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Effects of a dangerous cyclone are already hitting parts of India and Pakistan

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Pakistan and India are preparing for a cyclone that's expected to make landfall today.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The cyclone has been dubbed Biparjoy, the word for disaster in Bengali. And that's exactly what officials are preparing for. Authorities are still evacuating tens of thousands of people from coastal areas, sending them to schools and government buildings that have been converted into shelters. They're removing billboards that could turn into deadly projectiles.

FADEL: On the line with us to tell us more is NPR's Diaa Hadid. Hi, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So Diaa, where are you right now? Are you in a safe place?

HADID: Yeah, I'm in the Pakistani city of Hyderabad. It's about two hours inland. And even here, though, we can see the first impacts of the cyclone. We were on the road when the winds picked up. And large palm trees were swaying hard. A cloud of kicked-up dust, it enveloped the road and nearby bazaars. And squinting through, we could see shepherds barreling down the sides of the roads with their flocks of goats, getting them to safety. And the trash piled by roadsides was whipping up, sending plastic bags and bottles careering. And this is all two hours from the coast.

FADEL: Wow. So if you're seeing that type of weather where you are, what's the situation in coastal areas?

HADID: Well, NASA describes this as a severe cyclonic storm, with a sustained wind speed of more than 80 miles an hour. And it's likely to land around the India-Pakistan border. And on both sides, authorities are evacuating tens of thousands of people and livestock. But the big fear is the impact it might have on the Pakistani port city of Karachi, which has a population around 20 million people.

It's low-lying. A lot of the drains are blocked. In the past, heavy rains have caused severe floods, just sending main roads underwater and inundating the ground floors of homes. And there's tangles of power lines everywhere. So in previous floods, a lot of victims died by electrocution. And there's also open sewers. And as they spill over, diseases like diarrhea and typhoid are likely to spread. So the minister of climate change, Sherry Rehman, she urged residents to trust the government, to secure pets and livestock and even make sure solar panels were screwed onto rooftops properly. But she said she understood people's fears.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHERRY REHMAN: (Speaking Urdu).

HADID: And basically, she said it's natural to panic, but be prepared.

FADEL: Diaa, I suppose last year's devastating floods in Pakistan in particular are framing how people respond this time, right?

HADID: Yeah. Those summer floods last year left a third of Pakistan underwater at its peak. It killed more than 1,500 people. And it decimated the wheat and cotton crops that this country relies on. Even a year on, thousands of people are still homeless. And so this is a country that's quite vulnerable to these events, which are being made more extreme by climate change.

FADEL: You mentioned climate change. Is there a sense of the role it's played in how severe this cyclone is going to be?

HADID: Yeah, it appears so. We've been speaking to folks here who say these sorts of cyclones were actually rare until about a decade ago. And NASA notes unusually warm waters helped fuel the cyclone's intensification. And warm sea surface temperatures have contributed to the cyclone's long lifespan. And for many Pakistanis, these events feel relentless. The country's experiencing extreme floods, droughts and now cyclones. And its poorest people are struggling to cope and recover from these incidents. Environmental activists say Pakistan is a classic example of how the people who've contributed least to global warming are facing some of the harshest impacts of it.

FADEL: NPR's Diaa Hadid. Thank you so much. And stay safe.

HADID: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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.