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Study finds city vulnerable to climate change impact

August 6th 2012




KARACHI: The fundamental challenge facing Karachi is a disorganised, ill-coordinated institutional and governance framework with substantial capacity deficits, according to a recent study assessing the city’s vulnerability to possible climate change impacts.

The 65-page study, Karachi city climate change adaptation strategy a road map, is conducted by Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment, with the support of Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung and Department of Architecture & Planning of the NED University of Engineering and Technology. Farhan Anwar, an urban planner, is its author.

The study identifies and prioritises the people and assets at possible risk and the key actions required to make Karachi a resilient city in addition to identifying the critical governance, institutional, technological gaps and constraints.

The study said that Karachi accounted for 95 per cent of Pakistan’s foreign trade and contributed 30 per cent to national industrial production. It accounted for 40 per cent of national employment in large-scale manufacturing and contributed 25 per cent of national and 40 per cent of provincial revenues (Asian Development Bank report 2005).

But, despite serving as the country’s commercial backbone, Karachi hasn’t been made a secure place for its inhabitants and serious gaps in governance put it an increased risk in times of a calamity.

“There is increasing socioeconomic disparity and growing environmental degradation. Human settlements such as slums and hill settlements are exposed to fluvial, storm water flooding risk and hill torrents in the absence of appropriate protection and emergency response systems.

“Sensitive national installations and human settlements such as fishing communities are exposed to tidal flooding. Other than the Malir river embankment there are no provisions for flood defenses and drainage channels are choked or blocked,” said the study.

“There is no provision for flood storage areas in the city. Groundwater table is already lowering and aquifers are threatened due to human activities such as sand extraction. No water conservation, waste water recycling or rain water harvesting practices are being promoted in the city,” it pointed out.

Highlighting more gaps, the study said that the city faced energy shortages and substantial energy losses. Energy consumption was increasing and no efforts were being made to promote energy conservation. Due to rising population density in inner city and increased traffic/congestion the likelihoods of the heat island effect taking place was likely.

In the context of a possible sea-level rise, adverse biodiversity impacts on wetlands and tidal zones and possible loss of flora and fauna can be anticipated. Mangroves that can act as a buffer against tidal flooding were already being devastated, it said.

Land use violations leading to encroachment of parks and playgrounds, coastal sensitive ecological land was eroding the natural barriers capable of reducing the adverse impacts of climate change, it added.

“Karachi for numerous reasons needs to get its house in order. The global focus on climate change and the availability of related substantial financial resources offers a window of opportunity for urban mangers across the world to access the resources and plan and implement measures to not only prepare for possible climate change impacts but generally improve the sustainability profile of their cities. Karachi, one of the fastest growing mega cities in the world, can definitely make progress in this regard,” it said.

Alarming rise in CO2 emission
While analysing the city’s potential risk for urban heat island effect, the study cited data from ‘The preliminary study of urbanisation, fossil fuels consumption and CO2 emission in Karachi’, a research conducted in 2010, and said that there had been a 287 per cent increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) emission in atmosphere over Karachi from 1980 to 2007 that was the result of mass urbanisation and energy consumption in the city.

“Air pollution levels in Karachi are extremely high by international standards and are rising each year. Vehicle-generated air pollution is severe, with high concentrations of fine and ultra fine particles in the air, which can cause respiratory problems among a large number of Karachi’s urban residents,” it said while referring to a report of the ADB.

“The rate of emission of CO2 is not only rapid but showing a regular and positive trend without any significant downfall throughout the computed time. The CO2 emission in atmosphere has reached up to 151 million tonnes in 2006 that was just 39 million tonnes in 1980,” it said.

Automobile load on the city roads, the report said, was increasing with more emphasis on the use of private vehicles. There were 1.113 million registered vehicles in Karachi in 2002 and 8.420 million registered vehicles in 2007. The observed growth during this period is about 656 per cent and it was many times more than the growth in urban population.

“An appalling lack of focus and priority on providing the city with socially, environmentally and financially viable transport options has led to a phenomenal growth in the numbers of private vehicle usage that is now globally being discouraged as a sustainable mode of transport in terms of adverse impacts on the environment and sustainable growth of urban settlements,” it said.

On urbanisation, the author showed concern that there was limited, if any, focus on urban settlements and even the recently notified Climate Change Policy for Pakistan, approved by the federal cabinet and to be implemented by the federal disaster management ministry, directed attention mostly to agriculture, forestry and water resources and separates out urban activities into a sector-based categorisation rather than consider them in a holistic urban context.The study identified unplanned and unregulated growth in the development sector as one of the major risk factors that increases the city’s vulnerability to climate change impacts.

Originally published by Dawn Pakistan

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