Heatwave disaster a wake-up call, say experts

Published June 26, 2015
The heatwave disaster is a wake-up call for the public and the government. There is need to create awareness, said expert. —Reuters/File
The heatwave disaster is a wake-up call for the public and the government. There is need to create awareness, said expert. —Reuters/File

KARACHI: With more than 1,000 lives lost to the heatwave that is predicted to increase in frequency due to climate change, experts on Monday called upon the provincial government to develop a strategy involving communities to prevent a repeat of the disaster and integrate climate change considerations in all development plans.

According to these experts, the recent wave of high temperatures can also be attributed to the increasing concrete cover and an acute lack of parks and green belts in the city as such spaces, they say, help lower the temperature of an area.

“The heatwave disaster is a wake-up call for the public and the government. There is need to create awareness on how to cope with severe hot weather and help high-risk populations protect themselves against it,” said Rab Nawaz currently serving as the Sindh regional director of World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P).

The impact of climate change, especially a rise in temperature, he said, have become very apparent in Pakistan over the last decade and the current situation in Sindh, especially Karachi is worrisome.

‘There are no precedents of such an extended intense heatwave in the city’

“Though carbon emissions from Pakistan are very low and not contributing to climate change, the country is ranked among the top 10 countries most vulnerable to its adverse impact,” he said. He added that the global issue required immediate action in terms of mitigation and adaptation by countries across the world.

Indus delta heating up

Citing the WWF-P’s report ‘Climate data and modelling analysis of the Indus eco-region’, he said many parts of Pakistan including the Indus Deltaic plains were heating up due to frequent heatwaves ranging from mild and moderate, to severe intensity.

Since 1996, he added, climate models indicate that Pakistan had been experiencing increased frequency and intensity of heatwaves that had resulted in great economic and human losses, and the trend was likely to continue in the future as global temperatures continue to rise.

“Lack of green spaces and increasing concrete cover, which absorbs and dissipates heat, is a major factor contributing to higher temperatures. Furthermore, new developmental projects and housing colonies are threatening the existence of forests and their subsequent deforestation, which will not just increase greenhouse gas emissions but will also make us more vulnerable to extreme weather events,” he said.

Sharing his views, Dr Qamar uz Zaman Chaudhry, senior climate change expert and currently serving as special advisor for Asia to the secretary general of the World Meteorological Organisation, said Karachi experienced an extended severe heatwave for the first time.

“It lasted for about four to five days. There are no precedents of such an extended intense heatwave in the city, which was exacerbated by the urban heat island effect.”

He rejected reports that the 45 degree Celsius temperature the city experienced on June 20 was the highest temperature after a decade and contended that the city has earlier experienced temperatures as high as 45 and 46 degrees.

The government, he said, could learn from other countries that faced similar disasters. “A good example in this regard is Ahmedabad, India, though its plan to protect poor communities from the heatwave was not implemented in other parts of the country,” he said. The plan came into effect in the Indian state after around 1,300 people died as a result of a heatwave in 2010.

Authorities in Ahmedabad established an early-warning system against extreme heatwaves as well as setting up water stations and cooling spaces in public places, malls, temples, etc after the 2010 disaster.

Senior project manager of WWF-P’s climate change project Ali Dehlavi said that climate-related hazards had a significant impact on the lives of the poor and marginalised communities. Therefore, climate change monitoring and impact assessment activities should be organised on a scientific basis.

“The government at various levels needs to develop adaptation plans and integrate climate change considerations into broader development schemes,” he said.

WWF-P in a statement released on Thursday urged the media to educate people on how to cope with heat strokes by remaining hydrated, avoiding peak heat hours in direct sun, using umbrellas and caps, avoiding caffeine and sugary drinks and wearing light clothing.

“Extreme weather patterns in Pakistan, especially the rise in temperature, frequent cyclones, uncertain rainfall, super floods and severe drought caused by climate change have brought about drastic changes in the socio-economic and environmental conditions of the country,” it says.

The statement refers to a 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) according to which it is likely that the frequency of heatwaves will increase in large parts of Europe, Asia and Australia.

“It further states that human influence has contributed to the observed changes at the global level in frequency and intensity of daily temperature since the mid-20th century and has more than doubled the probability of the occurrence of heatwaves in some locations,” it says.

Published in Dawn June 26th, 2015

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