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Pakistan prime minister says 33 million devastated by flooding

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Prime Minister of Pakistan Shehbaz Sharif ponders a question during an interview with The Associated Press, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022 at United Nations headquarters.
Prime Minister of Pakistan Shehbaz Sharif ponders a question during an interview with The Associated Press, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022 at United Nations headquarters. Sharif said he came to the United Nations to tell the world that his country is the victim of unprecedented climate change-induced flooding that has submerged one-third of its territory and left 33 million people scrambling to survive, and to warn that "tomorrow this tragedy can fall on some other country." (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) (muhammad sajjad/Associated Press) Photo Gallery

UNITED NATIONS — Flooding likely worsened by climate change has submerged one-third of Pakistan’s territory and left 33 million of its people scrambling to survive, according to Pakistan’s prime minister, who says he came to the United Nations this year to tell the world that “tomorrow, this tragedy can fall on some other country.”

In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, Shahbaz Sharif exhorted world leaders gathered for their annual meeting at the General Assembly to stand together and raise resources “to build resilient infrastructure, to build adaptation, so that our future generations are saved.”

The initial estimate of losses to the economy as a result of the three-month flooding disaster is $30 billion, Sharif said, and he asked U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday to hold a donors’ conference quickly. The U.N. chief agreed, Sharif said.

“Thousands of kilometers of roads have been smashed, washed away — railway bridges, railway track, communications, underpasses, transport. All this requires funds,” Sharif said. “We need funds to provide livelihood to our people.”

Sharif, the brother of ousted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, took office in April after a week of turmoil in Pakistan. He replaced Imran Khan, a cricket star turned politician who was one of the country’s highest-profile leaders of the past generation and retains broad influence. Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote after 3½ years in office.

While climate change likely increased rainfall by up to 50 percent late last month in two southern Pakistan provinces, global warming wasn’t the biggest cause of the country’s catastrophic flooding, according to a new scientific analysis. Pakistan’s overall vulnerability, including people living in harm’s way, was the chief factor.

But human-caused climate change “also plays a really important role here,” study senior author Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College of London. said earlier this month.

Whatever the case, Sharif said the impact on his country is immense. More than 1,600 people have died, including hundreds of children. Crops on 4 million acres have been washed away. Millions of houses have been damaged or completely destroyed, and life savings have disappeared in the devastating floods triggered by monsoon rains.

Framing Pakistan as a victim of climate change worsened by other nations’ actions, Sharif said Pakistan is responsible for less than 1 percent of the carbon emissions that cause global warming. “We are,” the prime minister said, “a victim of something we have nothing to do with.”

He echoed the sentiments Friday afternoon when addressing fellow leaders at the General Assembly, telling them that other places were next. “One thing is very clear,” he said. “What happened in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan.”

Even before the floods began in mid-June, Pakistan was facing serious challenges from grain shortages and skyrocketing crude oil prices sparked by Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine and the war that followed. Sharif said skyrocketing prices have put the import of oil “beyond our capacity,” and — with the damage and destruction from the massive flooding — solutions have become “extremely difficult.”

Pakistan may have to import about a million tons of wheat because of the destruction of farmland. He said it could come from Russia, but the country is open to other offers. The country also needs fertilizer because factories involved in their production are closed.

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