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

Despite our small contribution to global environmental pollution, Pakistan stands as one of the most vulnerable countries to global warming.
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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.

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