Pakistan, U.N. seek international aid amid catastrophic flooding that displaced millions

The United Nations is calling for $160 million in emergency funding to help Pakistan cope with catastrophic flooding. The disaster has killed more than 1,160 people, displaced millions, destroyed roads and crops and left one-third of the country, an area the size of Colorado, under water. Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's minister of climate change, joined Nick Schifrin to discuss the ongoing disaster.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Now to Pakistan, where a torrential monsoon season accelerated by climate change has led to catastrophic flooding.

    One-third of the country, an area the size of Colorado, is underwater. At least 1,100 people are now dead and untold numbers have lost everything.

    Here now is Nick Schifrin with the top Pakistani official trying to manage the climate crisis.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The toll is staggering, a million homes damaged or destroyed, two million acres of agricultural land submerged, and 33 million people affected

    To discuss the enormity of what confronts Pakistan, we turn to Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's minister of climate change.

    Sherry Rehman, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Just explain the crisis and the size of the calamity.

    Sherry Rehman, Pakistani Minister of Climate Change: The scale of the crisis is unprecedented. It's of a magnitude never seen before in living history in Pakistan.

    It's affecting more than 33 million people, which is the size of a small country. Right now, as we speak, more than one-third of Pakistan is underwater, more than one-third.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Many people say that they have not received any assistance from either the government or from NGOs.

    How difficult is it to reach everyone?

  • Sherry Rehman:

    We have not been able to reach people, at least in the first week of the deluge. And it's been eight weeks of unrelenting rain, which Pakistan has never seen.

    And the way to rescue people in floods and disasters always are helicopter cover. And they have just not been able to take off with the kind of rain and complete cloudbursts of water coming down. So, yes, there's been a complete humanitarian disaster.

    The water cover is so heavy and high in Sindh and Balochistan that we have had the Pakistan navy inside inland in the country. Now, the helis are operating and they're picking up people from rooftops, literally.

    So it's been very traumatic seeing bridges collapse in the north, seeing people isolated and marooned on rooftops. We have had like over 160 bridges just collapse, and the water just rip through it. It's a real climate disaster of epic proportions.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    As you were just pointing out, many bridges have been destroyed, including bridges that Pakistan built higher after they were destroyed a decade ago during those floods.

    In retrospect, do you believe the government did enough after those floods in order to prepare for floods like you're facing today?

  • Sherry Rehman:

    Well, I mean, where are you supposed to build the floods? On a skyscraper? I'm not aware of that.

    Climate — the climate decade of our reckoning is here and now, Nick. It's not 2050. That tipping point is absolutely visible to us. And I think many thresholds are being crossed, while global leaders dither over which emissions are good and which are not. It's time to make decisions. Otherwise, the — it won't just be Pakistan.

    Glaciers are also melting. By the way, this year, we have had three times as many glacial melt episodes added to the volume of water gushing down south, and send them below — actually embracing for the floods from the north. I really don't know how we will absorb this amount of rushing-in water over standing water right now.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Pakistan contributes less than 1 percent of global emissions.

    Do you believe that Pakistan and other countries like it are the victims of climate change mostly caused by richer countries?

  • Sherry Rehman:

    I don't like to use the term victimhood. I'm a woman. So we like to ascribe some agency to ourselves.

    It's a clear case of loss and damage reparations, because this is the carbon footprint of other countries that have gotten rich on the back of fossil fuels. Really, we're paying the price for it, because we are on that front line of a geographical location. We are uniquely positioned. We have the highest number of glaciers outside the polar region. We have a huge river running through the country.

    We have the largest manmade irrigation system in the world. Honestly, the bargain made between the global south and north hasn't worked out as expected.

    We would love to switch to renewables just for our own import bills to be reduced and to be cleaner, to have cleaner fuel. But just that transition, I have had it calculated, would cost us $101 billion without the transmission line changes. Climate resilience costs money.

    And, right now, all the money basically is going into relief.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Pakistan has had a close partnership with the United States for many years. It is also a close partner of Beijing.

    What is your message to the world's two largest emitters today?

  • Sherry Rehman:

    Well, yes, the two largest emitters really should stop and think. There's a new normal around the world. It's not a good one. It's a dystopic one.

    And so whatever goes down in one country will eventually impact on the other. But I have had a good conversation with Senator John Kerry, who's your climate czar. And we're perfectly committed to working together. And I believe that, if we all put our resources to the task of chipping away at joint problems, we can — we can meet the needs gap.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    After the last floods from a decade ago, Pakistan created hydropower projects, some of which have come under criticism.

    So, do you believe that unplanned infrastructure projects have actually exacerbated the current crisis?

  • Sherry Rehman:

    I'm not aware of which hydro project has exacerbated any condition.

    Having said that, certainly, some water architectural solutions, the entire architecture of our water, of our hydrology, perhaps needs a reset now to meet the kind of climate challenge we're seeing. But, I mean, wrapping one's head around that level of resource mobilization, I will be honest too. I can say to you that, oh, we will build back better.

    I'm not sure we have the resources. Climate resilience is an expensive business. The maximum will go to agriculture. There is a little bit drought resistance. For instance, our entire crop cover — and 90 percent of it certainly is gone for the year.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And so does that mean that this is not just a problem of today, that this is going to have an effect for many years to come?

  • Sherry Rehman:

    I think we have got ourselves a very large task, as well as a large ask from development partners.

    Now, if they're not able to meet it, then I don't know how we will be able to service a large population, which has lost most of his employment. The next crop is also wiped out because there's too much standing water, and the soil is not going to be ready for what is known as the Rabi, or the winter planting season.

    We do have a crisis.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's climate minister, thank you very much.

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