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  • Climate change is not a distant threat that elusively lies in the future. The world’s environment is changing far faster—far than we could have imagined. It is not the children and grandchildren alone who will bear the brunt of it.

  • Rather than focusing on planting saplings, our cities are engaged in plans to chop down thousands of trees. A plan to widen roads at the periphery of Hyderabad (Sindh) will leave us poorer by at least 8,500 trees.
  • Karachi is one of the most polluted cities in in the subcontinent. During lockdown, air pollution levels in the city decreased by 28%, showing us what the city can achieve if public transport improves. Trees are an important buffer against local air pollution, and locating trees on the side of roads is especially important.

By Nazarul Islam

Last week, India overtook Russia to become the world’s third, most affected Corona country. At a time when hospitals have run out of beds, and are unable to admit patients, doctors in southern states have warned their countrymen— that their annual dengue season has begun.

Simultaneously, northern India has braced itself to face a locust attack—caused by climate change—that was worse than anything we have faced in the past twenty six years. At a time when India’s agriculture is already in a serious crisis, locusts posed a major threat to the crops growing in farms across six northern states.

Let’s move farther out—much farther in fact, and all the way out to Siberia, a region in Russia that has long been known as one of the coldest, inhabited parts of the world. Now parts of Siberia are on fire, reaching record temperatures that have crossed 38°C. The glaciers here are melting, faster than ever before. The forest fires in Siberia pumped 59 million metric tons of CO2 into the air and atmosphere in June.

That’s the order of emissions that a city like New York has been known to generate in a single year.

Climate change is not a distant threat that elusively lies in the future. The world’s environment is changing far faster—far than we could have imagined. It is not the children and grandchildren alone who will bear the brunt of it. This generation of people living in the countries of Indian subcontinent will bear the impact, as well.

Should we not, regardless of which country we live in—gear up for the challenge? There are things we can do more easily, while other challenges will be very difficult to adapt to. If the weather system goes completely out of whack, can southern India’s region deal with a prolonged drought? That would be hard. But can people living in Bangladesh adapt to shorter, more irregular periods of rainfall that are more intense than before?

Perhaps we can all adapt to climate changes—– if each of us contributes to invest in rainwater harvesting structures, while the global institutions invest in the protection and restoration of lakes and their associated wetlands as functioning ecosystems. Of course, we are not doing this now. Instead, we persist in remaking our lakes into large pools of water, ring-fenced with concrete jogging and walking tracks.

Can we adapt to global warming? That may be a difficult task to deal with as a city. Instead, let’s ask – can the cities of Dhaka or Karachi reconfigure themselves to reduce the threat of heatwaves, which arise from local urban heat islands caused by too much concrete? Of course, all this is possible by way of human efforts!

An ideal pursuit would be established by the need to maintain our water-bodies and trees, and to plant millions of trees, to replace the many we have felled in the past.

Are we seriously doing something in this regard? Rather than focusing on planting saplings, our cities are engaged in plans to chop down thousands of trees. A plan to widen roads at the periphery of Hyderabad (Sindh) will leave us poorer by at least 8,500 trees.

There is no proper environmental assessment that tells us the impact of such felling on our health, and physical and mental wellbeing. Some of these are gigantic trees that took decades, perhaps even centuries to grow to their current impressive size.

What about air pollution? Karachi is one of the most polluted cities in in the subcontinent. During lockdown, air pollution levels in the city decreased by 28%, showing us what the city can achieve if public transport improves, helping more people move away from travel by cars. Trees are an important buffer against local air pollution, and locating trees on the side of roads is especially important.

We seem intent on cutting trees across Hyderabad though, incessantly widening roads, building flyovers and underpasses, only to demolish them for a new infrastructure project.

It would be ideal if all other crises, local and global, would pause and give us a break while we are immersed in dealing with Covid-19. But that’s not going to happen. We need to invest our energies in making Dhaka more resilient to future shocks—epidemics, drought, heatwaves and air pollution are only part of a long list. Unfortunately, we seem determined to return to business as usual.

Can’t we think of development compatible with the environment, instead of being at loggerheads and conflicts together?

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The Bengal-born writer is a senior educationist and settled in USA. He writes regularly for Sindh Courier, and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America. 

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