Subh-e-Nau Magazine

In the deadly grip of heat waves again!  

With an ongoing heat wave, Karachi is in a critical need of de-concretization to cool it off, or the regularity of such events will lead to further misery and mayhem in an already challenged city reaching a population of 30 million.   

The price of unchecked development translating into nothing more than concrete all the way is becoming a self-evident truth in the form of heat waves in Karachi. Overall, not only has incessant industrialization and urbanization destroyed its natural environment, but ironically threatens the very existence of the people it supports.
Climate change is real, is happening and is a key global crisis we face. Countless on the planet are suffering due to increased disasters such as hurricanes, droughts, and heat waves. The impact on Pakistan in general is and will be quite severe, starting with floods and now the yearly droughts. Global warming is creating this havoc, which is the abnormal rise in temperature due to excess emission of greenhouse gases which lead to abnormal heating.
Karachi is particularly hard hit by this rise in temperature as well the resulting change in climate due to global warming. It is indeed alarming to see a regularity of 40 degrees Celsius plus temperatures in the summers across the country, and by late May, heat waves killed about 65 people with highs recorded above 50 Celsius in places like Nawabshah. The impact on Pakistan has been quite severe in this regard and the tragic 2015 heat wave which hit Karachi in July left more than 1200 dead. This was partly due to the “urban heat island” effect and global warming, which is the abnormal rise in temperature due to excess emission of so-called greenhouse gases. Much due to excessive deforestation and built structures, the “urban heat island” effect adds to considerable rise in temperatures to such highly populated areas leading to tragic consequences which will only become harrowing unless steps are taken now.
Granted summers are generally hot, however, it is scientifically known that cities themselves possess unique climates. This is because cities usually have a dense amount of buildings and infrastructure as well as concentrated amount of population, especially cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Karachi and other cities suffer through heat waves which were predicted by the Pakistan Meteorological Department in advance, however, while we may know when these heat waves strike, what can we do to stop their severe impacts?
The excessive impacts due to heat are due to the “urban heat island” effect and global warming adds to this effect, which is literally adding fuel to the fire. Much due to excessive deforestation and built structures, the heat island effect adds to considerable rise in temperatures to such highly populated areas leading to tragic consequences which will only become harrowing unless steps are taken now.
The heat island effect is nothing more than built structures retaining more heat, while natural buffers such as forests do exactly the opposite, they absorb extremes of temperature and climate in general. It is well known that temperatures in urban areas are different from suburban and rural areas, due to this effect. The difference can be quite dramatic, in fact, cities are measured to have up to 10 degrees Celsius higher than neighboring rural and sub-urban regions. This effect, caused by excessive infrastructure that is built with concrete, asphalt and other inorganic materials, leading to greater heat reflection and storage. Loss of vegetation and trees also end up creating unnatural conditions, as trees provide efficient heat absorption, shade and moisture that lowers temperatures. Thus, this leads to an overall increase in the temperature of the urban region (see “What is “heat island effect?” for details).
The key reason is the creation of concrete jungle that Karachi has become, with unabashed urbanization, open spaced being encroached upon, and housed being replaced with high rise buildings. Ironically, this is viewed as normal in our cities.
What used to be the ‘City of Gardens’ in the 1920s, has fallen victim to the land and builder mafia. The first casualty of land clearing is urban forestry, that accompanies “development” in almost all forms. Trees and vegetation are considered to lower temperatures locally, and thus unchecked deforestation turns out to be a real killer of cities. In other words, what happens thus is that barren centers of man made creations breed ground for excessive and life-threatening heat waves. Many cities across the world maintain these natural buffers in the form of parks, open spaces, grounds, and city forests. Even if we were to look at financial capitals like London, England, the forest area is 47 percent. In sharp contrast, Karachi’s forest area has shrunk to hardly 7%.
Trees provide a first line defense against temperature extremes. Since they are composed of organic material, provide shade, they can absorb a lot of the reflected heat and hold it. Further, they release moisture in the air, also termed as “evapotranspiration” which again leads to a lessening of ambient temperature in the vicinity.
In this regard, the present state of green cover in Pakistan is lamentable, especially in the urban centers like Karachi and so, is it any wonder that we are experiencing the increased impacts of these heat waves? We are sitting squarely at 2% against a required 25% for a healthy environment. Further, our officials talk a lot about planting a million saplings here or there, without focusing on the cities in terms of addressing this deadly “heat island effect.”
To further compound the situation, the City Government continues to plant Conocarpus, an exotic tree across Karachi, which actually creates more harm than good. The Forest department is all too keen to stay in the forests, while urban planning ministries are making a meal of all this by investing in construction. Highways, apartment buildings, office centers are allowed, while builders are given free rein to create all they can, without understanding both the short-term and long-term effects of this excessive development. 

Climate Change: Fuel to the Fire 

On a larger scale, climate change is the biggest threat the planet faces today. Its gravity, however, is not translated into policy interventions in Pakistan. Less debated and least bothered, this issue is yet to come out of the scientific quarters in country where climate change has already started taking toll on the lives and livelihood of people.
Long droughts, extended heat waves, delayed monsoon rains and floods are what Pakistanis observe every year. The frequent power outages in scorching summer heat make the situation worse. People do discuss the changing weather patterns but except for few, all are clueless as to why the nature has started behaving oddly.
In 2001, scientists declared that overwhelming odds pointed to global average temperatures rising 4 to 7 degrees over the coming century. As early as 2030 the planet would likely heat up 1 to 2 degrees. By comparison, a one-degree temperature rise was observed over the past century. In 2007, a United Nations panel of 2500 scientists from 130 countries concluded that temperatures are likely to rise 5.4 degrees (3 degrees Celsius) by the year 2100. 
In some parts of world, extraordinary drier weather is predicted in coming decades while in some regions, much more rain is anticipated as the ice caps melt. Agricultural patterns worldwide are being affected. Rising sea levels mean future storms could cause much more severe flooding than anticipated otherwise, in low-lying coastal areas. This situation is to hit severely the life and livelihood of humanity besides posing serious threats to other species of life.
Pakistan is not heavily industrialized, but alarmingly its ratio of emitting harmful gases is much higher. There are some ineffective laws, while their enforcement is still to see the light of day. No industry has ever been seriously punished for not taking care of measures necessary to control harmful emissions.
The climate change issue is directly linked with the lives of people; but sadly, the debate on the issue is still to come out of political spheres in Pakistan. The relationship of global warming with the health and livelihood of the people is well established scientifically, but little to no efforts are made to involve people in counter strategies or to disseminate the information in some comprehendible format.
To address the rising amount of heat waves in the cities, the situation becomes doubly worse. It is not just that greenhouse emissions be curbed, however and more importantly, the heat island effect needs to be considered especially in the case of Pakistan, one of the fastest urbanizing nations in the world. This requires proper landscaping, increased vegetation through afforestation strategies as well as stopping deforestation. Building buildings, concrete highways and infrastructure endlessly will escalate the already dire situation that is wreaking havoc across the nation and can ultimately drown our cities forever.

What is Global Warming?

Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s near-surface air and oceans since the mid-20th century and its projected continuation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations resulting from human activity such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation are responsible for most of the observed temperature increase since the middle of the 20th century.
Climate model projections summarized in the latest IPCC report indicate that the global surface temperature will probably rise a further 1.1 to 6.4 °C (2.0 to 11.5 °F) during the 21st century. Increasing global temperature will cause sea levels to rise and will change the amount and pattern of precipitation, probably including expansion of subtropical deserts. The continuing retreat of glaciers, permafrost and sea ice is expected, with the Arctic region being particularly affected. Other likely effects include shrinkage of the Amazon rainforest and Boreal forests, increases in the intensity of extreme weather events, species extinctions, and changes in agricultural yields.

What is the Heat Island Effect?

An urban heat island (UHI) is a metropolitan area, which is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas. The temperature difference usually is larger at night than during the day and larger in winter than in summer, and is most apparent when winds are weak. The main cause of the urban heat island is modification of the land surface by urban development; waste heat generated by energy usage is a secondary contributor. As population centers grow, they tend to modify a greater and greater area of land and have a corresponding increase in average temperature. The UHI decreases air quality by allowing pollutants such as ozone to form, and decreases water quality as warmer waters flow into area streams, which stresses their ecosystems. The energy and health costs of the urban dwellers also increase due to UHI.

How a tree contributes to betterment of environment?

Besides their main role of absorbing carbon dioxide in photosynthesis process and producing oxygen for us, research has shown that plant leaves also act as biological filters, removing large quantities of particles from the urban atmosphere. Stomata are microscopic pores on the underside (abaxial) of the leaf. These allow air into and out of the leaf through which the plant takes in carbon dioxide and lets out oxygen, and allows water vapor out in the process of transpiration. As air passes through the stomata, most of the airborne particles will not pass through the stomata but will rather eliminated on the leaf’s outer surface due to available moisture. In this release of moisture, the tree also reduces the temperature, thus reducing the dangerous effects of “urban heat island effect” considerably.
Writer: Prof. Farrukh Chishtie

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Helping plants beat the heat

With searing heatwaves, exacerbated in our cities by the ‘Heat Island Effect,’ set to erase ‘summer’ from a formerly well remembered time of pleasurable picnics and evening outdoor activities for all the family into a time of absolute dread, water usage, on a personal, home and garden front must, out of sheer necessity, be reduced to an absolute minimum.  

With this in mind, this month’s issue of ‘Subh-e-Nau‘ continues to suggest ways and means of growing fresh, healthy, organic food – on a year round basis not only during the intense summer heat – using as little water as possible and far less than many people can imagine.
Continuing, from last month when we discussed creating top quality, water retentive soil and the use of green manure crops to feed the soil, plus, in keeping it covered, reduce direct sun-damage and evaporation, garden design is the subject in our sights now.
Mogul gardens were designed around water and very heavy usage of the same and having, for once, actually learned and remembered something from history, 99.99% of our gardens rely on, if measured on an annual basis, an astonishing amount of water: Over half of it, possibly even three quarters of it, flagrantly unnecessary.
It should come as no surprise that the first item to delete from any water wise gardening list is that obscene monstrosity commonly referred to as a ‘lush green lawn’: A water guzzling monster that should, in a country where a high percentage of the population have extremely limited, if any, access to safe drinking water at all, be strangled at birth.
Lawns are, quite literally and even daily, drowned, usually via hosepipes connected, at full pressure, to taps linked to local authority water supply systems in ‘select’ city areas which, for one ‘wealthy’ reason or another, rarely run dry and, if they do, inhabitants don’t raise an eyebrow at coughing up Rs10,000 or more, on the provision of the tanker water they take for granted as a back-up: A back-up with increasingly shaky legs it must be pointed out. How wealthy ‘begums’ will survive when, as will eventually happen, all taps/water sources run dry is not the issue here – millions of low or no income families survive without tap water all ready – but these ‘wasteful’ creatures will cry as their ‘lush green lawns,’ the very ones they depend on (along with excessively thirsty, imported ornamentals which should also be banned) for Horticultural Society medals, shrivel and die from heatstroke and drought.
Outlaw lawns, all lawns, irrespective of size or place and replace them with shade providing, air purifying, temperature lowering, moisture saving, indigenous trees – preferably fruiting or otherwise useful species. Below these, all manner of edibles can be grown with, thanks to micro-climate creating trees, if sensibly designed, minimum use of water and certainly not water on a daily basis. 
Water-wise garden design can make the use of hosepipes completely obsolete. Yes. This statement is perfectly true and is perfectly doable in our increasingly unpredictable climate.
The ‘Con is on’ fashionable world of organics and permaculture in which eager to learn, health aware populations are currently being taken for a very expensive ride – organic growing methods and permaculture living having been practiced by indigenous people, including us, around the world for generation upon generation will, if you are prepared to pay for instruction, have you designing gardens based on climatically unsuitable things such as ‘raised beds’.Which, be warned, need lots and lots of water as it drains out rapidly and cutting up…..sorry…’recycling’ …..toxic plastic water/soft drink bottles, the production and filling of being a part of the reason ground water levels are depleting at the speed of light, to use as ‘planters’ in which plants, unsurprisingly when you think about it, heat up and fry.
Don’t, please do not misunderstand….organic is the only way to grow, sensible permaculture is the way forward but neither were created by much publicized ‘founding fathers’…..whose names will not be named here as law suits we can do without….who have accumulated awesome amounts of money by selling updated ancestral wisdom and – the cheek of it – even gone as far as attempting to patent it. Money – as is its habit – corrupts!
Raised beds – this better be explained – do, in some localities, have their uses: For creating gardens on top of solid rock being just one example but, as basic features in all gardens, absolutely not.
A far better basic garden design, one which saves rather than wastes water, is to dig networks of irrigation ditches – call them miniature ‘swales’ if you want to be permaculture posh, modified ‘Karez‘ or ‘Qanats‘ if you want to be ancient Persian/Asian/Chinese/Mesopotamian correct.
As, naturally and obviously, water runs downhill, the system works more efficiently if the land is sloped, water entering the top of the system will work/soak its way down but, if your garden is totally on the level, it still, with a little assistance, works.
On sloping land: Starting at the highest point, dig a ditch approximately 6 inches deep and 6 inches wide, approx. 6 feet further down the slope, dig another and so on until you reach the bottom of the area or, as can be seen in the attached photographs, dig the first ditch across the top of the slope and, immediately next to it, build mound of approx. 3 feet in height.
The mound material is as follows: dead wood/twiggy material laid on top of the soil for a base of roughly 3 feet wide, cover this, building up as you go, with tough weeds, hedge clippings and the like to a height of 1 foot or so, then pile on soft weeds, grass clippings, fallen leaves, chopped straw etc, up to a height of around 2 and  half feet, top off with a nice covering of reasonable soil mixed, preferably 50/50 with homemade, organic compost. Then, 6 ft. further down the slope, another ditch, then another and then another mound and so on….the number of mounds depending on the ‘construction’ material you have to hand and the size of the garden involved. These mounds are not to be confused with that other fashionable item/method, known as ‘Hugelkuture’ which, as with its ‘relations’ ‘organics’ and ‘permaculture’ and ‘swales’, have their roots – pun intended – way back in ancient history.
The mounds have four reasons for being there:
  1. They slow down the movement of water through the soil, thus encouraging it to soak in rather than ‘run away’.
  2. They are compost heaps in disguise. The material slowly rotting down into excellent compost over a period of time and, by the way, worms adore life in a mound.
  3. They are the perfect, high nutrition, planting spot for hungry veggies such as pumpkins, courgettes, marrows and melons.
  4. As the material inside the mounds goes through the decomposing process, it initially produces a little warmth – this can aid seed germination in relatively low soil temperatures – and then, over a surprisingly long period, it not only produces its own moisture but retains it too. It may, depending on weather at the time, be necessary to water seeds until seedlings are established but, once they are, conditions inside the mound should be moist enough to render further watering unnecessary.
The beds created between mounds and ditches should be of an easily manageable size and, if, in extreme heat, any watering is deemed necessary, simply pour a bucket of water – preferably recycled gray water or rainwater if you have harvested and stored it – into each ditch and let it flow. No matter how high the temperature, watering should never be required more than twice a week. Water thus given, seeps through the soil directly to plant roots, reducing loses to evaporation by at least 85%.
The ditches themselves can, if you like, be covered over to stop any evaporation at all – cover them with heavy cardboard cut to size and hold it in place with a few stones/bricks but, advantageous as this is, snakes and other nasties may move in to what they would view as 5* hotel accommodation!
Personally, I feel that leaving the ditches uncovered and growing veggies such as spinach, leaf beet/Swiss chard, cabbage, lettuce, green onions, ladies finger or tomatoes, in the ditches themselves, has excellent results.
Ditches dug across and along the contours of a sloping piece of ground need not be interconnected and, frankly, have better results in an individual capacity.
If gardening on the level though, creating an interesting, inter-connected maze of irrigation ditches, interspersed with small mounds of a 3 – 4 feet diameter, is the better bet.
More interesting, definitely innovative with ancient echoes, water saving methods next month readers, so stay with us please!
Writer: Zahrah Nasir

Articles

Ten ways for best usage of room air-conditioner 

June is one of the hottest months in Asia including Pakistan. As temperatures cross 40 °C, so does the use of air-conditioners increase rapidly along with the energy bills.    

We may find it nearly impossible to survive without this contraption during summers, but there are a few things which can surprisingly reduce your energy cost while keeping you cool at the same time.
  1. Make your room energy efficient: It is good to reduce your energy use but even better to make things more energy efficient. First thing you need to do is to shut all windows and doors tight after you turn on the Air Conditioner (AC). Even after the door is closed, there is a small opening between the door bottom and the floor. This vent reduces the air-conditioner’s cooling efficiency as it allows the hot air in and cold air out. But you can fix this problem by fitting a ‘transom seal’ to the door’s bottom. The seal should be available at ‘hardware & tools stores’ in your city, and you can easily do it yourself at home! Now the AC will cool the room faster and consume less electricity.
  2. Sunblock is necessary to protect your room against UV: What about getting a sunblock for your room? It sure is vital to block sun to keep your room cool and energy efficient. Use some light colored curtains to block sun, you can also use traditional bamboo curtain known as “Chicks” to block warm sun rays entering your room. It’s also advisable to fix some shades outside the windows because glass is known to trap heat, so it’s better to block the sun from outside.
  3. If 25 °C is the optimal room temperature defined in science, why would you set the AC thermostat to 16 °C? Set it to 25 °C, it is the best way to say goodbye to winters and to welcome summers. And the good thing is setting your room to reasonably high temperature will save you from thermal shock when you leave the room!
  4. It is better to use small fans with AC because the fan can make you feel cool even at higher temperatures so you can set its thermostat at higher temperature.
  5. Remove or reduce the source of heat in air-conditioned room: Televisions, printers, scanners, computers, lamps and even cell phone chargers produce heat. It is a good idea to switch off all electric appliances when not in use. You reduce the unnecessary heat from the room, it’ll reduce your electricity bill because a/c consumes less power.
  6. It is time to replace old machines by modern ones: It works in two ways, take CRT television as an example; first it consumes more electricity (CRT 110W vs 45W LCD for 19’’)and secondly, it produces considerably more heat than an LCD unit of similar specification. Therefore, it is much better idea to replace CRT TVs and computer screens by modern LCD or LED units. Same is for conventional fluorescent bulb which should be replaced by LED bulb which consumes around 60% less energy than conventional counterpart (tube-lights and energy savers etc.).
  7. Clean the AC unit regularly, it works the best when it’s clean. It is simple and you can do it yourself, just read the user manual and precautions before you do it. Or call a repairman to do it if you think it is difficult.
  8. Do what you can’t do yourself, get the AC serviced by experienced technician before summers start, if you haven’t done it yet, do it now!
  9. Downsize your room, reduce your bills! A bigger room needs a more powerful air-conditioning unit, while a smaller space needs a smaller unit which consumes less energy. You can find a smaller room in your house and install a small a/c but its cooling will be the same as bigger unit in large room. It is also important to avoid using a room affected by direct sunlight. Remember! (Width x Length X Height) ÷ 1000 = Ton (needed to cool room). For example, a 9’ long, 10’ wide room with ceiling height of 10’ will need 1 ton air-conditioner. Living rooms or D/D are bigger and they need at least a 1.5 ton AC. A 0.75 ton AC may be big enough to cool a study or small bedroom.
  10. Still not satisfied? Sell your old unit and invest in a modern inverter air-conditioned with good energy rating. It could be 30-40% more expensive than a conventional unit but it does pay back as it consumes up to 40% less energy. Another advantage of an inverter air-conditioner is that it can be run by a relatively low capacity generator when there is loadshedding.
Saving electricity is need of the hour, if you manage to reduce your energy bills, it is not only good for you but it also reduces greenhouse emissions and help lessen the burden on national grid which is already overloaded and we are facing hours of load shedding in summers. These small steps will reduce your power consumption without compromising the comfort. Save energy, go green this summer!
Writer: Sultan Kiani
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