Monday, January 16, 2012

Pakistan's cities wake up to climate threats

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio in AlertNet: Alerts last June from the Pakistan Meteorological Department about a fast-approaching tropical cyclone, urging the evacuation of communities along the coastline of the southern city of Karachi, are still fresh in Haleema Memon’s memory.

“The warnings created a hue and cry in settlements along the shoreline and in other parts of the city… as it caught us unprepared,” recalled the 45-year-old mother of five, who lives in Ibrahim Hyderi, a fishing settlement on Karachi’s outskirts with her husband, a fisherman. “The people fled to take refuge in central and northern parts of the city as the storm brewed.”

...But not everyone received adequate notice of the storm. Many fishermen’s relatives, with good reason, were desperately worried about the safety of their loved ones out at sea. “My husband never came back,” said 35-year-old Ayesha Mallah. “It was too late for (him) and others on the fishing vessel. … The warnings were sounded some 18 hours after they had embarked on the journey.” Mallah says dozens of fishermen who went missing in the storm may well have postponed their trip if they had received more timely information about the cyclone.

That is one reason environmentalists are pressing city authorities to draw up an effective strategy to protect its fast-growing population from disasters. “Such plans will help mitigate risks and mortalities if any natural disaster strikes,” said Karachi-based Tahir Qureshi, a coastal ecosystem adviser at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Pakistan.

With a population of nearly 20 million, the sprawling port city of Karachi – which covers 3,527 square km (1,362 square miles) and is nearly four times larger than Hong Kong - is vulnerable to a range of natural disasters, from storms to earthquakes. It is also grappling with the threat of rising sea levels. Addressing the threats will take a range of interventions, experts say...

A Karachi beach at sunset, shot by Wahidain, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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