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As Pakistan's monsoon season nears, some villages are underwater from earlier floods

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Pakistan is still recovering from massive floods that killed more than 1,700 people last year. Shabnam Baloch recalls seeing villages underwater. Some people fled, but those who stayed...

SHABNAM BALOCH: They were living on the rooftops of their houses without water, without food. And you could see a lot of animals' bodies everywhere, you know?

FADEL: Baloch is the Pakistan country director for the International Rescue Committee. The organization says the floods caused $40 billion in economic damage. I spoke with her as another monsoon season approaches.

BALOCH: Still, there are villages which are under water. We visited village - villages in district Dadu, which was the - one of the hardest-hit district. And in some villages, water is still standing there.

FADEL: Wait, months later?

BALOCH: Yes, months later, because since the topography is like a plain land and it is very difficult to drain that water because there's nowhere else where the water can go. And people are living in surroundings, which means that they don't have clean water to drink. So imagine these were the conditions.

FADEL: What are the impacts today that people are still suffering through?

BALOCH: It's still 1.8 million people are living in this condition, like, you know, in the surroundings where water is still standing. So 1.8 million people are still there. Even before flood, the health infrastructure was collapsed due to COVID-19. And even before COVID-19, it was like, you know, one doctor for 1,300 people and six bed per hospital for 10,000 people. So after flood, when the health infrastructure is damaged, there is no alternate to people. At the moment, the priority is livelihoods - restoring livelihoods.

FADEL: If you could just give me a sense of the amount of loss - loss of life, cost of damage - from this flood.

BALOCH: There were 1,700 people who lost their lives. And when it comes to homes, there are over 2 million houses which were lost, only in Sindh specifically. And to our greatest fear, there are predictions that this monsoon, which is around the corner - in end of May, we start the monsoon - there are 70% chances of flood this year as well. And we are in no capacity to respond to these floods.

FADEL: What has the Pakistani government been able to do? What has the international community been able to do?

BALOCH: Not much, really. But when it comes to reconstructing their houses or water schemes or infrastructure, it is still - there's no progress at the moment. It will take time, maybe one year or two year.

FADEL: But you're talking about monsoons coming again, again predicted to be higher than average.

BALOCH: That's true.

FADEL: What does the country need right now to deal with what might be coming and what it's already been through?

BALOCH: The international community really needs to come forward. Catastrophe of this scale, no single country can face it. Even now, we talk about 10 billion in pledges. Ninety percent is loan money - credit and loan - which cannot help at this stage, when Pakistan is already in economic crisis. So I think this is a time when international community come forward and also commit in terms of investing in climate-resilient infrastructure and disaster preparedness. This is the area where we have not invested at all.

FADEL: How many people don't have enough to eat in Pakistan right now, especially as a direct result of these floods and increasing prices?

BALOCH: Overall, 5 million people are in emergency phase of food crisis situation, which is more or less near to the situation of Somalia, where 5.3 million people are having this situation.

FADEL: Shabnam Baloch is the International Rescue Committee's Pakistan director. Thank you so much for your time.

BALOCH: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF TUNDRA BEATS' "LOST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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