Saturday, April 14, 2012

Are We Encountering India or Global Warming?

This blog was originally published in The News International.

Based near the Siachen Glacier, a Pakistan army base camp located at Gayari sector met misfortune when a deathly avalanche struck the camp and buried over 100 soldiers. The Pakistan army has started a massive search and rescue operation in the ice-graves of Siachin where  not only the access is difficult but the real challenge lies in fighting the harsh weather. According to the military sources, the search and rescue operation would take rather longer, depending upon the weather conditions.

Siachen glacier is famous for not a very good reason. After the partition of Pakistan and India in 1947, army of the both countries occupied the glacier and started fighting over the world’s highest battlefield. Located at the height up to 22,000 feet, both the
Pakistan and India claims the Siachen glacier, including the area  hit by the avalanche buried more than 100 Pakistani soldiers.

However, it would be a strange question for many to ask and know whether it is the combat between the two countries which is killing soldiers over the massive glacier or something else. Doesn’t seem its the other enemy that consuming lives of soldiers from both side of the border?

The incident can be rightly linked to global warming. Pakistan army stated that they were not expecting the avalanche at all. They said the area where the base camp was located is though prone to avalanches, such avalanches usually hit the forward base, where very less, somewhere around soldiers (15 or 20) are based. The incident of avalanche in the region of Gayari sector was purely unexpected.

With this, I hope both the armies would realize that melting of glaciers and sudden breakage of big chunks of glaciers is occurring at faster rate than the past due to increase in temperature. It is not only the battle between the two armies now but also a battle with climate change that we all have to fight with for survivor. Why then spare all those precious lives for an apparently no good reason/

According to the climate scientists, the temperature of the earth has increased 0.8 Degree Celsius during the past 100 years due to global carbon pollution, whereas average temperature increase in Pakistan is even more than this global average. Any bells ringing?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Sustainable Cities in Pakistan -- A Dream in the "New Normal"

Can we dream for sustainable cities in Pakistan? Sustainable cities and towns are no longer a new concept in the world. However, in a country like Pakistan, they are something new -- a hard but not impossible goal.

A number of cities around the world are taking measures to make their cities sustainable. By simple way of definition, a sustainable city would be a city which can generate sufficient revenue to provide basic health care and other socio-economic facilities to its citizens, is self sufficient in energy production, and is not only environmentally friendly in terms of infrastructure development and resources utilization but also in its ability to protect its citizen from natural disasters.

Every year about one million poverty-driven people from across rural Pakistan migrate to Karachi City -- the biggest economic hub of the country. Despite a volatile security situation, people continue to migrate to Karachi in search of livelihoods. A city with more than 20 million, Karachi has become a place of uncontrolled urbanization, with rapidly growing new unofficial colonies of migrants. Such rapid expansion to the city's borders is making it hard for the government to provide basic facilities of life to everyone such as clean drinking water, proper sanitation, housing, schooling etc.

Thinking the concept of sustainable cities a dream in Pakistan, a Harvard architect has, however initiated an eco-friendly model city project, about 50 kilometers in north east of Karachi. Working on an 11,640 acre rural site, the project "DHA Karachi City" (DKC) will accommodate 50, 000 residential and commercial lots along with other facilities in eco-friendly manner. Building in compatibility with nature, the project would encourage combination of an efficient transportation system, clean energy supply and tree-lined walking paths for a pedestrian zone to maintain a healthy environment.

However, achieving sustainability would require some extra efforts to deal with weather extremes which are becoming a "new normal," even though there is nothing normal about it. Despite our small contribution to global environmental pollution, Pakistan stands as one of the most vulnerable countries to global warming. Karachi, for example, remains at risks of severe cyclones and sea level rise. The sustainable city concept would thus require good planning and strategies to protect its citizen from natural disasters.

So why take the extra effort? A new report from IPCC reveals that damages due to weather related disasters cost our world $80 billion every year. In Pakistan, the 2010 and 2011 floods are real life examples which put one fifth of the country land underwater with more than 20 million people affected. Sustainability in this way would mean a counter system to be in place.
We have a history of unexpected weather extremes in Pakistan. In 1992, there was flooding in Jhelum River. In 1996, Lahore city faced severe urban storm due to 500 mm rainfall in 24 hours. In 1999, a severe cyclone hit the coastal areas of Pakistan. 1998-2001 was the period of worst drought, particularly in Baluchistan province. In 2001, Islamabad city had 621mm rainfall in 10 hours, causing historical flooding in the twin cities. In July 2003, flash flooding affected hundreds of villages in Lower Sindh province. The 2005 heavy rains in Baluchistan, May 2010, record heat temperature, heavy downpours, and flooding of 2010 and 2011, are unforgettable events.

In this "new normal," efforts to create sustainable cities in Pakistan would not only be vital but also tireless efforts by the government and citizen of Pakistan would be needed to make it happen. Pakistan should learn from examples of different cities in the world which are on the track to become sustainable cities.

Scientists predict Chicago will face an 80-160% increase in days with 2.5 inches or more of precipitation by the end of the century. The city has over 55 acres of permeable pavement and more than 100 green alleys throughout the city to prevent urban flooding. Miami, for example, is vulnerable to sea level rise in the United States. Miami has accelerated restoration of vulnerable coastal areas and working on modification of vulnerable roadways to avoid homes and highways from flooding. Sydney is on its way to become a sustainable and carbon neutral green city by 2030.

The Karachi DKC project would also construct natural drains to collect rain/storm water into a lake for water recycling and its re-use for plantation and drought resistant native plants. In addition, the project would use wind, solar and biomass energy along with energy efficient LED lights.

Sustainable cities would be an ambitious plan in Pakistan. However, such initiatives are becoming vital needs to promote eco-friendly sustainable cities, which will not only provide healthy living spaces for their citizens but also will help them protect from weather extremes.

The blog was originally published on The Huffington Post.