September 4th, 2020

By Shaukat Korai


The loss of employment opportunities in the coastal areas of Sindh thanks to climate change has resulted in large scale migration, mostly towards Karachi, adding to the problems of the cosmopolitan city, which is already suffering from overpopulation. In this century, Karachi has suffered the worst floods, and experts have warned that increasing population, global warming, and other factors have resulted in such disastrous impacts in Karachi.

“Water from the Indus River is not even reaching the Indus delta,” informs Muhammad Ali Shah, the Chairman of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF). “Too many people have lost their livelihoods and have no other option but to migrate to other cities,” he laments. “Approximately 0.8 to 10million people from Thatta, Badin and Sajawal have been pouring into Karachi to find homes and employment and their numbers are still rising. Nearly half of the population of Ibrahim Hyderi and Rehri Goth, two villages that are on the outskirts of Karachi, consist of climate migrants.”

Pakistan is the fifth-most affected country in terms of the impacts of climate change. Environmental disasters have reduced employment opportunities in not just the Delta but the entire agrarian region of the province. Haji Muhammad, a resident of the port town of Keti Bandar in Thatta district, relocated to Karachi following a decline in agricultural and fishing avenues in his town.

“The Sindh river is drying up which is adversely impacting the livestock and agriculture business in my area. I could not earn enough to feed my children so I had no other choice but to move to Karachi,” says the climate refugee.

“There has been a noticeable increase in climate-related disasters. Both rains and droughts have increased in intensity and frequency. Both these things negatively impact agriculture so it is natural that people who are dependent on agriculture for their livelihood will have no other option but to migrate to the nearest metropolitan,” says Arif Bilgrami, a prominent architect.

A majority of the people moving to cities come from low-income households. These environmental migrants settle wherever they find a habitable piece of land, and as a result, most of them have occupied areas around Karachi’s drains. An increase in the number of people settling on the drains has been a major factor in exacerbating urban flooding crisis in Karachi,” says Bilgrami.

Climate change activist Tofiq Pasha Mooraj explains that people have settled on the beds of the drains, and when water overflows these settlements choke the drains causing floods in nearby areas.

“Water flows through more or less permanent pathways,” explains Pasha. “If you settle on one of these pathways you are bound to face the wrath of flowing water one day.”

In addition, to blocking drains and waterways, other factors are also aggravating the flood situation in Karachi.

According to Bilgrami, in the previous years, Karachi’s parched land used to absorb a large amount of water but owing to uptake in construction, empty spaces are now vanishing from the city and the virgin soil is being replaced by high-rise buildings, housing societies, and paved roads, which not only allows the water to accumulate, but also lowers the water table, and increases heat during summers. Cleaning Karachi’s drains is just one step and should be the first among many, says Bilgrami.

Meanwhile, Pasha warns that the impacts of climate change are quickly spreading across Sindh.

“One of the core impacts of climate change is ‘variability’,” he says. “So now we will see abnormal spells of rain followed by maybe prolonged spells of drought, it is becoming extremely difficult to predict the weather now,” continues Pasha.

The Pakistan Meteorological Office says that the country is witnessing a steady and consistent increase in rainfall every year. According to statistics, Karachi saw 44mm of rainfall during the 2015 monsoon, 98 mm in 2016, and 125 mm in 2017. These figures almost doubled in 2019 to 322 mm and in 2020 it jumped to a whopping 468 mm.

According to Sardar Sarfaraz, the Director of the Karachi Met Office, weather patterns have drastically changed due to global climate change.

“The rainfall recorded in Karachi is the highest in 90 years,” he explains. “The rain spell in Karachi might continue for extended periods in time this is why immediate and serious measures are required to keep the situation from spiraling out of control.”

If this carries on, sooner or later, everyone will be victims of climate change.