Is Karachi Prepared for Climate Change?


May 7: In 2015, Pakistan witnessed the worst heat wave in the last ten years. In Karachi alone 1233 people lost their lives, hospital systems choked and Karachi did not seem prepared for the heat wave. This year, as the heat wave arrived earlier than predicted, Never Forget Pakistan collaborated with Elaj Trust and Aiesec at IBA to create an awareness session regarding climate change. The session called, 'Is Karachi Prepared for Climate Change' was the second installment of a series of talks under the tagline 'Aao Baat Karein.' This session was held at Jahangir Siddiqui Auditorium, IBA City Campus.

Never Forget Pakistan is a campaign that brings together experts and students to engage in discussions on the social issues of Pakistan. Elaj Trust, on the other hand, provides relief to victims of heat waves, floods, droughts, earth quakes etc. In response to the heat wave, Elaj Trust has introduced a campaign to create awareness about the heat wave called '#HeatKaElaj', which is currently looking for volunteers for assistance in setting up camps all over Karachi.

The session began with a note on Thar by Executive Director of Association for Water, Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE), Ali Akbar Rahimoo, who presented some of issues prevalent in Thar and the work that AWARE has done to counter them. AWARE is a non-government organization that works in arid and semi-arid areas Tharparkar and Umerkot. Mr. Rahimoo began by stressing that contrary to the popular idea, Thar is not a barren desert nor is it an isolated patch of land in Sindh. Instead he emphasized that Thar is a very populated area with a population of 1.5 million. However, catering to around 76.83 people and 6.5 livestock per square kilometers is becoming increasingly difficult because of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Thar. Mr. Rahimoo quoted statistics explaining that Thar has witnessed droughts in 73 out of the last 114 years. The government of Sindh, however, denies that Thar is more prone to droughts than any other. He explained that droughts are not only characterized by an absence of rainfall but also by low, delayed, or erratic rainfall.

Moreover, the effects of droughts, unlike floods or earthquakes, are not as immediate which is the reason why it is hard to take notice of it until it has had a considerable effect on the area in question. Mr. Rahimoo further outlined some important issues plaguing Thar and one of the major issues presented was the unavailability and uneasy access to water. While listing down some of the work that AWARE has done in Thar, Mr. Rahimoo mentioned that the organization has sought out opportunities within the issues that surrounded them in Thar. Thar is wrought with strong winds which scrap away layers of fertile soil and excess sunshine which turns the lands into deserts. Utilizing these solar and wind energies, AWARE set up water pumps operated by solar panels and wind mills that have diminished the problem of uneasy access to water. Moreover, they have set up a Green School Program that is run solely on solar panels. The children in Thar are given rechargeable lights that they charge at school and take home when they return to counter the problem of the absence of electricity. At the end of his presentation, Mr. Rahimoo stressed that the people of Thar do not need immediate relief aid anymore, what they need are sustainable methods of reviving Thar that they can benefit from in the long run as well.

The presentation on Thar was followed by a short video clip by Elaj Trust on last year's heat wave and what we can do to counter it. The video presented some identifiers of a heatstroke and what Elaj trust has done in preparation for this year's heat wave. The video also outlined some measures that they have taken to improve the conditions of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, some which include installing air conditioners and tiled flooring. The video was followed by a panel discussion on the causes of the heat wave and what has been done to counter it. Due to certain reasons, Mohammad Jibran Nasir could not attend the session, instead Director Operations of Elaj Trust, Dr. Talha Rahman, acted as the moderator for the evening. Moreover, Syed Asif Haider Shah, Commissioner Karachi, could not make it to the session and his place on the panel was filled in by Assistant Commissioner General, Mr. Shahzaib Shaikh. The other three guests included Dr. Seemin Jamali, Head of Emergency at JPMC, Mr. Abid Naveed, Deputy General Manager of Aman Foundation, and Mr. Ibad Ur Rahman, Team Leader for Low Carbon Development at LEAD Pakistan.


One of the recurrent question from the experts had been whether Karachi is prepared for climate change. Mr. Ibad Ur Rahman began by describing the root cause of the heat wave which is climate change. He explained that due to human activity, the ozone layer gases that are guarding our planet are being produced in excess due to which the Earth's atmosphere is retaining more heat than necessary. This collective process which then results in the creation of heat islands and the melting of glaciers is termed as climate change. While responding to the question of whether we are prepared for it, Mr. Rahman said, "Pakistan is not very prepared for climate change, but we are moving towards it.' He mentioned that the carbon emissions of Pakistan as compared to the rest of the world are only 0.6% which is because Pakistan is not as developed. As such, our approach to handling climate change should be geared more towards a proactive management of floods and droughts rather than on mitigating carbon emissions. Moreover, he emphasized that the government's responsibility is limited to policy making, and it cannot be held responsible for everything. The rest of the responsibility of combating climate change rests on our shoulders.

Dr. Seemin Jamali, on the other hand, was adamant that the heat wave that hit last year was not as bad as the impact it had. She quoted her own visit to Hyderabad where the temperature was only 43 degrees. Dr. Jamali further explained that the reason that these temperatures were causing a heat wave was the absence of the sea breeze. She emphasized that the heat wave should not be considered synonymous to a plague or a disease because in that case people panic and are not able to counter the heat wave properly. Instead, she advised that the appropriate thing to do would be to create awareness about the dos and don'ts of the heat wave.

Later on, Mr. Shahzaib Shaikh was asked about the government's role in countering the heat wave. He responded with informing the audience that the government of Sindh is taking measures to combat the heat wave and one of them include setting up First response centers (FRC). As of 27th April, 179 FRC's have been set up to handle situations of emergency should they arise. Moreover, he also mentioned that the government of Sindh is taking strict actions against tree-cutting and the perpetrators are ordered to be arrested if they're caught in engaging in such activity. As the topic was brought up, Mr. Shaikh was asked to comment upon the destruction of the mangrove trees in Korangi Creek. Dr. Talha Rahman informed the audience that the mangrove trees which appear very dense from the outside is just a fa├žade because they have been hollowed out from the inside. He further enlightened the audience that around 18000 tons of mangrove trees have been cut recently. In response to this, Mr. Shaikh replied that he was unaware of this situation and would inform the Commissioner General about this. He further stated that he condemns such actions and they are considered encroachment of government's land.

Mr. Abid Naveed, Deputy Manager of Aman Foundation, also reported that the foundation is taking various measures to counter the heat wave and the foundation has set up camps to provide immediate relief to the victims of the heat wave. The panel discussion was followed by brief session on heatstroke management by the team of Elaj Trust. The panelists as well as the guest speaker were awarded with tokens of gratitude at the end of the session.