Karachi among cities ‘most vulnerable’ to climate change

16 Nov 2019


Dr Nausheen H. Anwar delivers her presentation at the event on Friday.
—White Star
Dr Nausheen H. Anwar delivers her presentation at the event on Friday. —White Star

KARACHI: Experts at a seminar have observed that Pakistan is among the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate crisis even though it makes a negligible contribution to global greenhouse emissions.

They said that the impacts were already visible in low-lying areas south of Karachi and in the Indus River delta. There is evidence that structural inequalities are further exacerbating the impact of the climate crisis on the poor, vulnerable and marginalised.

These views were expressed at the seminar on climate crisis and security aspects in Pakistan organised by the Karachi Urban Lab at the Institute of Business Administration’s main campus on Friday.

In her presentation, KUL’s director Dr Nausheen H. Anwar spoke about multiple populations already vulnerable to different types of risks such as water deprivation in low-income neighbourhoods and its inaccessibility in rural and coastal regions triggering migration towards towns and cities. “Because of this there is increased pressure on cities like Karachi and even small towns like Mansehra,” she said.

The long-term Climate Risk Index ranks Pakistan the eighth most affected country during last 20 years

She also said that climate crisis programmes must take into consideration violence-related risks. She said that the biggest challenge wasn’t just the weather but infrastructure and urban violence.

Pakistan among top 10 affected countries

Farhan Anwar, an academic and executive member of NGO Shehri-CBE, in his presentation pointed out that Pakistan’s per capita emissions of greenhouse gasses today was one of the lowest in the world and yet it ranked among the top 10 countries most affected by climate change during the last 20 years.

“The long-term Climate Risk Index places Pakistan at eighth among the top 10 countries most affected from 1998 to 2017. You still get the impact for which you need to be prepared and build resistance,” he said.

He mentioned flooding, drought, extreme heat, rise in sea level as some of the major climate change scenarios. He also said that coastal cities such as Karachi were the most vulnerable to these.

“In a rapidly warming world, extreme storms that typically occur once per century could hit the world’s coastal cities at least once per year by 2050. By that time more than one billion people are projected to live in the low-lying areas that will be in the path of these storms. Karachi is 136th out of 140 cities in the context of vulnerability and liveability as 50 per cent of the city’s population is living in informal and squatter settlements,” he said.

“Meanwhile, the emergency response system in Karachi is very poor. The city is ill-prepared to deal with any natural disaster or calamity as most institutions here in a fragmented government are bankrupt as the city expands without a plan,” he added.

Mr Anwar also said that Pakistan was yet to implement its climate change policy, which he said was really a non-starter.

‘Compound security risk’

The two presentations were followed by a panel discussion, moderated by journalist and geographer Afia Salam, which looked at the current state of affairs of international negotiations on climate crisis and regional priorities regarding climate-related challenges in terms of development, urbanisation, security and foreign policy, as well as political solutions or initiatives at the national and regional levels.

Adrien Detges, project manager and analyst with Adelphi in Berlin, said that a lot of development and security was connected to climate change.

“We call the concept ‘compound security risk’,” he said. “So if there is a drought somewhere it is not isolated. Only the place where food grows is not affected, the countries which import the food will also be affected. That’s why in the European Union we realise the importance of working together and increasing awareness among people, especially the decision makers,” he added.

Bastien Alex, research fellow, IRIS/French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, Paris, said that the military was usually the last resource in disaster management. They are not interested in climate change but if shown that their key installations are also at risk due to it they will then look at the issue as a matter of national security.

Dr Anwar said that she tried to raise awareness about climate change by talking about it with her students. She also said that it was important that the local government was connected with educational and research institutions but she had seen a great hesitation from the people in the local government to engage in dialogue with them.

“So we are always running into a brick wall,” she said. “Still we hold such dialogues for collective awareness and to start a national conversation on the issue,” she said.

Earlier, Christine Rosenberger from the press and cultural section of the German Embassy spoke about the ‘Open Doors’ initiative, a joint lecture series organised by the German and French embassies.

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2019