Earth’s average surface temperature has risen 1.1°C (about 2.0°F) since the late 19th century with most of the warming occurring in the past 35 years. This change is attributed to the release of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) because of human activities.
According to NASA, Earth’s 2016 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern record keeping began in 1880. Scientists link the rise in such extreme weather events with climate change — with humans at the center of the problem.
Pakistan is no exception. Data from the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) for the coastal city of Karachi shows that in the last several decades, temperatures in the month of April have never exceeded 31°C. This year, however, temperature in Karachi reached 38.5°C in early April, and by the mid of the month, mercury levels touched 40°C for two days straight.
Who can forget the 2015 Karachi heatwave which resulted in the death of 1,200 people from dehydration and heat stroke? El Niño—a climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean with a global impact on weather patterns — had been in effect for most of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016.
During the week in which the deaths were reported in 2015, temperatures rose to around 42°C but what made the atmosphere as warm as around 47°C in several areas of the city was a phenomenon called the Urban Heat Island Effect. Under this condition, because of tightly-packed infrastructure and poor tree cover, heat is trapped in urban areas of megacities causing warmer temperatures than their surroundings.
It’s summer again. Read our cover story by Amar Guriro as he unfolds lessons learnt by the city authorities in Karachi since the 2015 heatwave, and their plans to deal with emergencies in the future. Technology lies at the heart of these plans.
Using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, the Karachi Commissioner’s Office has mapped vulnerable areas, based on the number of deaths reported during the 2015 heatwave. This exercise has enabled the authorities to measures vulnerability of neighborhoods to heat emergencies on the basis of housing quality, type, and population size, as well as income and education levels.
In this edition, we also bring to you a detailed report on the Billion Tree Afforestation Project in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. In his article, Iftikhar Firdous explains how work actually started on the project in 1997, and how the BTAP has enabled the province to become the first sub-national jurisdiction anywhere in the world to be mentioned in the Bonn Challenge. Read to know how the use of technologies such as drones, GIS, Global Positioning System (GPS), and helicopter aerial broadcasting assisted the government to monitor progress in implementation of the project.
For our Q+A section, we have interviewed Dr Shahida Hasnain, an acclaimed microbiologist who has been awarded the Carlos J. Finlay Prize by UNESCO for her contributions to the field. While she shares some fascinating and groundbreaking research that can help us protect our environment, she also discusses the missing link between industry and academia, and how to bridge this gap.
Last but not the least, read Jakob Steiner’s article to know more about glaciers in the Karakorum region which, he says, is home to some of the most stable ice masses, contrary to everywhere else in the High-Mountain Asia.
Steiner is based at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands and researches glaciers and hydrology in the Hindukush-Karakoram-Himalaya (HKH) massif. His research shows that changes in the region are highly heterogeneous, ranging from rapid mass loss in the East to even mass gains on glaciers in Northern Pakistan and on the Chinese side in the Kunlun Shan range. Read to know why he thinks presence of weather stations in the region is important.
Dr Umar Saif, Editor in Chief
Umar Saif tweets @umarsaif