is coming in places where it doesn't normally go. And so there was no preparedness this year. And there was also flash flooding. It's come in devastating quantities. And this rain might keep going till mid-September. The southern areas are already underwater, and now they're bracing for these swollen rivers to cascade down and hit them in a few days' time. Sheikh describes it like this.

SHEIKH: It's like fighting four wars, five wars at the same time. So this is very, very unprecedented. And this is for the first time that a person like me can actually build them with a fair degree to climate change.

FADEL: So can Pakistan handle this alone? I mean, millions of people displaced, hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed, so many people lost.

HADID: Yeah, well, the Pakistani government says that it needs help. And there's a sense that they want rich Western countries to pay for climate-change-induced disasters. I mean, Pakistan is one of the world's most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change, which Pakistanis have done very little to contribute to. Aid is coming in. But tomorrow, Pakistan will launch an appeal with the U.N., which they hope will accelerate donations.

FADEL: NPR's Diaa Hadid, thank you.

HADID: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.