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Millions are displaced from flooding in Pakistan, but one city has avoided the worst

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Pakistan is in the grips of catastrophic flooding. Officials say one-third of the country is under water, the result of relentless monsoon rains. More than a thousand people have died; nearly half were children. Today the U.N. launched an appeal with the Pakistani government to raise millions in emergency aid. NPR's Diaa Hadid just visited one area affected by the floods and is with us now from Peshawar. Hi, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Diaa, tell us about where you went and what you saw today.

HADID: Well, we went to the town of Nowshera in northern Pakistan, and parts of it were flooded when heavy rain made the nearby river burst its banks over the weekend. And people were scraping mud out of their homes and drying their utensils on the road. On the outskirts, we saw men herding cows through a flooded field, and one fell into a pit. It took about four men to push her out again. We drove past submerged cornfields to a neighborhood where boys were swimming in alleyways. To be fair, it was a hot day. Their fathers were waiting for government assistance, like Waqar Khan. He said, they were warned the floods were coming because imams in mosques made announcements over loudspeakers.

WAQAR KHAN: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: So he says they sent away women and girls to stay with relatives in safer areas, and they stayed back to guard their homes. But he said it felt unreal because the river is two miles from his house.

KHAN: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: But he says the water arrived with a roar, and he pointed to his chest and said it reached there.

SHAPIRO: Wow. It sounds incredibly dramatic but also like lives were saved because people got warning that the water was coming.

HADID: Yeah. And you know what? People said this was the worst flooding they'd ever seen. And this town has been hit really hard by floods in the past, but river flooding is predictable. And so the local district commissioner got mosques to broadcast warnings. In some places, she and other staff personally marched from door to door to warn people to leave. But in other parts of Pakistan, there wasn't time to do this because there - in other areas, there was flash flooding and heavy rains. And it all came without warning, and so hundreds of people were killed.

SHAPIRO: And many others have lost their homes. Where are they staying?

HADID: Well, the luckiest are staying with relatives. But we saw plenty of people who were homeless, and the government is converting schools and hostels to accommodate them. We visited one college in Nowshera. People just kept turning up and dozens of them crammed outside a room desperate to register for aid. And women was smooshed in so hard, they'd lost their headscarves. And this is a conservative area where most women cover their faces. Somebody had smashed part of the door. Camp volunteers had to block it with a chair to stop people from barging in. I recorded some of the sound. This is what it sounded like.

(CROSSTALK)

SHAPIRO: Wow. So as we mentioned, the Pakistani government launched an appeal today with the U.N. What are they hoping for?

HADID: Well, they're hoping for $160 million to pay for emergency aid. Washington has already pledged $30 million. But Pakistan's planning minister estimates they'll need around $10 billion to rebuild. And, you know, more than 100,000 homes are damaged. Schools, roads, bridges have all been washed away. And there's a sense that wealthy countries should step up. Pakistan is one of the world's most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change, like these unprecedented rains, which the U.N. chief today called monsoon on steroids and a climate catastrophe. But, you know, Ari, back in Nowshera, I had asked Waqar Khan what he thought made the floods so bad this year. And he told me, you know, surely it's an act of God. And when I explained to him that science shows that human-made climate change was making these floods more intense, he was actually surprised. And he said, well, if people know what's making these floods so bad, why don't they stop them?

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Diaa Hadid in Peshawar, Pakistan. Thank you very much.

HADID: Thank you, Ari. 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.