‘Climate change is creating new forms of injustice’

Jun 26 2020

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A SCREENSHOT of the workshop.—White Star
A SCREENSHOT of the workshop.—White Star

KARACHI: The Climate Change and Urban Violence Global Engagement Network (CCUVN) at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) organised a three-day online workshop on ‘Climate change, cities and violence in the time of Covid-19: perspectives from South Asia’ from Wednesday evening.

Dr Farhana Sultana of Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, USA, was the first speaker of the event. She talked about a research project in Bangladesh which has often been identified as one of the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change. The country is situated at the confluence of some of the largest rivers in the world, with the monsoons and poverty as multiple overlapping problems. One of the things happening in the deltaic city of Dhaka is that because of its location it faces water-related issues.

“Climate change is ultimately about water,” said Dr Sultana. “It gets heightened in Dhaka in terms of lack of planning, and this vulnerability that existed in urban spaces is coming to the fore. If there’s flooding from monsoons, it creates problems where space lacks infrastructure. This leads to waterlogging. Flooding becomes one of the ways impacting climate change. As a result, climate apartheid is being observed in the city. The middle class is poor. Their spaces lack sanitation and water supplies.

The rise of temperature also causes heat stress for the population, many of whom don’t have electricity, no proper ventilation etc. These marginalised spaces face different kinds of challenges — so urban spaces in Dhaka are fractured by class and spatiality.”

Experts discuss challenges climate change poses to urban environments in online workshop

She said within all of that, there is multiple intersectionality by gender. Poor women who live in settlements, even those who live in households, face effects of climate change. Gender inequities have exacerbated the problems, further aggravated by the Covid-19 epidemic. “You can’t wash hands unless you have water. There’s heightened need for water in homes and women are largely responsible for managing water at homes.” It’s a dual whammy of climate change and coronavirus. Climate change is already creating new forms of injustices. It’s not a single issue topic. There’s no easy solution. What’s imperative is that we must first understand that it exists and investigate the inter-linkages and how they operate in marginalised spaces.

Dr Nichola Khan of University of Brighton, UK, gave a presentation on Sindh in general and Karachi in particular with reference to gender violence and climate change. She said gender violence is exacerbated in situations such as lockdown and climate change. Karachi has endured violence for decades during which women carried many additional burdens — killings, disappearance of husbands, rape and domestic violence.

Dr Khan said in 2010 Human Rights Watch said that 50 per cent of honour killings in Pakistan took place in Sindh. Activists long fought for changes. Even in peacetime violence is endemic.

She argued that climate change mostly affects people in the global South and affects women disproportionately. Poverty in rural areas is six times more than in urban areas.

Highlighting the issue of migration, she touched upon migration with reference to the drought that forced many from Tharparkar region to leave their homes, and finally talking about air pollution and its impact on the Covid-19 situation. She remarked, “Structural racism, sexism and climate change are the big political issues of our time,” and they must be tackled jointly.

Dr Imran S. Khalid of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad, said flooding has historically been a regular component of South Asian landscape. Deve­lopment vis-à-vis building dams and barrages and not letting rivers flow as they used to and population growth have contributed to problems related to flooding. Backing up his point with the results of a research project, he said the focus of that project was on two districts, Dera Ghazi Khan and Jhang; the latter is at the confluence of Jhelum and Chenab rivers, and the former is along the Indus River. A lot of areas that get flooded have come to be known as canal colonies.

Dr Khalid said since our focus is on constructing dams and barrages, our response to flood managing too is structured, so we have dykes or embankments set up alongside urban areas that keep floodwater within a particular area. An embankment right next to Jhang city gets breached every time floods hit. That embankment is to protect Trimmu Barrage and Jhang city. But when flooding happens, it allows the water to recede from one side. When the water is let go from one side, it affects villages and communities from miles on end.

After the three main speeches, the rest of the online participants were allowed to take part in an open discusion.

Earlier, Nausheen Anwar welcomed the guests and Amiera Sawas introduced the speakers.

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2020