Citizens of Karachi were forced to face another serious crisis in the form of a heatwave the past few days. In the holy month of Ramazan, lockdown and loadshedding made the situation more critical for the public. Due to preemptive measures for controlling the Covid-19 outbreak, there is also lack of medical treatment facilities in hospitals for those affected by the heatwave. Although, the Pakistan Meteorological Department forecast May 7 as the last day of the heatwave, more heatwaves are expected in May, June and July.
Geographically, Karachi is located along the coast and is supposed to have a relatively pleasant and moderate climate. However, it is indeed very tragic that the weather has been turning more warm, dry and unbearable for the last many years. In 2015, the deadliest heatwave resulted in the deaths of at least 1,200 people.
Heatwave is a global issue which is directly related to climate change. Internationally, many countries are also facing this challenge. It is predicted that extreme heatwaves will become increasingly more common across the globe in the near future. Therefore, we also need to make use of the international community’s experience of tackling this crisis.
The importance of forestation to act as a coolant is recognized throughout the world. Environmental experts emphasise that at least 25 percent of the area should be reserved for trees and plantation. But sadly, a large number of trees have been cut down in many metropolis to either make space for residential colonies or for security reasons.
Unfortunately, Pakistan has the highest annual deforestation rate in the region, and according to a report, the country’s forest cover is less than 2.5 percent of the total land. Even in today’s digital era, many people have no option but to utilize wood as a source of energy, resulting in deforestation at a larger scale.
Besides the government, it is also the responsibility of citizens to plant trees in their homes and gardens for the sake of protecting the environment. ‘One tree for one building’ must be ensured. Those who live in apartments should consider the environmental benefits of having green roofs.
It is my personal observation that planting date palms is becoming a popular trend during plantation drives. However, the most favourable trees to be planted are those that consume less water and provide more shade. For this reason, and because of numerous other benefits, Neem and Banyan trees should be planted.
Trees and vegetation play a crucial role in lowering surface and air temperatures, only if they are planted in strategic locations around buildings and public places. The city government must consult international environmental experts to have surveys conducted in this regard. Being the largest city and the commercial hub of the country, Karachi needs more trees to balance its ecosystem.
In order to tackle the heatwave crisis, there is a dire need to initiate a massive plantation drives on a priority basis. The government must focus on preparing a proper action plan to prevent and handle a heatwave with the coordination of various departments, individuals, the media and the civil society. Public awareness campaigns and issuance of heatwave alerts must be started. Gardening courses must also be included in the school curriculum. Most importantly, every citizen must come forward to play his/her due role for the success of PM Imran Khan’s Clean & Green Pakistan vision.
The government must also devise a strategy to protect shopkeepers, auto mechanics, taxi and rickshaw drivers, labourers, police officials and security guards, who are extremely vulnerable to heatwaves and its adverse impacts, such as dehydration and sun strokes.
The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.