Substantial Parts Of Pakistan Are Underwater

Pakistan is dealing with major flooding for the second year in a row, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless. Timo Pakkala, the humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations in Pakistan, tells Steve Inskeep the flooding is causing a hardship in a really poor, rural area of the country.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

For the second straight year, substantial parts of Pakistan are underwater. This year's floods are not as widespread as in 2010, but entire villages are submerged and hundreds of thousands of people are homeless in some of the same areas that flooded a year ago.

Timo Pakkala is the humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations in Pakistan. He's on the line.

Welcome to the program, sir.

TIMO PAKKALA: Thank you very much. My pleasure.

INSKEEP: Now, when you have traveled through the flooded zones in southern Pakistan and Sindh in recent weeks, what have you seen?

PAKKALA: Well, the situation in Sindh Province is a really serious crisis. And it's affecting the lives of over five million people at the moment. And this is a very poor area of Pakistan. The rural areas of Sindh suffer from high levels of malnutrition already before the floods. And most of the people who have been affected are among the poorest of the population.

INSKEEP: I have seen video images from that region, people in boats on what appears to be an endless lake and you're told that there's a village 20 feet below the surface of the water.

PAKKALA: Yeah, that's right. When we traveled there last week with the National Disaster Management Authority officials, we could see people walking through the fields which were water up to the waist. They were trying to get to the dry land, which is mainly the roads, as they roads are higher above the ground. And these people and their families, they are then subject to snake bites. And of course they don't have any belongings. They don't have clean water. They need immediate assistance.

INSKEEP: Now, you just mentioned assistance. There was a great deal of frustration, as you know, about the Pakistani government's assistance, or lack of it, in the flood in 2010. How is the government doing now, at least according to what people affected are saying?

PAKKALA: Well, the government has provided substantive assistance. We have to keep that in mind, because when the floods started in August, the government was very determined to try to address the situation through their own resources and expertise this year. They have gained a lot of experience from the 2010 floods. They have better preparedness plans in place, which have resulted in prepositioning of relief stocks and improved search and rescue capacities, etcetera. But it has become obviously in the past weeks clear that the government's response capacity is not sufficient.

INSKEEP: And one other thing - as the climate changes, obviously it's hard to predict the future of weather events in a specific area, but are people anticipating that some of the lower lying areas of Pakistan are just going to flood again and again and again year after year after year from now on?

PAKKALA: Well, that's a very interesting question, actually, and a very important issue. There are some prognosis, meteorological predictions, that perhaps the monsoon is moving westwards gradually. And areas that have not received such huge amounts of rain will be receiving more rain in the coming years.

INSKEEP: The monsoon, that's the annual weather system that comes into south Asia. And you're saying there's some feeling it might be coming to land at a different spot?

PAKKALA: That's correct. It may be moving, but there's much more research that needs to be done on the weather patterns. So it's a bit too early, perhaps, to come to conclusions to what extent global warming or weather changes might be responsible for the current calamity.

INSKEEP: Timo Pakkala is the humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations in Pakistan.

Thanks very much.

PAKKALA: You're most welcome. Thank you.

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