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DAWN - Opinion; October 16, 2008

October 16, 2008

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Karachi’s need for green buildings

By F.H. Mughal


GREEN building is the strategy and practice of creating structures that aim to reduce energy consumption, increase the use of renewable energy, minimise production of waste and maximise occupants’ health and comfort.

Environmentally responsible and resource-efficient processes are applied throughout the life cycle of the building; that is from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction. Green buildings have a marked edge over conventional buildings in that they save electricity and conserve potable water. Green buildings are also called sustainable buildings, eco-buildings, high-performance buildings and environment-friendly buildings.

Conventional or non-green buildings consume large amounts of electricity, water, other natural resources and construction material. Conventional buildings also exert significant pressure on the environment. They cause water pollution, air pollution including indoor pollution, land pollution (through solid waste generation), heat island effects, noise, odour and stormwater run-off problems.

Across the world, the building sector is responsible for over 40 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, the principal cause of global warming. Buildings account for over 50 per cent of energy use and nearly 90 per cent of electricity consumption. In Karachi, electricity demand is currently reported to be in the region of 2,200 megawatts (MW).

In green buildings, electricity savings are achieved through a number of initiatives. Photovoltaic (PV) panels, which convert sunlight into electricity, can provide for over 20 per cent of a building’s electricity demand. If the building has a large uncovered area (large bungalows, factories, community halls), where more PV panels can be installed, it could meet over 50 per cent of the electricity demand.

Energy savers and sensors (devices that automatically turn off the lights when a room is unoccupied) can together reduce electricity consumption by nearly 20 per cent. Wind turbines convert wind energy into electricity. They can provide for 10 per cent of the building’s electricity demand. In Karachi, with its high winds especially in the belt along the coast, these devices can provide for over 40 per cent of the electricity demand of a building.

Insulation and roofs painted in light colours, coupled with trees and other greenery, keep rooms cool, thereby cutting down on the electricity used by air conditioners. Thermostats can be set at lower levels. Together they save about 10 per cent of the electricity used.

Thus, nearly 60 per cent of the electricity currently being used can be saved if green measures are adopted. In Karachi, this translates to a saving of nearly 1,500MW — enough to get rid of the problem of loadshedding and, if the KESC supply is managed judiciously, even result in a surplus.

Saving electricity has other advantages too. Air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, particulates, sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide are produced by the burning of fossil fuels. Nitrogen oxides are a component of smog while particulates cause respiratory illness and also contribute to smog. Sulphur dioxide causes acid rain and carbon dioxide is the major global warming gas and is implicated in climate change.

According to a rough estimate, an average-sized green building can lead to the following annual emission reductions: 1,200 pounds of nitrogen oxides, 150 pounds of particulate matter, 1,300 pounds of sulphur dioxide and 585,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. Global warming, climate change and the resulting increase in severe weather, sea levels, heat-related deaths, environmental degradation and species extinction can cause damage in the billions.

Another major achievement of green buildings is water conservation. Water conservation strategies in green buildings are wide-ranging and can save potable water by as much as 40 per cent. Some of these strategies include the use of low-flush toilets (with five-litre tanks as opposed to the current 11 litres); shower heads with flow regulators that reduce water pressure; faucet aerators (water from taps pass through a gauze, causing air to enter the water and thereby reducing the volume of water delivered); spring taps; ban on the use of hosepipes connected to water pumps for washing cars; control of water overflows from overhead tanks; recycling of water and its use in industries; use of grey water or sullage (water from kitchens, bathrooms and washing machines) for washing and gardening; leak control; and rainwater harvesting.

The options green buildings use for waste reduction are manifold and include aspects like reuse and minimisation of building debris; use of building materials that are more durable and easier to repair; designs that generate less scrap material through dimensional planning; use of reclaimed building materials; development of indoor recycling programmes; and designs for deconstruction. Together these strategies can have a dramatic impact on waste reduction. Waste reduction rates in green buildings are typically 50 to 75 per cent.

Green buildings stress indoor environmental quality since people spend 90 per cent of their time indoors. The building occupant’s health, comfort and productivity are largely dependent on the indoor environment. Four attributes are associated with green building design: ventilation, temperature and lighting control, and daylighting. Proper design and consideration lead to the following benefits: low-emitting sealants, adhesives, paints, carpets and composite wood; indoor chemical and pollutant source control; better lighting quality; more daylighting in buildings; reduced health problems (respiratory illness, allergies, asthma, sick building syndrome) and the occupant’s control over temperature, light and glare.

Noise is managed through careful site choices such as finding a property that is away from busy roads and industry. Good design can also assist in managing external noise impacts. While green buildings cost about two per cent more to construct, operation and maintenance costs are reduced by as much as 20 per cent.

Green buildings use sunlight, water, energy and air more effectively and reduce water, air and land pollution. This also reduces the pressure on urban services, saving both money and the environment.

The onus is on the Sindh chief secretary, additional chief secretary, the planning and development department and the alternative energy secretary to implement the green building initiative in Sindh. They must do their part in protecting our health and the environment and saving electricity and water.

Dangers in the north

By I.A. Rehman


A SERIES of developments in the tribal areas and in Afghanistan over the past couple of weeks has greatly heightened ordinary Pakistani citizens’ anxieties about their future.

And their expectations of reassurances from the government of safety and security have remained unrealised.

The sequence started with the revival of the Frontier governor’s interest in enforcing a religious code in Malakand division for the third time in 14 years. (The Nizam-i-Adl Ordinances of 1994 and 1999, purporting to enforce religious laws in that territory, are still in force.) The implication that in the gubernatorial view the fight against terrorists was not going well was reinforced when he advised the US-led coalition in Afghanistan to start negotiating for peace with Mullah Omar, an indirect way of saying that Afghanistan was as vulnerable as the Frontier.

Then a British military officer found a French publication to inform the world that the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan could not be won. Similar observations were attributed to other allied commanders. The head of the coalition forces added some spice to the brew by asking for reinforcements in anticipation of a major battle and by proclaiming that he would accept the political high command’s decision if it chose to hold negotiations with the Taliban.

In normal circumstances these statements would have been interpreted as a reiteration of the principle that political issues cannot be solved through military means, and that the western coalition needs to re-examine the non-military part of their prescription for Afghanistan. This interpretation was ignored. Also ignored was the possibility of some nexus between the military commanders’ apparent pessimism and two critical presidential elections — in the United States in November and in Afghanistan a month or so later.

Was somebody trying to frighten the world in order to secure more resources for the war in Afghanistan? Besides, no thought was given to the fact that the statements attributed to the coalition commanders were uncharacteristic of seasoned warhorses who are trained to dismiss suggestions of defeat even when their rout is clearly visible. Eventually we may realise that the coalition’s withdrawal from Afghanistan is not imminent.

However, the Taliban’s fellow travellers in Pakistan’s political crowd and their apologists were quick to smell victory in both Afghanistan and Fata, and they started calling for an end to all military action in the tribal areas.

Now, there is much in the way military operations have been carried out in the tribal belt that is open to criticism. There have been complaints of disproportionate use of force, of higher than permissible collateral damage, of costly errors caused by poor intelligence, and of lack of humanitarian concern for the population trapped in the conflict zones or forced to wander for shelter across the tribal belt and in Afghanistan too. The situation has been aggravated by the US raids in the tribal area. All these aberrations are undermining the fight against terrorism and must be cured. But anyone who says that force should not at all be used against terrorists is no friend of Pakistan. And no friend of justice either.

Quite a few Pakistanis, especially those who keep asking everybody in the wonderland as to whose war it is, need to realise that the militants now threatening to unhinge Pakistan from its moorings belong to the corps of fighters we ourselves had raised to wage a holy war in Afghanistan. Drawn from the most conservative layers of the tribal population, they have been indoctrinated to an extent that they have been drained of reason and compassion both. The only thing they know is to kill or get killed. Their prototypes have been seen earlier in different parts of the world.

Even successful revolutions often leave as an unwelcome residue armed men who do not know what to do with themselves once their mission is over. Many are known to have become mercenaries. Thus, Pakistan cannot disown its part of the responsibility for containing the genie it had largely itself brought out of the bottle.

Unfortunately, the task of disbanding the force created and trained to fight in Afghanistan was never taken up. On the contrary they were encouraged, even helped, to stay in ready-for-combat formations. The delay in demobilising them has complicated matters. Among other things they have found defenders amongst Pakistan’s political parties and possibly amongst its traditional friends abroad as well.

The government is now under pressure to negotiate with the militants. The premise obviously is that in the tribal areas (and also in Frontier districts) there are only two parties — the government and the militants. This assumption is wrong and misleading because it ignores the large population that is angry with both the government and the militants. It has made its views known in more ways than one.

In the tribal areas the task of bringing the people into the national mainstream, which was not easy even five decades ago but was not intractable, has now become unusually difficult. The issue there is not so much religion, which most tribals accept on their own terms, as cultural and economic autonomy and the fear of loss of material opportunities in the event of a merger with the Frontier province.

In the settled districts of the Frontier the people indicated their political preference only eight months ago. Nobody has challenged the view that candidates contesting the elections on the religious card and with ‘book’ as their symbol failed to win a single seat throughout Malakand division (which includes Swat). Nothing will be more unjust than dealing with militants over the heads of the far more numerous civil population.

The militants see the population as an obstacle to their political ambition. They are therefore targeting the people’s elected representatives. At the same time they are attacking the traditional role of tribal elders as the massacre during the Orakzai jirga shows. Much as one wishes the tribals, and the Pakhtuns in general, to break out of the feudal-age bondage to clan chiefs, their supersession by pseudo-clerics is a prospect too horrible to be contemplated with equanimity.

Since the government is asking the people to fight militancy without giving them any idea of what good will come to them, they cannot throw themselves into the struggle to save their future with the vigour and single-mindedness the situation demands. This failure to take along the people of the Frontier, including Fata, may cost Pakistan heavier than anything else. Negotiations are a must but with the people and not only to secure their help for the war. They need to be offered a vision of autonomy, justice and public welfare.

There are things only the state can do

By Hamish McRae


IT is awesome, isn’t it, to see how powerful the world’s financial authorities are when they act together? For some weeks the markets have been bitching that the governments and central banks did not grasp the gravity of the financial situation; that their response was piecemeal and tardy.

It was a reaction born of fear, a fear that showed through most obviously in the collapse of the value of shares worldwide but more insidiously in the squeeze on bank lending. Home buyers in Britain are in much the same position as the restaurant owner in Manhattan that a friend told me about just yesterday. Our flow of new mortgages has virtually dried up while his local Italian restaurant was being refused credit.

The confidence is fragile still. But the markets have learnt what they should have known all along. It is not within the power of national governments, even acting together, to prevent a world economic downturn. But what they can do is prevent an international banking collapse, a catastrophe that would have both deepened the downturn and made the recovery from it virtually impossible. This is not the 1930s.

But it was governments that had to do it. We live in a world where the failures of government are pretty obvious. We read all the time about their inefficiencies and, in Britain. We have had a huge increase in government spending alongside falling productivity in the public sector. Governments are seen as slow-moving bureaucracies, having to build support before they push a policy into action — a contrast to the nimble, effective private sector.

Well, it hasn’t been like that in the past few days. Governments have shown themselves to be swift and effective and they really deserve credit for that. Sure, the near-collapse of the world banking system was in part a failure of regulation and of monetary policy. But the primary failure was in the private sector and it is government that has saved it.

That is going to change things. It is going to redefine the relationship between government and finance in the years ahead, certainly for a decade, maybe a generation. It is far too early to see any detail but we can catch a feeling for what might change.

If you look at what monetary authorities have done so far there are really two main elements. One has been for central banks to flood the world with liquidity, to lend to the banking system without limit. The other has been to offer partial nationalisation to banks if they need it. In the first the central banks have been carrying out their traditional role, dating back to the 19th century, of being lender at last resort to the banking system. In the second the governments have taken on a newer, but not unprecedented role of being investor at last resort in individual banks.

The first is textbook stuff. Because banks borrow short-term but make long-term loans, there has to be some mechanism to enable them to repay depositors in extreme situations. It is just that, this time, the lender-at-last-resort role had to be on a global scale.

The second has happened before when governments have felt that national interest requires them to invest in commercial enterprises and when other investors did not want to do so. This happened in a dogmatic way with nationalisation and that model clearly does not work. It worked particularly badly when the company being taken over was in some structural trouble, such as British Leyland. But there are much more encouraging examples going back 150 years and more: the government investment in the Suez Canal, or in BP.

So one should see the partial nationalisation of British banks as part of a continuum; it is radical but it is not absolutely unprecedented. Government intervention quite rightly comes at a price. The price for having a central bank as lender at last resort is banking regulation.

That is all straightforward enough, or at least it should be. What is harder to see is how governments will assert their authority on a global scale. So there will be a rethinking of the relationship between the state and the world of finance. It has to be done internationally because, if there is one thing we have learnt over the past few months, it is that a problem that occurs in one country will end up in another. This is an interdependent world.

There are two broad paths. One would be to see if there is a case for some kind of new monetary commission that would oversee changes in bank accounting, supervision of derivative development, co-ordination of countries’ monetary policy and so on. The other (which seems to me more sensible) would be to look in detail at what has gone wrong and make a large number of tweaks to the system.

— © The Independent