‘Karachi is antithetical to the idea of a smart city’
The effects of climate change and the need for sustainable projects to adapt or mitigate it were the highlights of a discussion held in the city on Tuesday.
Non-profit Shehri – Citizens for a Better Environment and the Earth Water Network organised the event titled ‘Responsible Conversion in Karachi’ where environmentalists and researchers informed participants about climate change and how the city could prepare for it.
Dubbing climate change as an existential challenge, environmentalist Farhan Anwar lamented that the government was taking the threat of changing weather patterns and climate anomalies lightly and that the Climate Change Ministry wasn’t taking all aspects into consideration.
“We need to understand that climate change is a threat which cannot be dealt with in isolation. Hence a ministry which caters to it by ignoring economic and social development would fail to address the issue,” he said, adding that all government policies should be devised keeping climate change in mind.
He pointed out that while the government was working on projects like Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to give room to public transport, banks were also providing car loans on easy terms creating a dichotomy.
He lamented that Karachi was “antithetical to the idea of a ‘smart city’ because it defies all criteria if a checklist is made.” Researcher Afia Salam raised eyebrows when she said that in order to save Karachi, the state needs to stop investing in developing it.
“In the near future, the people living in Karachi would face many issues owing to climate change. The heat wave which claimed some 1,500 lives in 2015 was a harsh truth for all,” she said.
Salam suggested that instead of developing only Karachi, the state could look towards developing infrastructure and providing facilities in areas beyond the city limits like Gharo, Makli, Gujjo, Dhabeji, Thatta and Sujwal to reduce the population burden on Karachi.
“Why can’t we develop areas around the city, so people who have no option but to look here [Karachi] for opportunities can live comfortably in their own regions?” she questioned. Sociologist Nasir Panhwar said Pakistan was among the top 10 countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change which also poses a great threat to Karachi – a densely-populated urban area at risk from rising sea levels.
“The urban poor living in peri-urban areas are at a higher risk because they live in unplanned areas which have limited access to safe sites,” he said. Changes in global temperatures and precipitation patterns are also leading to the birth of new diseases. This puts poor urban populations at risk because they rely on public healthcare systems which are usually ineffective, he added.
Commenting on the high-rise construction boom in the city, architect Sameeta Ahmed said instead of investing in such buildings, the state should first address and eliminate the problems people living in unplanned areas – about 60% of the city – are facing. The speakers said tree plantation projects are a viable method to combat climate change but the government and civil society should pay heed to the looming threat and work to protect the city from a climate crisis.