Karachi is becoming final destination for climate refugees


KARACHI: Mother of four, Sakina Khatoon, traveled across Sindh to escape disaster and poverty after losing her home in the flood waters in a small village, some 550 Kilometers north of Karachi, but it seems that the disaster will continue chasing her in the future.

The makeshift hut made of gunny bags that she shares with her husband and children in the newly established Sindhabad slum in outskirts of Karachi lies next to the Super Highway, country’s busiest road that connects the port city with the rest of Pakistan.

Sandwiched between the road and hilly areas, the huge slums that run parallel to the Super Highway are deprived of basic facilities such as drinking water, proper sanitation and school. Slum dwellers, living in this slum since August 2010, are threatened by police and land grabbers with eviction.

Six years ago, torrential monsoon rains swelled River Indus that burst its banks and brought recent history’s devastating floods, which left nothing standing in Khatoon’s village Moladad Chandio in the Indus River katcha area in Ghotki district in northern Sindh.

Katcha area is the river bed between the protected embankments on either side of River Indus usually dry, but under water during flood session. Once there was thick riverine forest, but later local influential feudal lords cut the forest and started using the land for agriculture purpose. Where, mostly vegetables, wheat, gram or chickpeas are grown. These feudal lords hire peasants like the family of Sakina Khatoon and mostly these peasants live near the agricultural fields to work on the farms in the katcha area.

“It was nighttime when it started flooding. Almost our entire village was submerged. We had no option but to climb up the banks with our belongings immediately,” said Khatoon. “Within a week, we moved to Karachi to start a new life.”

Every day, large numbers of people settle in Karachi. The majority are from areas suffering impacts of climate change.

“Climate change is caused by intense heat and glacial melting, coupled with erratic rainfall pattern. Temperature changes have definitely caused impact on local, regional and global climatic conditions. One can observe similar changes in current year when we are observing rains in April and an early monsoon,” renowned environmental expert and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE) Tanveer Arif told Truth Tracker.

Either people suffered prolonged droughts in Thar Desert, or the Awaran earthquake in Balochistan. Those living in lower or southern Punjab have suffered poverty due to reducing agricultural areas, everyone rushed to Karachi.

Pakistan is witnessing hottest temperature for past few years. On May 28 Turbat, a town in Balochistan province than 800 kilometers away from Sindh, suffered Asia’s hottest temperature ever recorded at 53.5 degrees Celsius (128.3°F).

The worsening situation has caused severe shortage of water and changed weather patterns which have destroyed agriculture, the main source of livelihood for millions in rural Pakistan. In this situation, exodus from these areas is normal.

This rural exodus is not new in Pakistan. For decades, people from across the country have been leaving their native villages seeking new destinations. But the new phenomena of reducing water and changes in weather pattern due to climate change have made the life of native residents in different ecological regions of Pakistan miserable.

For the residents of katcha areas, the empty bed of River Indus floods almost every year, but that is not devastating, as it is normal flooding inside the river.

Those living in arid regions of Sindh and districts on Balochistan’s Makran coast suffered  severe droughts. Karachi is their final destination.

In a recent study, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) Sindh found that in the last four decades around three million climate refugees had settled in Karachi.

“They are settling in almost every mega city of Pakistan. Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan, Hyderabad and Peshawar are receiving people from areas suffering with water shortage and worsening environment,” Syed Salman Shah, Director General, PDMA, Sindh told Truth Tracker.

“There are several areas across Pakistan which are suffering extreme weather events such as drought and floods due to climate change. Officially we have not segregated them area wise,” he told Truth Tracker.

Most of these climate refugees who came from the rural areas and are not skilled enough to get jobs in mega cities like Karachi.

They usually work as rickshaw drivers, servants or vendors of fruit from pushcarts.

The Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) is expecting more extreme weather events in coming years.

“With every passing year the temperatures are becoming hotter and the country is expected to witness more events in coming days,” Dr Ghulam Rasul, Director General of Pakistan’s Meteorological Department (PMD), told Truth Tracker.

Despite that, experts think that the Pakistan government is not working on adaptation and mitigation, due to which the situation can be fatal in the future.

Dr Qamaruz Zaman Chaudhry, a former head of the PMD who authored Pakistan’s first National Climate Change Policy, said that increasing glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) in northern Pakistan’s Gilgit region, heatwaves in southern Pakistan, shrinking water sources and severe droughts, are all manifestations of changing climate.

“The country needs to be on a war footing” Chaudhry told Truth Tracker.

“Floods are the worst of these extreme weather events and we need adaptation measures in order to save flood-prone areas in future,” he said.

“It was not our choice to come here, but we had no other option to come to Karachi. We still want to go back to our areas. But the government must work on it,” said Haji Muhammad Usman, a resident of Sindhabad Slum.


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