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Brazil Passes 500,000 COVID-19 Deaths; Iran Election; COVID-19 Delta Variant Becoming Dominant Strain; Tokyo Olympics Considering Cap on Spectator Numbers; Ethiopian Elections; North Korea Food Supply under Stress; U.S. Speeds Up Visas for Afghans; Construction Flaws Led to Mexico Rail Collapse; Western U.S. Heat Wave Raising Drought and Fire Concerns. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired June 20, 2021 - 00:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and a warm welcome to our viewers joining us all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes, appreciate your company.

Coming up here on CNN NEWSROOM, Iran has a new president. While there were some celebrations in Tehran, the U.S. is calling the nation's election process anything but free and fair.

COVID-19 has now claimed half a million Brazilian lives. In response, thousands packed the streets, demanding president Bolsonaro's impeachment.

And the U.N. warning the world, global drought could be the next pandemic.


HOLMES: Now the American government on Saturday acknowledged Ebrahim Raisi as the next president of Iran but denounced Friday's elections as fundamentally undemocratic. His supporters celebrated his landslide victory, even though the outcome was never in doubt, planned by those who run the country.

Nearly everyone who might oppose or challenge to win was disqualified from running. Now in a statement, the U.S. State Department said, this, quote, "We have seen that the Iranian interior minister announced Ebrahim Raisi as the winner of the Iranian elections that occurred on Friday.

"But also make note that Iranians were denied their right to choose their own leaders in a free and fair electoral process."

Now the Iranian government says the conservative chief justice won more than 60 percent of the vote. But with few alternatives on the ballot, many Iranians simply didn't bother to vote, leading to a record low turnout. CNN's Fred Pleitgen with more.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Conservatives celebrating a major victory that could shape the political direction of this country for a long time.

Ebrahim Raisi, a man very close to Iran's supreme leader, will soon take over as president.

"With the help of God and with the help of Sajid Ebrahim Raisi, he we will do a good job," this man says.

While turnout was historically low, Raisi managed to garner more than 60 percent of the vote, the interior ministry says.

PLEITGEN: Raisi won his landslide victory in the presidential election. His followers are putting on a show of force. (INAUDIBLE) not everyone is celebrating after moderates suffered (INAUDIBLE).

PLEITGEN (voice-over): While some shops in this market have already hung up Raisi posters, others questioned the election after many candidates were disqualified by Iran's guardian council in the run-up to the vote.

"Before the voting, everyone knew the new president would be Raisi," this woman says.

And this one adds, "All the four candidates are the same. It makes no difference to me. The elections have no effect."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He will be pushed to move toward lift the sanction. Our people are in the very high pressure of economic pressure.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The transfer of power is already being prepared. Raisi has already met outgoing president, the moderate, Hassan Rouhani, and said he is focused on the task ahead.

"I hope I can live up to the trust that the people have placed in me during my term," he said.

For many, that means getting the Trump-era sanctions lifted and reviving the Iran nuclear agreement, all to jump-start the ailing economy.

TRITA PARSI, QUINCY INSTITUTE FOR RESPONSIBLE STATECRAFT: There is a tremendous amount of continuity and very important foreign policy issues, such as the JCPOA, are not set by the president alone or the foreign minister. It requires much greater degree of systemic buy-in.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): One thing both moderates and conservatives agree on is that Iran's struggling economy is the country's top issue. Now Ebrahim Raisi will get his shot to bring it back on track -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Tehran.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HOLMES: International reaction to Raisi's victory ranges from pro forma congratulations to outright condemnation. Two of Iran's most immediate neighbors offering words of support from the incoming president.

Turkey's president saying he wishes, quote, "for the spirit of cooperation between our countries to continue to strengthen."


HOLMES: And Iraq's leader said, quote, "Iraq truly looks forward to strengthening its relations with Iran and works to have even closer brotherly and friendly ties that link the two nations through their historical, cultural and social bonds."

However, Amnesty International wants Raisi investigated for crimes against humanity.

They say, "As head of the Iranian judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi has presided over a spiraling crackdown on human rights, which has seen hundreds of peaceful dissidents, human rights defenders and members of persecuted minority groups arbitrarily detained."

And Israel, too, condemning him as the most extremist presidential figure yet and said his election, quote, "makes clear Iran's true malign intentions."

Tehran and Washington are currently locked in negotiations over the U.S. rejoining that 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Other parties to the agreement -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and Iran -- are set to resume their talks on Sunday in Vienna with an eye toward the U.S. possibly returning to the deal.


HOLMES: A somber milestone for Brazil. More than half a million people have died of COVID now since the pandemic began. That death toll, twice as high as it was just six months ago. And experts say that is a sign the mortality rate is accelerating.

Thousands of Brazilians took to the streets across the country Saturday to protest president Bolsonaro's handling of the pandemic. Many blame Brazil's crisis on his efforts to downplay the disease. Stefano Pozzebon has our report.


STEFANO POZZEBON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On Saturday, Brazil became just the second country in the world after the United States to cross the grim threshold of over 500,000 COVID-19 deaths.

The South American country reported over 2,300 new COVID-19 deaths on Saturday and over 82,000 new cases. That brings the total number of cases reported by the Brazilian health ministry since the beginning of pandemic to over 17 million cases. And as Brazil marked this milestone, thousands of protesters took onto

the streets to demand the impeachment of the president, Jair Bolsonaro over his handling of the pandemic. Major Brazilian cities such as Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Recife all reported large-scale and peaceful demonstrations as did the country's capital, Brasilia.

And Bolsonaro himself did not address either the COVID-19 deaths nor the protests when he attended an aid event (ph) earlier on Saturday. But his communication minister, Fabio Faria, did so on social media, attacking the government's critics for not focusing on the millions of vaccine doses delivered, he said, by the government and even cheering for the virus, according to the communications minister -- and for CNN, this is Stefano Pozzebon, Bogota.


HOLMES: For the second day in a row, Moscow has hit an all-time high of new COVID cases. The government's coronavirus task force reported more than 9,100 cases on Saturday, the highest number since the beginning of the pandemic.

Moscow's Mir saying the Delta variant has been found in almost 90 percent of new cases in the city, that's according to the Russian news agency Tass. In an effort to curb the spread of the virus, Moscow's Mir announcing new restrictions and extending the closure of public places like food courts and children's playgrounds until June 29.

Restaurants, cafes and clubs will continue to operate under restricted hours.

And Moscow's numbers underscore the growing threat of that Delta variant. Top health experts around the world say is it is on its way to becoming globally dominant. According to data from the World Health Organization, at least 80 countries have reported cases of the variant.

CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains why Delta variant is causing so much concern.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: At the end of January, it was primarily the Alpha or the U.K. variant that was dominant in the U.K., understandably.

What happened over that time period?

The numbers came down, overall, which was good. But at the same time, the Delta variant started to enter the scene there. You saw the numbers pop back up and that was obviously primarily people who had not been vaccinated.

So that is the concern here. We know this is a much more transmissible variant.

[00:10:00] GUPTA: The U.K. or Alpha variant was 50 percent more transmissible than the strain before that. And this is 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant. So you get an idea.

In Scotland, there was a study showing that those who were infected with the Delta variant were also more likely to be hospitalized. So this does appear to be more transmissible and more serious also.


HOLMES: Let's talk more about all this with CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner. He joins me now from Washington.

Great to see you again, Doctor. I wanted to start with the variants, the Delta variant, perhaps most concerning of all. If those who are vaccinated are reasonably protected from variants that's certainly not the case for the unvaccinated, right?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Right and we have some recent data from the U.K. that adds a little bit more clarity. The mRNA vaccines and in addition the AstraZeneca vaccine, when given in two doses, offer really excellent protection.

For the mRNA vaccines, well over 90 percent efficacy in preventing illness and about 94 percent efficacy in preventing severe disease. So if you've been vaccinated, completely vaccinated, you are well protected.

HOLMES: Given the unvaccinated numbers, are you expecting a surge in the fall and, in particular, in areas with low vaccination rates?

REINER: Yes, so I think it is really a tale of two countries in the United States. Parts of the United States are going to look like just a normal fall in a couple of months. The mid-Atlantic, the Northeast, New England, the West Coast.

Things will look really good, because all of those states are going to have well over 70 percent of the adult population and quite a bit of the adolescent population fully vaccinated.

But through large swaths of the South, Southwest and Midwest parts of the United States, we are not going to see that. So we have seen this really dramatic, almost red-blue split in the United States.

The top 20 states for vaccination in the United States are all states that voted for Joe Biden and the bottom 20 states are all states that voted for Donald Trump.

HOLMES: I was actually thinking ahead, because I was looking at your Twitter earlier in the day and you tweeted, I just want to read it to people.

You said this, quote, "On July 4th, there will be 21 states that exceed 70 percent of adults with at least one vaccination. Every one of those states voted for Biden. Only three states that voted blue will fall short and they are swing states. "Conservative politicians are failing their constituents."

It really is a stark thing when you look at it that way.

How worrying is it that the vaccination still remains a seemingly political issue?

REINER: It's hard to understand. I think a year ago, all of us who were looking ahead and hoping that there was going to be at least one viable vaccine could not imagine that large parts of the United States simply would not accept vaccination if we had a vaccine that worked.

But the net effect of this is that we are going to have states -- we already have states, where large numbers of the population are unvaccinated. There are 100 counties in the South right now, where less than 20 percent of adults are vaccinated.

And with the Delta variant, which is much more transmissible than the Alpha variant, the original U.K. variant, those folks will be at risk of infection. We are already seeing that now in parts of the United States, places like Missouri and in Florida and Texas.

Florida and Texas yesterday had together about 3,000 infections, representing about 25 percent of the United States' total. So we are going to see this going forward. We will see places where the pandemic is basically gone and we will see places where ICUs are filled.

HOLMES: Wow, that is terrifying. I wanted to ask you about something else as well. I was reading this study and others like Dr. Ashish Jha have been tweeting about it, too. We must emphasize non-peer reviewed but well regarded by many for how it was conducted.

And it looked at people's brains before and after COVID infection and finding issues with brain tissue after COVID, neurological issues or damage.

What concerns you about that study, in terms of potential long-term effects for people even after recovery from COVID?

REINER: Yes, this was an interesting study coming out of the United Kingdom, where they had a large brain imaging database.


REINER: And they were able to look at almost 400 people who had COVID, compare brain imaging to pre-infection imaging, which had been in their databanks. And then compare those folks to a similar matched set of people who were not infected.

What they found is that in folks who were infected, there was this high incidence of structural damage to parts of the brain; in particular, parts of the brain that are associated with things like smell and taste.

So it's been well described that one of the earlier symptoms of COVID is a loss of smell and taste. And now we are starting to see evidence that it's actually caused by structural changes to the brain.

The importance of this is this: a lot of young people think that, even if they get infected, you know, they're very likely to survive this, which is true. But what is just as true and now alarmingly true is that many people who are infected with COVID who do survive have lasting damage.

This is a brand new disease and we learn something about this disease almost every day. And we have started to learn that there are people who will have lasting injuries as a result of this infection. And it doesn't have to be that way. The vaccines are incredibly effective and people can avoid infection by simply getting vaccinated.

HOLMES: Absolutely, and that is great advice. It was interesting, that study, too, the people they studied weren't people who were in hospitals, either. They were not seriously ill people, which is significant as well. Great advice as always. Dr. Jonathan Reiner, thank you so much, always appreciate it.

REINER: Thanks for having me, Michael.

HOLMES: Now in the in the coming hours, Taiwan is set to receive some 2.5 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from the U.S. That is more than three times the 750,000 doses that Washington had promised earlier this month.

That shipment, expected to arrive late Sunday evening, local time. Taiwan's president, saying that the vaccines, quote, "will go a long way toward keeping Taiwan safe and healthy."

Now the coach with Uganda's Olympic team has tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Japan. It is the latest hurdle for the pandemic-delayed 2020 games. On Saturday, officials canceled all public viewing events, due to COVID concerns.

Tokyo's governor, saying that some of the venues will be used as vaccination sites instead. The Japanese government has been widely criticized for moving forward with the games, even as the country battles a fourth wave of the pandemic.

Now while overseas spectators have been ruled out, Olympic officials still have not decided whether to allow Japanese fans in the stands. CNN's Selina Wang, with the latest, from Tokyo.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are about a month away from the Olympics and organizers are still struggling to decide how many spectators, if any, can attend.

The majority in Japan are still against holding the Olympics this summer and medical experts continue to warn that, even without any spectators, it is impossible to hold the Olympics in a completely safe bubble, considering it involves tens of thousands of participants from more than 200 countries. WANG (voice-over): Japan's top COVID-19 adviser recommending that the

Olympics be held without spectators.

"We believe that it is desirable to not allow spectators, as this will reduce the risk of infection," he said.

Even though overseas fans are already banned, medical experts worry that the Olympics will cause a rebound of COVID-19 cases in Japan and overwhelm the medical system.

But Olympic organizers still say they will try to have spectators but say they may have to cancel at the last minute.

"I want to make every effort to continue discussions until the very end, so that as in other sports, as many people as possible watch the games," she said.

Olympic organizers also acknowledged that the Delta variant poses a major risk, putting additional restrictions on athletes coming from India. They are required to quarantine and be tested every day for 7 days before their arrival in Japan. For 3 days afterwards, they can't train or test match with other countries.

In fact, all athletes will be tested daily, contact traced by GPS and socially distanced. Or, they risk getting kicked out of the games. In Tokyo and large parts of Japan, the state of emergency is finally lifting, shifting to a quasi-state of emergency until July 11th. And the government has said it will allow up to 10,000 speculators at events in places no longer under a state of emergency.

WANG: If that cap is applied, it would mean the opening ceremony held at this national stadium would have more than 80 percent of its seats empty.

WANG (voice-over): The prime minister is wary of how easily infections could turn worse again after restrictions are lifted, urging the public to watch the games at home.


WANG (voice-over): The Japanese public is worried, too.

"I don't think the Olympics need to be held," he tells me.

"There will be so many coming into Japan that, will probably, go out and could give us infections."

And, for any spectators allowed, it won't be the usual celebration. Organizers said they should go straight to Olympic venues and back to their homes, with no drinking or partying in the streets and to eat alone or far apart from others.

So an Olympics like no other for all the athletes and participants but clearly for the spectators, too.

WANG: Another major concern is the low vaccination rate. Just about 6 percent of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated. And it is unclear what percentage of Olympic volunteers and staff will be vaccinated in time for the games.

Now the prime minister has vowed to reach 1 million vaccinations per day. But to put things in perspective, even at that rate, less than 20 percent of the Japanese population will be fully vaccinated by the time the Olympics begin.


HOLMES: Selina Wang, reporting there.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, people in North Korea tell CNN they have suffered drastic food shortages and extremely high prices in recent months. Next, why officials say that is likely to get worse.

Plus, Ethiopia getting ready to vote on Monday. The prime minister says it will be the first free and fair elections there in decades. But it is looking complicated. We show you why, when we come back.




HOLMES: Ethiopians head to the polls on Monday. They will cast their votes on both regional and general elections, which have been pushed back multiple times already. Of the 109 million citizens in Ethiopia, just 37 million are registered voters.

Elections have been marred by violence already in the country's Tigray region. No date has been set for elections there. CNN's Larry Madowo with the details.


LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After a delay of almost a year, Ethiopians will head to the polls Monday in both regional and national parliamentary elections.

The country's prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, said he is committed to a free, fair and peaceful election. But it is already marred by a host of problems, including a violent conflict raging within its borders.

The violence in parts of Ethiopia's Tigray region in the north has created a humanitarian crisis, where there will be no election at all. The U.N. and other agencies say that large parts of Tigray are experiencing dire hunger because of food shortages, blamed on the fighting.

The Ethiopian government has denied these reports. But Prime Minister Abiy says he has hope for Ethiopia's future.

ABIY AHMED, ETHIOPIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The choice between destruction and development, construction and demolition for our country, is laid in front of us. We Ethiopians carefully understand, feeling dismayed is not civilization.


AHMED (through translator): And pushing one another is not a better option.

MADOWO (voice-over): Opposition candidate Berhanu Nega is less optimistic.

BERHANU NEGA, OPPOSITION CANDIDATE: Whenever you attempt this transition from tyranny to democratic governance, there is no guarantee that it will be absolutely perfect or it will be clean.

MADOWO (voice-over): Accusations of ballot box fraud tainted the last general election held in 2015. This time around, logistical issues and violence have caused voting delays in 110 out of 547 districts.

Some parties, whose leaders have been imprisoned, are boycotting it altogether. Opposition figure and fierce critic of the prime minister, Jawar muhammad, remains in jail, where he is accused of terrorism and other charges.

The U.S. has also voiced alarm over the conditions ahead of the elections. The State Department issuing a statement, saying, quote, "The United States is gravely concerned about the environment under which these upcoming elections are to be held."

The country had big hopes for Abiy when he was appointed in 2018. The Nobel Peace Prize winner was, at the time, praised for cracking down on corruption and freeing political prisoners.

Abiy made many promises but his military campaign in Tigray and jailing of opposition leaders has angered many of his constituents. As Ethiopians get ready to cast their ballots, the Ethiopian government hopes for democratic election.

But it comes at a time of turmoil where fighting in Tigray has killed thousands, leaving people on the verge of starvation and threatening the credibility of the voting process -- Larry Madowo, CNN.


HOLMES: The United Nations, now urging calm ahead of these tense elections in Ethiopia.

The secretary general, through his spokesman, calling, quote, "on all stakeholders to refrain from any acts of violence or intimidation and encouraging leaders and participants in the elections to promote social cohesion and reject hate speech."

Now Guinea declared Saturday that a deadly Ebola outbreak there is now over. The outbreak was first reported back in mid February; 12 patients died, 11 survived. Health officials credit their swift response to lessons learned from previous experiences with the disease. The world's largest Ebola outbreak beginning in Guinea in 2014 and

spread across the region. That crisis raging into 2016; ultimately, claiming more than 11,000 lives.

Now residents in Pyongyang, telling CNN that food insecurity in North Korea has gotten worse during the coronavirus pandemic. And, recent months, they have struggled with shortages and extremely high prices. CNN's Paula Hancocks, with more, from North Korea's food crisis.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Soonkwon Kim was known locally as Dr. Corn. An agricultural scientist, he developed high yield corn strains, taking them to North Korea.

His first visit in 1998 toward the end of the devastating famine, he said that the situation was worse than any other country he had worked in. After 3 million people may have died the actual number is unknown.

Dr. Kim says he sent 1.6 million bags of fertilizer and nearly 100 tons of corn seeds and corn to Pyongyang over the years. That ended, abruptly, when North Korea shut its borders in January 2020.

SOONKWON KIM, THE INTERNATIONAL CORN FOUNDATION: Because of COVID, I cannot visit. Because of COVID, even this year, the super sweet corn seed, I said last month I would go to the DMZ and just hand over the seeds at the border.

But they did not accept the ideas.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): Kim Jong-un said this week food shortages are a top priority, saying, the people's food situation is now getting tense, according to state-run media KCNA.

The news bulletins are focused on preparing for the upcoming rainy season. Youth groups have been recruited to help in the rice paddies. A nationwide focus on the recurring issue of food insecurity.

The United Nations, estimating that North Korea will have a shortfall of more than 2 months food this year, if it cannot supplement with food aid or imports. Both, unlikely, while the border is closed. It predicts a harsh lean period later this year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Normally, North Korea imports grain from China in large quantities, when the price is low. But with COVID-19 restrictions, movement is impossible and the price of imported goods like flour or sugar has risen considerably.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): Pyongyang residents tell CNN, even some locally produced goods have risen in price in recent months. Giving an example of the price of potatoes, tripling in one market. The U.N. is calling on Pyongyang to allow humanitarian aid to cross the border but no sign of easing restrictions yet.

[00:30:00] HANCOCKS (voice-over): In April, Kim Jong-un called on the country to prepare for another, quote, "arduous march," a term most recently used to describe the deadly famine of the '90s and a clear signal, from the very top, of hard times ahead -- Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.


HOLMES: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Just ahead, why activists say those who helped the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq are in danger and need to be evacuated now.




HOLMES: And welcome back to our viewers all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Now the Biden administration says is it is adding staff to help speed up the visa process for Afghans who helped the U.S. during America's longest war. But -- and that's a big but -- refugee advocates worry that it is still not enough, because the lives of these Afghans are in danger. CNN's Jake Tapper reports.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): A family in mourning after their worst fears became reality.

Fareed Al-Attange Ali Khan (ph) murdered by the Taliban. His family says targeted for one simple reason. He worked for the U.S. government in Afghanistan.

CNN has not been able to independently verify the attack but documents confirm Khan worked with Americans in Afghanistan for nearly two decades. And this isn't an isolated incident.

"Stars and Stripes," a new site affiliated with the U.S. military, reports that one Afghan man that worked for the U.S. 12 years was believe to have been killed by the Taliban while waiting for his visa for nearly a decade.

Those tragic deaths and others like them renewing attention on what lawmakers, military leaders and human rights activists have been stressing for some time now. The United States government, the Biden administration, needs to rescue the Afghan men and women who risked everything to help the U.S. effort before it's too late.


TAPPER (voice-over): Time is running out. Today, these Afghan allies wait in unrelenting fear. They say they're sitting ducks as the Taliban and other militant groups target them to send a message about the penalty for having helped Americans.

Some 18,000 have applied for a special visa known as SIV to come to the United States, a program which the U.S. government created more than a decade ago. But layers of red tape and bureaucracy have slowed the process down to the point where many of the would-be recipients have been waiting for years.

Khan was one of the sitting ducks.


TAPPER (voice-over): He waited for years before the Taliban reportedly caught up with him.

STAFFIERI: I mean, they're all walking with a target on them right now. And the reports of the attacks are coming in daily at this point, the murders are happening now.

TAPPER (voice-over): Kim Staffieri is the co-founder and executive director of Association of Wartime Allies, which has helped Afghan allies through the visa application process.

Her group is tracking more than 11,000 Afghans that worked for the U.S., all trying to get to America for their own safety. Staffieri says everything got worse after President Biden announced in April the U.S. forces would withdraw by September.

STAFFIERI: Since then, the entire dynamic has changed. Applicants are terrified. I wake up to a message pleading for help.

"We're going to be slaughtered. We are afraid we are going to be killed."

TAPPER (voice-over): The secretary of state, Tony Blinken, testified; while approving visas is a priority, he doesn't think the situation will get worse.

TONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: I wouldn't necessarily equate the departure of our forces in July, August, by early September with some kind of immediate deterioration in the situation.

TAPPER (voice-over): But advocates say Blinken must not be seeing what they're seeing.

STAFFIERI: All of the on the ground reports we're getting are in direct contrast to that. These people are in danger now.

TAPPER (voice-over): A sentiment echoed on social media by these SIV applicants, who say, quote, "The situation of Afghanistan is getting worse day by day;" quote, "The Taliban killed my brother and I am sure they will kill me as well," and, quote, "They will kill all."

One option pushed by advocates, evacuate these Afghans to safety, even while their visas are still being processed, some using #getthemtoGuam. Guam's governor saying the U.S. territory is open to being a temporary safe haven for these Afghans. A few weeks ago, administration officials told CNN that the Pentagon was looking at how to evacuate thousands of Afghans at risk with the head of Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie, publicly announcing he could pull it off. All he needs is the green light.

GEN. KENNETH MCKENZIE, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: From a Central Command perspective, perspective of the U.S. military, if directed to do something like that, we could certainly do it.

TAPPER: Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Mark Milley saying the U.S. must protect them at all costs, according to "Defense One," saying, quote, "We recognize an important task is to ensure we remain faithful to them and that we do what's necessary to ensure their protection and, if necessary, get them out of the country."

But Blinken is not ready to commit.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: So yes or no, is the administration planning evacuation of those people?

BLINKEN: Evacuation is the wrong word.

TAPPER: And when I pushed the White House press secretary on if Biden would commit to getting these allies out of Afghanistan before the U.S. withdrawal, this was her answer.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You're asking me specifically about expediting departure of individuals out of Afghanistan. I just don't have more information for you than that. But that doesn't change the fact that these are individuals we want to help.

TAPPER: Afghan allies are left in limbo, hoping they don't meet the same fate many Vietnamese allies did after the 1975 evacuation of Saigon, an evacuation that young Senator Joe Biden was against at the time, saying, quote, "I do not believe the United States has an obligation, moral or otherwise, to evacuate foreign nationals" and that the U.S., quote, "has no obligation to evacuate one or 101,000 South Vietnamese," unquote.

And now, thousands of Afghan allies and their advocates are praying Joe Biden has had a change of heart nearly 50 years later.

STAFFIERI: You campaigned on a return to decency. Everything is in your hands, President Biden. And we need you to do the right thing.

TAPPER (voice-over): Jake Tapper, CNN, Washington.


HOLMES: And joining me now from St. Clemente, California, retired colonel and Iraq War veteran Steve Miska. He's also the author of "Baghdad Underground Railroad," which is about this very issue.

Good to see you, Steve. Again, as we saw in Jake Tapper's report, this is not some abstract risk. This is happening right now. People who worked alongside Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq are being killed right now.

So what do you want to see urgently happen?

I know the suggestion about Guam.

What do you want to see happen now?

COL. STEVEN MISKA (U.S.-RET), AUTHOR, "BAGHDAD UNDERGROUND RAILROAD": Thanks, Michael. Yes, the Taliban have been hunting our interpreters in Afghanistan for 20 years. It's only intensifying with the withdrawal.

So as we near the end it's going to get worse. We should not make the same mistake that we made in Vietnam, which was waiting until it became a crisis. Afghanistan is not Vietnam. There are no seaports. So there is no safety valve there.

So if we lose the airfields, we will not have the political will to go back in and do a forced entry to rescue our interpreters. We need to evacuate now.


HOLMES: Yes. This is something that I have not been able to get my head around -- and you and I've been talking about this literally for years.

Why the bureaucratic red tape?

This is a matter of urgency.

MISKA: Yes, but the frustration is building right now. You've got over 100 organizations that have signed letters to the administration. These are veterans service organizations, humanitarian groups, nonprofits. Many of them never collaborate together on an issue.

And here's one that they are coming together. You've got bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. Representative Seth Moulton (ph) just last week sent a letter to the administration, calling for an evacuation.

And I'd like to highlight one point that they made in that letter. It was designate an interagency task force. Every single evacuation we've had to do in our history required an IATF. And it's like buying an insurance policy for a potential crisis.

If you put it in place it allows Congress to begin appropriations. It also allows all those organizations that will complement our government, resettlement agencies, to begin the relationship building necessary to welcome Afghans should we do an evacuation.

HOLMES: Absolutely. And it's good to see some momentum. There is not enough actual action going on and I would like -- and I know -- I embedded with you in Iraq so we have to say this is about the Iraqi translators as well as Afghan.

But the question for you, what would it mean for the U.S.' reputation and its ability to recruit help in the future if these people are effectively abandoned by politics and bureaucracy?

MISKA: Evacuation does not mean stop the withdrawal. It doesn't even question the legitimacy of the decision to withdraw. It allows us to withdraw with dignity. We have an issue that has bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

How many issues have that?

If we really want to unify the country, here's a good place to start. And it's a big deal with the veteran community. You've got -- and it's cross-generational. You've got Vietnam veterans, who do not want to relive the trauma of the fall of Saigon twice in one lifetime.

Current day veterans taking off their uniform, feeling like not they're living up to their ethos of leave no one behind. That's not how we want them to go home to their hometowns and talk to prospective recruits. We need to evacuate now. It allows us to withdraw with dignity.

HOLMES: You touched on this and I was going to ask you about it. Let's talk about it a little bit more.

What are you hearing from fellow veterans about this, service members, who soldiered literally alongside these team members?

MISKA: They are frustrated, Michael. They -- a lot of them don't know what to do. And the reason I wrote the book was because we were making stuff up on the fly in combat. And now they are fighting bureaucracy back at home.

And the only thing I can tell them to do, really, is to go to the great nonprofits that are advocating in this space and attempt to give them the information to help them champion. But it shouldn't take a member of Congress to get involved with every single case. And that seems to be what's happening right now. The bureaucracy is broken.

HOLMES: Yes, yes, I'm literally in touch by a message with two translators in Iraq, who are moving from house to house every couple of weeks with their families, because they are being threatened with being killed in horrible ways.

This is such an important issue. I'm so glad you and others are fighting for it. It's vital that something gets done to save these lives. Steve Miska, I really appreciate it.

And by the way, the book is called "Baghdad Underground Railroad." Check it out.

Thanks so much, Steve.

MISKA: Thank you, Michael. Thank you.

HOLMES: Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, independent investigators figure out what caused the deadly collapse of a railway overpass in Mexico City -- their findings when we come back.





HOLMES: A preliminary report indicates shoddy construction contributed to last month's deadly collapse of a commuter train overpass in Mexico City. More than 20 people were killed, dozens more were injured. CNN's Rafael Romo with more from Mexico City.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): There were no questions allowed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Spanish).

ROMO (voice-over): Even though many unknowns remain. It was the first time Mexico City officials tried to answer why an elevated train collapsed in early May, killing 26 people and leaving at least 79 injured.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

ROMO (voice-over): A top official said the accident was caused by faulty construction, including poor welding of metal studs and missing studs, as well as the use of different types of concrete.

He was quoting from the first preliminary report by DNV, a region risk management firm, hired by the Mexico City government to conduct an independent investigation.

ROMO: When line 12 was inaugurated in October 2012, it was supposed to be the crown jewel of Mexico City's public works projects. It connected some of the most marginalized neighborhoods with the best the Mexican capital has to offer. Now this stretch lies in ruins and no one yet knows when the whole line will reopen.

ROMO (voice-over): The accident is not only one of the worst tragedies in Mexico's recent memory but also a case that strikes at the very heart of Mexican politics and economic power.

Carlos Lim (ph), the owner of one of the companies involved in construction, is Mexico's richest man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The government of Mexico has given Carlos Lim (ph) a lot of money in infrastructure.


Because he is the biggest constructor in Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Spanish). ROMO (voice-over): Mexico City mayor and presidential hopeful, Claudia Sheinbaum (ph), a protegee of president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is the one who commissioned the independent investigation into the collapse.

Marcelo Braud (ph), Mexico's current foreign minister and another presidential hopeful, spearheaded the line 12 project when he was mayor of Mexico City. Some analysts suggest part of the reason why there were many faults in the construction is that it was rushed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wanted to be the guy to cut the ribbon.

ROMO (voice-over): This Mexican journalist says the political implications for president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and his party Morena are widespread.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The party has gotten a very big hit and we saw in the elections, when you see the capital of Mexico being divided in vote, where the capital of Mexico is the biggest political base for the president.

ROMO (voice-over): Morena, the president's party, used to rule all but two of Mexico City's 16 municipalities. After the June 6th midterm elections, held one month after the train collapse, the number was reduced to less than half.

Ebrard (ph), the foreign minister, has denied any wrongdoing multiple times.

"He who owes nothing, fears nothing," he said the day after the accident. The corporation owned by Carlos Lim (ph) told CNN that there would be no comment until the final result of the investigation is released.

And now the ruins of what was supposed to be Mexico City's crown jewel stands as a silent witness of the tragedy, while Mexicans wait to know the full truth about the deadly collapse -- Rafael Romo, CNN, Mexico City.


HOLMES: A quick break on the program. When we come back, the United Nations warned that the world could be on track for another pandemic. That one would not be caused by a virus but by climate change. We explain, after the break.





HOLMES: Lakes and rivers going dry, crops burned by the scorching sun and power plants running out of water to make electricity. All of that caused by worsening droughts in the western U.S. and, indeed, all around the world.

The United Nations, now saying, that could be a preview of things to come, with no clear solution in sight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

HOLMES (voice-over): It is commonly known as the hottest place on Earth. Tourists, posing for photos in Death Valley, California. The numbers on the thermometer, saying it all. It's a scorcher.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are from Michigan, so this is extremely hot for us. And we have a ton of water in the car, Gatorade. And we aren't going to do much.

HOLMES (voice-over): An alarming snapshot of a growing global crisis, affecting not only the American West but countries all around the world.

A U.N. official tweeting that drought could be the next pandemic, only with no vaccine to cure it.

The warning, not just for poor nations but developed ones, too, with population growth changing rainfall patterns from climate change and overcultivation, just some of the factors contributing to drought.

Without enough water, this farmer in Jordan says, he has no income.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The problem is that we don't have any water. Look at this tomato. If there was water, it would have been bigger and I could've sold it for a good price.

HOLMES (voice-over): The reservoir, so low in this hydroelectric dam in Ivory Coast, it has struggled to provide enough power to nearby cities; although, fortunately, heavy rain finally started to fall last week.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I am cut off from noon until 6 pm. I have no air conditioning, I have no light. I can't even serve coffee. I can't do anything.

HOLMES (voice-over): Sometimes, the land itself buckles from dry conditions. Giant sinkhole increasingly cracking open in Turkey, the results of farmers tapping into groundwater to irrigate crops, which weakens the soil.

Lake beds in Taiwan, turned bare and brittle, after it suffered the worst drought in its history, when no typhoons directly hit the island last year.

Ominous signs from all over the globe, for the world without enough water is not a sustainable one.




HOLMES: Now a 3-week old infant, floating on the Ganges River in India, was saved, after a boatman heard her wails. What a story this is.


HOLMES (voice-over): Before the rescue, this baby was stranded inside a wooden crate, lined with red cloth. She is now in stable condition and under observation at a local hospital. The man who found her said he sees her as a blessing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I saw a box, floating on the water, and heard a sound coming from inside of the box. I opened it immediately and found the baby girl inside. I took her and brought her into my home. The girl child has changed our faith. She is goddess Ganga.


HOLMES: Good for them.

The chief minister of the state, announcing on Twitter, the state will take care of her upbringing and education, as she grows up.

Some sad news from the White House this weekend. The Bidens, announcing that their 13 year old German shepherd, who's been with the family since 2008, has died. The president and first lady, writing this.

"Our hearts are heavy today as we let you know our beloved German shepherd, Champ, passed away peacefully at home. He was our constant, cherished companion during the last 13 years and was adored by the entire Biden family."

Champ joined the family during the presidential transition in December 2008, weeks after Joe Biden had become vice president-elect.

He was a very good boy.

Thank you for spending part of your day with me, I am Michael Holmes, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @HolmesCNN. "QUEST'S WORLD OF WONDER" starts after the break.