Pakistan moves to make cities more climate-resilient

by Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio | @saleemzeal | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 21 November 2013 17:00 GMT

The Leh Nullah snakes through a densely populated slum settlement in Islamabad. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Saleem Shaikh

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Adaptation plan aims to reduce the vulnerability of the country’s fast-growing cities

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Thomson Reuters Foundation) ­– For Jamal Mujtaba, the news that the Pakistani government has prepared a plan to make Islamabad a model disaster-resilient city comes as a relief.

Mujtaba, a resident of a slum area called Pathan Colony, has suffered damage to his home and livelihood because of frequent heavy rains that swell the streams emerging from the scenic Marghalla Hills to the north-west of the capital, triggering flooding in the city.  

“For me any plan to make the city disaster-resilient is the need of the hour,” he says.

Last month, Pakistan’s Climate Change Division unveiled a Climate Change Vulnerability Adaptation Assessment (CCVAA) for the Islamabad Capital Territory to reduce the city’s vulnerability to climate change-related disasters such as flooding, heat waves and landslides.

Drawn up in collaboration with the Pakistan chapter of UN-Habitat, the plan calls for assessing the current climate-resilience capacity of civic authorities and potential partners, collecting data on the vulnerability of the city’s infrastructure and reviewing existing building and energy codes.

“The ... overarching goal of the initiative is to create a platform for debate among relevant government and non-governmental stakeholders on existing planning and (to) devise concrete, viable projects to promote climate resilience in the future city development plans,” said Raja Hassan Abbas, secretary of the Pakistan Climate Change Division, during a meeting on the initiative in Islamabad.

Backers hope the assessment will lead to redesigned infrastructure plans for water, sanitation, roads, health and education, and the improvement of slum areas to make them more resilient to the effects of climate change. The plan also calls for the promotion of innovations in green energy and the launching energy-efficient mass transit.

Abbas said efforts will also be made to build the capacity of individuals, communities, and governmental and non-governmental institutions to enable them to respond efficiently to the vagaries of the shifting climate.

COST SAVINGS

Irfan Traiq, who is in charge of the initiative for the Climate Change Division, said that approximately $500 million would be invested under the plan, but that the money could ultimately save billions of dollars.

“Integrating a resilience aspect in infrastructure development and construction programmes is more cost effective than failing to prepare and then dealing with the repercussions,” he said.

According to a report by the London School of Economics, 93 percent of the world’s cities report that green development initiatives already provide economic benefits.

Development and climate resilience experts and city managers from Islamabad’s Capital Development Authority noted that with the increasing impacts of climate change on cities and the global shift to urban populations, there is a window of opportunity to make effective changes.

Tauqeer Ali Sheikh, Asia regional director of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), observed that migration from rural to urban centres is being prompted by better living standards, health and education facilities, water and sanitation, as well as by job opportunities in cities.

But the burgeoning urban populations and consequent pressure on inadequate resources are causing deepening worry about climate change-related risks faced by cities.

Urban planner Sarmad Khan, who is dealing with the project for UN-Habitat, said that predictions of extreme weather striking rural and urban areas of Pakistan have highlighted an urgent need for new, viable settlement designs to enable humans as well as livestock, crops and wildlife to adapt to changing risks.

The concentration of human capital, infrastructure, industry and culture in cities like Islamabad offers great potential for it lead innovation to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and help communities and systems adjust to the effects of changing weather patterns, said Arif Hasan, an urban architect.

SUFFICIENT POLITICAL WILL?

However, CDKN’s Sheikh cautioned that without strong political will, the plans were unlikely to bear fruit.

Everyone involved needs “to push for sensitising politicians about (the) unprecedented significance and need for (the plan) not only for Islamabad but also for all the cities and towns of the country,” Sheikh said.

For Mujtaba, the resident of Pathan Colony, the changes cannot come soon enough.

In August this year, during a period of especially heavy rains, Mujtaba’s 45-year-old father Mujtaba Khan was collecting firewood floating in a storm water drain when a strong current swept him off his feet. His body could not be retrieved.

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are climate change and development reporters based in Islamabad.

 

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