‘Governance crisis will exacerbate impact of climate change on Karachi’
KARACHI: Given the governance-related crisis Karachi is facing, climate change will have profound impacts on its urban infrastructure systems and services, its built environment and ecosystem services, and therefore on its urban population and economy.
The scale of these impacts will very likely exacerbate the existing social and economic tensions and environmental drivers of risk, especially for marginalised and low-income groups lacking basic services, warns a recently prepared report.
Titled Drivers of Climate Change Vulnerability at Different Scales in Karachi, the report is produced by the Human Settlements Research Group of the UK-based International Institute for Environment and Development under a project.
It is authored by a three-member team comprising experts on urban planning, development and environmental issues — Arif Hasan, Arif Pervaiz and Mansoor Raza.
As a counterpoint to the discussion on vulnerability at the institutional level — in terms of governance challenges and the politics guiding it — four working-class settlements of Karachi (Rehri Goth, Pahar Gunj, Machhar Colony and Labour Square) were surveyed under the project with a view to understanding their layout, the lived experience of people residing there and the social, economic and related issues as well as the challenges facing the residents.
The survey’s findings constitute an important part of the report that discusses the state of basic services in Karachi and the vulnerability (to climate change) this engenders. It includes an analysis of specific city trends that are increasing the vulnerability of residents and the city as well as providing a list of recommendations with the conclusions drawn from the assessment.
Dangerous land use
Pointing to the potentially dangerous land use practices currently in place in the city, the report warns that they “foretell of more serious ecological impacts in the city. Sensitive areas are being occupied (for example, drainage channels are being blocked by formal and informal developments), green cover is decreasing, open spaces are shrinking and, in areas such as Machhar Colony and Rehri Goth, land is being reclaimed in potentially dangerous ways that will endanger those who build their homes on it.”
Karachi, according to the report, has no social housing, and government policy requires that even the poor access homes from the market, which does not cater to low-income groups which, in the absence of assets and formal-sector jobs, also do not have access to credit from housing banks. The solution to this requires major political changes in the ‘privatisation’ ideology and involves bringing state land into the low-cost housing market.
It calls upon the government to reduce basic service deficits and improve infrastructure systems (water supply, sanitation, storm water and waste water drains, solid waste disposal, transport and telecommunications, healthcare, education and emergency response), which, it says, can significantly reduce hazard exposure and vulnerability to climate change, especially for those who are most at risk and vulnerable.
“The interconnected nature of current development imperatives, disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation can best be pursued under a comprehensive climate change adaptation strategy and action plan. An important part of such a plan will be improvements in the existing institutions of governance and the creation of strong horizontal linkages between them,” it says.
Karachi’s coast, it says, is daily receiving ever-decreasing river flow and more than 450 million gallons of raw sewage. As population pressure and economic compulsions continue to make land for housing unaffordable, vulnerable people are being pushed into ecologically risky areas in search of land for homes.
The process of (unplanned) densification will continue because there are no ideas or planning processes in place that will be able to bridge the demand/supply gap in housing.
“Impending climate change will likely have a huge impact on the coastal and fishing communities, so any climate adaptation strategy must begin by understanding and responding to the challenges these communities face,” it says.
Migration, the report points out, would continue to increase due to changes in the rural economy, cropping patterns and increases in the rural population, and so anticipating the nature and scale of migration and dealing with migrants and their needs and impacts would have to become an essential part of urban planning in the city.
“So far, issues related to migration do not figure in Karachi’s strategic development plan except as numbers. However, various academic studies are under way; how these can help politicians and planners take informed decisions needs to be understood and promoted,” it says.
Basic survival major worry
Findings of the community surveys showed that the basic survival needs (food, health expenditure and utilities) constituted the bulk of their household expenditure and were also the main source of worry; this, combined with no reported instances of savings, implied that people lived from “hand to mouth”, leaving them with little or no financial resources to draw upon in times of need.
The provision of basic services such as adequate solid waste collection and easy availability of clean drinking water was found inadequate in all four settlements while flooding was considered as a major concern by all communities.
“More than two-thirds of respondents reported that at the time of a disaster, community/neighbours and, to a lesser extent, NGOs, provided assistance, with a very small number reporting receiving help from government sources,” the report says.
Many of the issues highlighted in the report relate to the governance systems. In Karachi, due to the prevailing adversarial relationship between the two main political entities, the report authors believe, city-level institutions have been battered out of shape or destroyed.
“So new, responsive and representative institutions are needed, that can better plan, organise and deliver improved services (health, education, water, sanitation) that meet the minimum requirements of the city’s residents — especially the poor and marginalised. Residents are not hopeful, as they distrust the state and consider it corrupt,” the report says.
The authors hope that with the “combined pressure from civil society, chambers of commerce and industry, academia, trade unions, and shopkeepers and market operators associations, the two major political parties can be brought closer together to overcome the governance-related crisis of Karachi.”