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South Asian megacities Karachi, Delhi, Dhaka cause social, climate hazards: Experts 

31 Julie 2010 10:36:48

South Asian megacities Karachi, Delhi, Dhaka cause social, climate hazards: Experts

Orangi Town is the largest slum in the region, leaving behind Dharavi in Mumbai; Dhaka, with more than 13 million people ranked as the most vulnerable city in the world to the impact of climate change

ISLAMABAD, (INFN/DW), 31 July 2010: Megacities in South Asia such as Karachi, Delhi and Dhaka are the fastest growing contributions in terms of impacts of climate change, urbanization, food security and population explosion that increase risks for peoples and societies.

One of the biggest problems of the megacities is the ever-growing slums. It is estimated that Karachi's Orangi Town is currently the largest slum in South Asia, leaving the Dharavi slum in Mumbai behind, home to a million people. All over South Asia, the slum dwellers receive very little or no support from the government for their welfare.

A researcher and experts from the German University of Heidelberg explains Wolfgang-Peter Zingel says the urban poor have had to learn to cope with all kinds of risks themselves. “They simply do not have a choice because there is no exact strategy for it. There is no social policy coming into it, so they cope with it. Bangladesh with regular floods is a perfect example. People have been living with it. For a long time they have known the water comes, the water goes. In some years it has been exceptionally bad, but with the average flood they can cope.”

Pakistan’s recent floods and lack of a sustained response to deal with them from disaster management related departments are also an example of the absence of a proper disaster risk reduction plans and a regular work with the disaster hit communities.

Dhaka, one of the fastest growing megacities in the world with a population of more than 13 million, has recently been ranked as the most vulnerable city in the world to the impact of climate change. Wolfgang-Peter Zingel says this is not the only environmental risk that people living in Bangladesh's capital face. “The risk can be a change in micro-climate such as too much pollution. In winters, almost everybody is Dhaka suffers from some pain in the chest because of the tremendous air pollution. People cannot walk out, they are afraid to let their children play outside because there is so little public space, the traffic becomes dangerous.”

Another expert Benjamin Etzold from the University of Bonn explains that the risks are not limited to climate change or pollution. Many other people are vulnerable in South Asia's megacities due to some other issues. “The middle class is always at risk that their wages are not sufficient to buy a TV or a fridge. It’s of course a quite different risk that a slum dweller is facing when a flood is coming, or being evicted by police or being beaten up by more powerful people or criminals. Women face quite different risks of exclusion, of no access to education for young girls.”

In the Indian capital Delhi conflicts over city development are particularly acute this year. On the one hand, city officials and politicians want to implement proper planning to make Delhi a world city before the Commonwealth Games this autumn, and on the other hand they have to deal with the slum dwellers. Benjamin Etzold says in these situations, the poor are likely to lose out. “Government or city administrations - it's always client politics. They are from specific social-economic elite, and they are often serving the interests of the elite, and the higher middle class as well. But often the policies do not work in favor of the urban poor.”

As the urbanization trend continues, the risks of living in South Asia's megacities will also continue to grow - but mainly for the poor and vulnerable who do not have a lobby to look after their interests. –INFN/DW