No one can deny that, just prior to the arrival of longed for rains, the heat was seriously on and that this year’s temperatures were higher than ever before with, for example, a boiling 37C recorded in Murree one day last month and which should surely convince climate change sceptics that the change is right here, right now.

People in the plains have been suffering, partially due to unprecedented loadshedding, for months now and hill dwellers, not used to temperatures above the ‘usual’ summer high of 28C, are quickly learning what real heat is all about. But the ridiculous thing about this is that aside from complaining while the ‘blast’ is on, no one, as usual, is actively prepared to do anything about it when, in fact, there is so much that can, with a little thought and effort, be done to cope with the high temperatures that, like or not, are fast going to become the norm for this time of year.

A return to pure cotton, instead of mixed fibre or synthetic clothing, is an obvious step to make life a little more comfortable, as is the wearing of suitable hats and loose pugrees. However, the most important move of all is to look back for a sustainable future in which reliance on electricity, even if available, must, out of sheer necessity, be pared to the bone.

There are, of course, a number of alternative energy options now available, but as these, thanks to ridiculously high mark-ups, remain way beyond the financial reach of the vast majority; things like solar and wind power are highly unlikely to become the norm rather than the exception any time soon. That, given the amount of economically and physically crippling loadshedding the country continues to suffer from, is a very sad state of affairs, indeed.

A high percentage of ‘physical’ suffering though is caused by senseless architectural planning and ‘home based’ ideas of how, when constructing a house, locally ‘modern’ trends dictate living accommodation should be, yet, despite knowing that electricity supplies will remain fickle – and, perhaps, be unaffordable - in the years to come, people completely fail to factor climate common sense into their designs. Traditional architecture, on the other hand, evolved over generations of people for whom power, at the flick of a switch, was an unimaginable concept: houses, workplaces, even animal sheds and on farm storage facilities, were all, in the plains, constructed with maximum cooling in mind. With high ceilings, cross-ventilation from doors and windows, uncluttered expanses of stone or mud-tiled floors with in-built drainage so that water could be sloshed over them to lower the ambient temperature, outdoor summer sleeping areas and numerous other ingenious ways of keeping cool factored into constructions, including, some people will recall these, ‘wind catchers’ to funnel the slightest vestige of a breeze from the rooftop down into the rooms below.

Modern urban architecture though, using scarcity of building land as an excuse, hinges on cramming as many, completely airless, mostly dark, low-ceilinged dwellings and tiny apartments, into as small an area as possible to minimise on construction costs and maximise on profits. True to say that ‘upward’ expansion of population centres is preferable to continual ‘outward’ expansion that gobbles up increasingly valuable agricultural land and which has, in far too many places, completely destroyed irreplaceable habitats and ecosystems on which the sustainability of all life - everything being interrelated - ultimately depends, but this is no sane reason for creating avoidable suffering.

This necessary vertical expansion, if architectural sense can be encouraged to prevail, need not be comprised of ‘hot boxes’ in which the residents are literally cooked alive when the power is off. It is perfectly feasible - and eminently sensible - to introduce architectural guidelines based on reducing power consumption by incorporating natural cooling systems in all designs and if this means that, for example, a block of apartments of a certain height can only have 28 floors instead of 30, then so be it.

The same applies to new dwellings in rural areas, be these in locations that are regularly exposed to high temperatures or those requiring winter warmth or, in some cases, needing to be cool in summer and warm during the bitterly cold months of the year.

In hot regions of the country, the much needed reintroduction of ‘naturally’ cool buildings over artificially cooled ones would, in hotter times to come, go a long way to make life - if not completely comfortable - pleasantly survivable at least. And the same applies, in reverse, to homes in chilly upland areas that, if sensibly designed, would then consume much less electricity, gas or fuel wood to keep their inhabitants warm.

While it remains ‘fashionable’ to construct homes with flat concrete roofs, cement floors and other such cost - in construction materials and labour charges - cutting measures, these do not make financial sense in the long-term, as cooling or heating them is increasingly costly, indeed.

Terms such as ‘modern’ and ‘fashionable’ may trip merrily of architects tongues, but they are meaningless when measured against the traditional ‘tried’ and ‘tested’ of generations of ancestors, who - without electricity or gas - not only survived, but also lived very comfortably, indeed, in times when people lived agreeably with - rather than fighting against - nature.

The writer has authored a book titled “The Gun Tree:  One Woman’s War” and lives in Bhurban.