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Early monsoon rains have wrought devastating flooding throughout Pakistan

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

When we haven't been talking this summer about extreme drought, we've been talking about extreme flooding. The latter is what's happening now in many parts of Pakistan. Huge monsoon rains have led to flooding that has killed over 1,100 people in the country since June. About half a million people are displaced and living in refugee camps now. Many more are with friends or relatives. And more heavy rain is expected in September. Farah Naureen is the Mercy Corps director for Pakistan. She joins us now from Islamabad, Pakistan. Welcome.

FARAH NAUREEN: Thank you very much, Ailsa.

CHANG: Can you just tell us, Farah, what is it like where you are right now? Can you just paint a picture of what you're seeing at the moment?

NAUREEN: Yes, yes, I would very much like to do that. What happened this summer was a very early start of monsoon. So it started somewhere in June, where normally, it would start in July. And then we saw a pretty much unstoppable rain in large parts of the country, especially in the south. So provinces like Balochistan sees very little rainfall. And this time around, the rain has been going on for the last two months. And more and more areas are coming under water because of the flash flooding. And what we are seeing now is a large population displaced because of the floods and many of them residing in kind of makeshift tents by the sides of the roads or in schools or in other places where they're finding safety.

CHANG: Right. I know that right now you're coordinating a response for all the people who have been displaced by this flooding. About how many households do you estimate you'll be working with in the coming weeks and months?

NAUREEN: So one thing that I would like to highlight is the scale and the extent of this disaster is really enormous. It's spread over a very, very large geographic area. It is affecting a very huge population. Mercy Corps has been present in some of these flood-affected areas from before with our ongoing programming, especially our health programs. So we're responding in one particular part of Balochistan by providing the immediate relief that's needed to the affected population, such as food and other items, especially health and hygiene-related items that the population needs.

CHANG: And how challenging is it getting food and water right now to the hardest-hit areas?

NAUREEN: So access definitely is an issue for two reasons. The roads have been damaged and underwater. And then the floodwater itself. And we're trying to reach a lot of this population. We have existing presence in many of these areas, and we're able to collaborate with the local health department, the government health department to bring health services to the communities, especially those who are in tents or in a camp situation.

CHANG: Well, of course, what you're seeing, this more intense flooding now - it's an expected consequence of climate change. And I know that you and your organization point out that Pakistan contributes less than 1% of the world's carbon emissions. So let me ask you, if it were up to you, what would you ask of countries with higher carbon emissions? What would you ask them to do to help Pakistan deal with a crisis like this?

NAUREEN: I think what's happening in Pakistan is a clear indication of where the world is headed. And I would like to remind the wealthier nations to really pay attention to what's happening in the world because of the climate change and make responsible decisions. The world is coming in aid of Pakistan. We're hoping that more money will be mobilized, but that is to provide relief and, I hope, eventually recovery to this population. But that's not going to address the underlying...

CHANG: Right.

NAUREEN: ...Issues. So I would just like to remind everybody to pay attention to what's really causing it.

CHANG: That is Farah Baureen from the humanitarian organization Mercy Corps, speaking to us from Islamabad, Pakistan. Thank you very much.

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

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Mia Venkat