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Last week, all of Karachi was closely monitoring the formation and trajectory of cyclone Tauktae, waiting with bated breath and hoping that it does not make contact with Pakistan’s coastal belt. Just recently, we witnessed a mere glimpse of the power of the cyclone as the city was hit with an unexpected dust storm, which was enough to disrupt the city’s operations.

Climate change remains a culprit for the weather anomalies that Pakistan and particularly Karachi have been experiencing since last year. Every year, we resume a conversation on urban resilience and the dire need for a governing national, provincial, and local strategy to mitigate the risks our people face.

For its part, Pakistan has created several national-level documents with a forward-looking motive, including the Vision 2025, Framework for Economic Growth 2011, and the National Climate Change Policy 2012. At the same time, we have ratified and adopted global documents issued by the United Nations as part of their Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement, and documents prepared by the Asian Development Bank. Only recently, the World Bank approved a USD 200 million investment into the Sindh Resilience Project, which aims to protect over 2 million acres of cropped area, 517,000 hectares of land, and a population of 5 million along with 600,000 housing units across the province. But changes in the political landscape shift priorities and so execution is also delayed.

When Melbourne - a city home to approximately 4.8 million people – embarked on the journey to develop a strategy for resilience, the process involved over 230 organizations and over 1000 people working across different sectors. The core priority was to identify ways to empower communities, and diversity was encouraged to form an all-encompassing framework. The result is a 100+ page document that distinguishes between chronic stresses (which weaken the fabric of a city on a day-to-day basis) like inflation and climate change, and acute shocks (sudden, sharp events that threaten a city) like floods, heatwaves, and disease pandemics. Three flagship programmes are being proposed with 15 supporting actions to be conducted in collaboration between all the stakeholders.

Melbourne is not the only city to do so. From Amman, (Jordan) to Addis Ababa, (Ethiopia), Kyoto (Japan) to Pune (India), similar strategies are being developed with a long-term vision to create cities which thrive, not just survive, their evolving macroeconomic and environmental circumstances. These plans are usually available within the public domain for transparency. This allows residents to hold the organizations accountable on the progress as well. The kicker is that all these cities have plans in place while the populations are significantly less than Karachi’s and when there is much room for improvement in these advanced societies, imagine the gap here.

Karachi is also a rich testing ground to initiate the formulation of an urban resilience strategy. A melting pot of hundreds of ethnically diverse communities from all social backgrounds, Karachi’s issues are far more complex and combine the challenges of the entire country into one area. Successfully overcoming these challenges as a collective can create a robust template upon which a National Vision can be formed. Other urban areas can also use this template to create localized plans to combat their acute shocks and chronic stresses.

Building stronger cities has a direct correlation with the GDP. Smoother roads and an uninterrupted supply of power increase productivity and reduce transport times for goods and services. Proper urban planning helps control population densities reducing the stress on utilities and services. Much of Karachi’s residents unfortunately continue to reside in katchi abadis making the provision of basic services more difficult.

We also tend to overlook the overarching influence that building resilience can have on driving social capital. It’s not just a city’s infrastructure that requires improvement. Lack of public spaces and improper urban planning engenders mistrust and diminishes connection within communities. Keeping the city’s unchecked expansion & ensuing challenges in mind, KE’s Project Sarbulandi was created to specifically target areas where population density is the highest. KE teams are working within these communities to renovate and restore public parks and schools, install water purification plants, and set up medical camps providing the residents free treatment. These efforts to engage communities is coupled with KE’s investment in the power infrastructure. Since the launch of Project Sarbulandi, KE has provided over 100,000 low-cost meters to extend the net of inclusivity for area residents. Aerial Bundled Cabling across areas of Orangi, Surjani, Malir, North Nazimabad, Landhi, Baldia and several others is reducing line losses, improving the stability of power supply. These collaborative efforts have also enabled KE in reducing the amount of load-shed in these areas. Areas previously categorized as High Loss experiencing up to 5 to 6 hours of load-shed per day have successfully transformed to loss-exempted areas without any load-shed.

This is just one example of an organization taking an initiative The impact can be exponential if all civic agencies and grassroots organizations come together to build Karachi. Our collective survival depends on the effective use of existing organizations to make concerted efforts. The world’s 10th most populous city came to a practical standstill in the monsoon season of 2020, an acute shock which brought several structural and fundamental issues to the surface.

Ahead of the 2021 monsoon season, KE has been working actively on its rain mitigation strategies, with plans to invest over PKR 1.5 billion to bolster its infrastructure and elevating it in places prone to waterlogging. Other organizations are also playing a positive role which is now building a collective and there is hope that the ongoing summer and upcoming rain season will be better. However, we need to shift our vision from the short-term to a long-term approach, so that we can join the ranks of the world’s top 100 cities which aspire to create bustling and adaptive communities in the next few decades.

(The writer is Director Communication, K-Electric. The views expressed in this article may not be necessarily those of the newspaper)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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