A gruelling heat wave has hit Karachi and parts of Sind again this year and sixty five lives have so far been lost due to heat stroke as reported by the Edhi Trust. The temperature has remained a relentless average 44 degrees Celsius and the city has been burning up for days. The temperature in certain parts of Sindh including Nawabshah has been reported to have soared to 46 degree Celsius. This extreme weather condition is a hazard and immediate action needs to be taken in order to protect the people from its worst effects.

Unfortunately the Sindh Government, District government Karachi and Provincial Disaster Management Authority PDMA have not taken any preventive measures to mitigate the impacts of the extreme weather conditions in the city. There is an acute shortage of water for drinking and household use in Karachi which is adding to the miseries of the people and aggravating the problem. There is also the issue of power outrages and load shedding. This is an alarming situation without any visible respite from it, in the immediate future.

Karachi is once again facing the phenomenon called Urban Heat Island UHI where the heat from the sun is trapped in the city during the long day and the situation is aggravated because of steel, concrete and glass buildings, asphalt roads and waste. As the night is relatively short, there is not enough time for the city to lose heat before the sunrise. Resultantly, the temperature of the city becomes dangerously high and hazardous.

The infrastructure of Karachi along with tons of waste rotting, in the open, is increasing the intensity of the trapped heat. The emission from the millions of vehicles in one of the biggest and densely populated cities of the world is adding millions of tons of hazardous gases, chemical waste and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere daily. Another important factor is that the persistent development in the metropolis without proper planning resulted in the massive cutting down of trees which has led to poor air quality and concentration of carbon dioxide in the air. The trees naturally absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen in the atmosphere which sustains life on the planet. The trees are a natural filter and carbon sink but instead of planting and expanding the tree cover in Karachi, there has been relentless cutting down of trees for legal and illegal construction, for decades. The result is that Karachi has turned into a concrete jungle with billions of tons of concrete, glass, chrome and asphalt absorbing and emitting heat during the summer day and turning the city into an oven. Millions of air-conditioning units and generators are also constantly emitting heat in the air all day and night.

There are also thousands of industrial units of all sizes that are running on coal and oil, emitting green house gases which are enveloping the city in thick blanket of pollution. This is a major cause of the environmental degradation and heat trapping in the city.

The concentration of Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has already exceeded 400ppm for the first time in the history of the world which is dangerous for the fragile ecosystems of the planet and is a major contributing factor for the rising global temperature, which has now risen 1.8 degrees Celsius higher than the pre Industrial age average global temperature.

Extreme heat exceeding 40 degrees Celsius for consecutive days in Karachi is an alarming situation. Other than the natural causes the poor policy decisions are also contributing factors. . The authorities must act now to develop and implement effective policies and take measures to mitigate the disaster situation in Karachi and other large cities due to extreme weather, which is the combined result of climate change and bad governance.

The Sindh government and District government Karachi must take immediate measures for improving the overall waste management situation and encourage waste to energy or refused dried fuel, RDF plants for putting the hundreds of tons of waste to good use. The people of Karachi must cooperate in reducing their waste production and try to be part of the solution. Energy from waste would solve both issues of waste management and power generation.

A massive tree plantation drive is the need of the hour and millions of trees should be planted in the city, along all roads and in every conceivable space. This would improve the air quality and provide shade.

A large desalination plant is needed for Karachi to make sea water usable so that the water woes of the people could be addressed. That water could also be used in sprinkler systems, installed, all over the city, to be used during the hottest days of summer.

The government must put a ban on the use of one time plastics, disposable plastic containers and cutlery, and straws which creates tons of waste every day. Instead, bio degradable organic plates, cups and containers made of leaves, clay, or paper can be introduced.

The most important thing to understand and accept is that climate change is real and the whole world is affected by it. Pakistan is among the top ten countries that are being impacted by climate change. There are only two things that can be done for combating the ill effects of Climate Change; mitigation and adaptation. Climate change mitigation and adaptation must be considered as a cross cutting theme in all development policies for the present and the future.

The policies and planning for industries, transport, energy generation, agriculture, safe drinking water, urban planning, roads and infrastructure, high rise buildings, waste management, manufacturing, seed and fertiliser, irrigation and water supply, coastal areas development and disaster management , in fact each and every area of development, must be made keeping in view the mitigation and adaptation for impacts of climate change.

It is time to rethink every aspect of human development and need, keeping in view the reality of climate change and to seek and find new methods of mitigation and use new and innovative green technologies available. There is a need to control atmospheric pollution through reducing the emissions in the air. There is a need for introducing environment friendly public transport and to banish old vehicles emitting dangerous gases. The government should encourage use of hybrid and electric cars and offer incentives for its use.

There is need to invest in new seed and fertilisers and introduce efficient irrigation methods in order to improve yields and use less water. There is an entire new science to building better and more energy efficient buildings that do not need heavy air conditioning. It is critical now to evolve and move along with the rest of the world, towards saving the planet from the ill effects of climate change.

We have to realise that business as usual will bring nothing but disaster and the only way to save the planet and ourselves is to accept and adapt to the fact that the protecting the environment is extremely important and the concentration of carbon and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere must not be allowed to rise.

We must control, reduce and reuse all waste and must not let anything pollute the land or the waterways. We must respect nature if we want to protect ourselves or be ready to face it’s wrath.

 

n          The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore. She has extensive experience in writing on development economics and disaster management.