Dorothy would have sought sturdier foundations for her home if she had known about climate change and the subsequent storm that swept her away to the Land of Oz.
As the Earth’s atmosphere adapts to climate change, extreme weather anomalies have become rampant, progressively increasing in frequency, severity and mortality rate, especially for low-income families.
According to the World Bank’s Unbreakable report, low-income families are more than twice as likely than others to experience negative consequences of natural disasters and climate change. This is because they reside in particularly vulnerable regions, with subpar building regulations and limited or no access to financing and risk coverage. According to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, by 2030, over three billion people representing 40% of the world’s population will be living in inferior housing throughout the rapidly urbanising globe.
Making homes climate resistant and secure may help safeguard people’s lives and livelihoods and create sustainable communities. According to the World Bank’s Lifelines report, the advantage of investing in resilient infrastructure in developing nations is $4.2 trillion over the life span of new infrastructure, or $4 for every $1 spent.
The building sector, which accounts for approximately 40% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, can play a significant role in developing more resilient infrastructure and, according to estimates, save an estimated $4 trillion in climate change losses, all while ensuring we meet our two-degree Celsius target. According to the 2023 Inform Risk Index, Pakistan has among the highest disaster risk levels in the world, ranking 24th out of 191 nations. Three factors influence this risk: exposure and hazards, vulnerability and coping capacity.
Pakistan scores 4.8 on a scale of 10 for physical infrastructure and only 4.0 for disaster risk reduction. The earthquake of 2005 and floods of 2010 and, most recently, 2022 have shown the importance of immediate action towards climate-resilient infrastructure.
Recognising the need for immediate action, Federal Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman emphasised the need for climate-resilient housing in Pakistan at the First International Housing Expo 2022.
Rehman pointed out that the Ministry of Climate Change has issued policy guidelines to establish green building codes in consultation with the provinces, adding that the private sector can play a crucial part in rebuilding, just as it did after the 2005 earthquake.
Since climate resilience is the ability to predict, prepare for and adapt to catastrophic climate-related events, trends or disruptions in the face of increasing greenhouse emissions, climate-resilient housing can be considered as 1) Resistance: capable of safeguarding people from various threats, 2) Economical: affordable for low-to-middle-income families, 3) Sustainable: constructed through techniques with a low environmental impact, 4) Locally appropriate: built with resources that fit the local culture and climate, 5) Secure: with sufficient water, sanitation, ventilation and security, 6) Adaptable: can be grown and changed to meet a family’s needs, changing demographics and new technologies and 7) Scalable: capable of meeting society’s needs through a combination of policy change and access to finance and technology.
While isolated formal housing schemes have seen improved standards of construction to increase safety and quality and, more recently, to reduce carbon emissions, the same cannot be said for those living informally.
Therefore, five significant preconditions are critical for adopting resilient housing at scale:
Effective policies and institutional strengthening
The biggest challenge to developing resilient infrastructure is the need for a unified policy, and hence, the following recommendations are vital to promote climate-resilient infrastructure in Pakistan:
Modify urban development policies and building standards to account for the effects of natural disasters and climate change.
Introduce a mandatory energy efficiency labeling system for all new construction and push for green certifications.
Promote the expansion of the eco-technologies to support sustainable housing initiatives.
Establishment of resilience hubs or community centres that provide culturally sensitive and multilingual services to varied community groups. These hubs may offer temporary refuge during days of excessive heat or serve as distribution sites for commodities such as food and multilingual information during natural disasters such as floods and community-building initiatives that promote emergency resistance.
For an effective climate-resilient programme, a disaster and climate change risk analysis and study of climate change scenarios need to be conducted through think tanks and international consultants to ensure:
Development plans for new housing schemes or additional houses do not threaten the environment and existing infrastructure, as seen in sections of Islamabad during the cloud burst incident of 2021.
There are models capable of assessing the repercussions of a catastrophic event or infrastructure collapse.
A contingency and mitigation plan is in place detailing actions to be taken during natural and climatic disasters.
Utilise local building methods and materials with minimal embodied energy. Territorial characteristics such as relief (whether houses are in mountainous areas or flood-prone flatlands), availability of raw materials in the area, economic activity of the family (whether the family works in agriculture, livestock, etc), and composition of the households should be studied.
Include the strategic use of vegetation to promote green infrastructure.
Use renewable energy sources for off-grid areas, such as solar.
Include systems for collecting rainwater, especially in water-strapped areas.
Specify energy efficiency methods, such as light-coloured paint in hot regions, to enhance reflection and reduce heat absorption.
Involve communities and their expertise to boost future resilience through improved infrastructure functioning, community outreach and citizen training programmes.
Deploy adequate early warning systems and provide insurance coverage for exposed communities.
Availability of finance
A substantial amount of funding is necessary to accelerate the development of new resilient housing and to ensure existing housing adapt to the climate and environment. For this reason, climate financing resources are crucial for realising mitigation and adaptation projects.
The writer is a sustainability and climate risk (SCR) professional, passionate about sustainable energy consumption and climate change
Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2022.
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