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Monsoon Season Hits South Asia Hard


The floods caused by Harvey are generating lots of headlines here. But half a world away, there are similar scenes because devastating storms are battering parts of South Asia. Floods and landslides are blamed for killing more than 1,200 people across Nepal, Bangladesh and India. The United Nations says another 41 million people have been affected by the worst monsoon season in years. To talk about how the region is coping, we are joined by NPR's Julie McCarthy in Delhi. Welcome.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Thank you. Good morning.

CHANG: Good morning. Let's start with Mumbai, India's financial capital. Torrential rains there have brought that huge city to a standstill. How much has the rain let up at this point?

MCCARTHY: Well, it has let up quite a bit. But on Tuesday, you had this deluge, Ailsa, that dropped a foot of rain in 12 hours. And there are pictures of people, not unlike Houston, wading through this waist-deep water. Many parts of Mumbai sit just above sea level. And this also coincided with high tide.

This is also a city of 20 million people. It's a mecca for people migrating to the city for jobs. And that is driving construction, and it's popping up on flood plains and coastal areas unchecked. And all of that is generating all kinds of garbage. And it was discovered that that waste is clogging the stormwater drains, which makes Mumbai even more vulnerable to flooding.

CHANG: Well, what about recovery efforts? What kind of shape is Mumbai in right now at this moment?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, it's clawing back to normal, rather miraculously. But we did have a 100-year-old building collapse this morning. Several bodies were pulled out. And local media are quoting the police that the rains - all this rain may have weakened it.

But I think the story of a doctor, Ailsa, speaks to what people are really up against. He left his hospital Tuesday. And while he was walking home in the downpour, these people were waving him off the street because there were open manhole covers. It's believed he fell in.

CHANG: Oh, my goodness.

MCCARTHY: And his body washed up - his body washed up on the seashore today.


MCCARTHY: But opening manhole covers is this huge hazard that the city says helps water recede.

CHANG: Well, in a huge urban center like Mumbai, is there even enough infrastructure to deal with all the people who got flooded out?

MCCARTHY: Well, certainly, schools and institutions get turned into shelters. But it's important to remember that India doesn't have the kind of heavy lift that the United States has, where there's a mature response system, a sophisticated infrastructure for disasters. For example, there's a lot fewer helicopters lifting people to safety here. In fact, I saw a photograph of two men walking through two feet of muddy water. And one man's arm is draped around another, as if to say, you know, there's nothing out of the ordinary here. Indians take adversity in stride and pretty much believe they're on their own.

CHANG: Of course, Mumbai is just, you know, the latest place to be hit by these pounding rains. But there really is a broad swath of destruction all across South Asia, isn't there?

MCCARTHY: That's right. And on the subcontinent, we are looking at some of the world's poorest people. Oxfam says in Bangladesh, two-thirds of the country is underwater. The country's disaster management says that more than 600,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged. And you've got flood victims scrounging for a roof over their head. Now, in the West, you'll find a shelter. Nothing like that is guaranteed a half a world away. But, Ailsa, it's true - monsoons do bring death and destruction every year, but this is a particularly deadly year.

CHANG: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy in Delhi - in New Delhi. Thank you so much, Julie.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.