Heat Wave Remedies: Case of Karachi

Karachi has been in the news recently for the heat waves and the resulting deaths. This isn’t the first time this has happened. For example, in 2015, the heatwaves left over 1200 people dead. It is an annual affair and again, we fail to learn lessons and start with mitigation strategies. We adapt to these situations temporarily, but it is evident from the constant occurrence that drastic mitigation measures also need to be taken into account. Unfortunately, the government is busy further increasing urban areas which would exacerbate the heat waves and increase land surface temperatures. Climate change coupled with our negligence is going to take us down a dark path and as this year, the hottest temperature ever recorded in April on Earth was in Pakistan; this should be a wake-up call for us.

Karachi is a highly urbanized city with an estimated population of 20 million with a 70% increase in the population from 1990 to 2015. It is also one of the most densely populated city and according to Forbes, it is the fastest growing megacities of the world with a 27% increase in the built-up/urban area from 1990 to 2015. There has also been a significant increase in annual maximum temperatures and annual average temperature in Karachi, where average maximum temperature increased by 4.6°C from 1947 to 2005.

The main reason for the heat waves in Karachi can be attributed to the urban heat island phenomenon. Urban heat island effect is caused by reduced green spaces and increased sources of anthropogenic heat sources, for example, the air conditioning systems and industrial heat production. According to research, if the night-time temperature is close to an elevated body temperature of 37°C, it adds to the significant stress on the body, enough to cause death.

You can have two responses to the urban heat island impacts; adaptation and mitigation. Adaptation strategies include; using fans, cooking outsides rather than insides, wearing light clothes and sleeping outside. Another option is air conditioning but it has significant drawbacks. Firstly, it is extremely expensive (to purchase and operate) and the poor cannot get access to such a resource. Second, it is technically going to make the urban heat island impact worse.

There are two major mitigation strategies suggested by Solecki et al. (2005) in their research paper ‘Mitigation of the Heat Island Effect in New Jersey’. Those include increasing vegetation cover and introducing high albedo surfaces. High albedo surface refers to surfaces that reflect more of the incident light. Surfaces that are smoother or lighter in color e.g. houses painted white, reflect off more light thereby reducing the surface temperature of the object. In this article, we will keep our focus on increasing vegetation cover.

There is scientific evidence to support that planting trees and increasing vegetation cover reduces the surface temperatures. There are other benefits of increasing vegetation cover also, like reduced air pollution and associated public health effects. Unfortunately, Pakistan as a whole isn’t doing a lot to increase the forested area cover. Even though the country agreed under the Millennial Development Goals (MDG) in 2005 to increase the forest cover from 4% to 7%, as of 2015 there has barely been a 1% increase.

Satellite images are also being shared on the social media comparing vegetation cover in Karachi to other cities like New York City and Washington DC. I don’t believe it is fair to compare the places mentioned as they have different climate and weather conditions, water supply sources, population, and even literacy rate (which could result in how informed people would be of different issues). However, this doesn’t mean we don’t have the potential to increase vegetation in Karachi. The satellite image is still eye opening to the little green spaces we have in the megacity of Pakistan.

Before considering planting any shrub or tree, it is important to take into consideration a couple of factors. Firstly, the plant should be native to the region; do not introduce non-native species as it has huge repercussions on the ecosystem in the long run. Secondly, the plant should be drought-resistant which means it should be able to tolerate long dry spells so the demand for watering the plants is reduced. Thirdly, it should be fast growing; we don’t have time to plant slow-growing trees and shrubs. Although it doesn’t mean we don’t plant slow-growing trees and shrubs at all; it should be the second option. Plants with long life would be an added bonus. While planting it is also important to keep in mind the appropriate growing and planting seasons, otherwise, your efforts would be futile.

The best place to add vegetation can be your rooftops if one does not have a lawn. Rooftop gardens are gaining popularity; it can be as simple as grabbing a few pots and placing them on the rooftop. A simple search on the internet can give you a lot of ideas and options for creating your own rooftop gardens. These gardens can help in keeping your houses cool, as the soil and the plants have the ability to trap heat and reduce surface temperature. It would also look aesthetically pleasing. Plants indoors can also help as natural air conditioners and air purifiers. It should be made a priority to visit your local nurseries and get information regarding which plants to plant and how to take care of them.

The issue of heat waves is further exacerbated by the increased population and power outages. It also becomes harder to implement adaptive, preventive, and mitigation measures. Increasing population increases the demand for resources such as water and the power outages make it harder to keep the homes and workplaces cool.

So far we have failed to solve both of these issues. The controlling population growth would still take considerably longer time than resolving the power shortage to some extent. Pakistan is reported to have approximately 300 days of sunlight annually (in most cities) with long daylight sunshine hours during summer, that can be used to generate solar power. The government should subsidize the solar panels and encourage the people to use and employ this amazing technology. Non-profit and other organizations need to introduce soft interest-free loans for the people who are underprivileged so they are better able to access this technology.

Government and non-government organizations need to actively play their role, however, in the end, this comes down to the common people at some point. We as Pakistanis need to involve ourselves in the local political scenes and encourage our leaders to take these initiatives. We don’t realize the power we have as a people. We need to raise awareness of the potential that we have and need to utilize it as soon as possible.

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Pakistan Ill-Equipped to Deal with Disease of the Mind

Part C: Problems and Solutions

The dislike for people in need of psychological treatment is so deeply woven into our culture, our home and our workplaces that it will need massive awareness raising to help overcome this issue. The problem is also of perception regarding mental illnesses. People perceive people with such problems as weak and ‘abnormal’, as in they are unable to function as normal functioning adults and that is not the case. Though I have talked about two different levels of mental illnesses and both are treated differently in different scenarios they still face disapproval from society.

To further this issue there is a  lack of awareness about the treatment available. There are not many good psychologists and psychiatrists in Pakistan. Even if there are they aren’t as popular as doctors in other fields. Furthermore, the stigma attached to someone searching for treatment for their illness along with someone pursuing psychology as their field of study further worsens the situations.

It is very easy to point out a problem than solve it or just propose some solutions to it. There is a dire need to treat mental illness like a physical disease. Diseases of mind are of equal importance. Depression and anxiety can lead to other physical ailments if not treated or managed properly. There also is dire need to build special education schools. If that is not possible then it should be made compulsory to educate the teachers and train them in firstly, identifying students who require special education and secondly, to teach them or frame the curriculum accordingly. Doctors in emergency health care also need to be trained to identify and deal with such conditions. All in all a massive awareness raising campaign should be launched.

Read Part A: Reflection of Personal Experience here.

Read Part B: The Neglected Special Needs Children here.

Pakistan Ill-Equipped to Deal with Disease of the Mind

Part B: The Neglected Special Needs Children

As a Pakistani and someone who has been through psychological problems from 15 years of age, I can say this with certainty that Pakistan is not ready to treat mental illness at all. There is no training for the doctors or teachers who can diagnose and identify a patient suffering from mental ailment. Diagnosis is the first step to treating such a condition.

Teachers are also unable to recognize students who have learning disabilities and the sad part is that the parents themselves don’t cooperate enough to ‘see’ that their child is special. Another sad turn of events is that Pakistan also does not have sufficient number of schools to educated students of special needs.

Since I started teaching last year, I have been struggling to teach special needs students with the students who don’t need special attention. It is good that we try to treat them like normal students but it is over burdening for them emotionally, psychologically and academically because they are unable to interact and learn the way their fellow classmates can.

A teacher once said to me, “I get it that this kid has autism but that doesn’t mean he can misbehave.” I was not offended but I felt sorry for the kid who had teachers who did not understand his condition. All I said to her was that children with learning disabilities also have behavioral issues. They do not see the world like we do. That’s why they are called special needs children.

It’s not just the teachers. Most students can also notice whether a student is not acting ‘normal’ like they themselves do. A student recently exclaimed out loud in class in a very insulting manner, ‘Oh ma’am, is (named censored) abnormal?’ I stopped in my tracks and just stared at the kid because I could not believe what he had just said. The other kids avoided looking at me. Instead of scolding him I tried telling him that not everyone is the same. Some children need special attention. Some learn fast and some learn slowly. I am pretty sure I was not convincing which depresses me.

I told him to never use insulting words like ‘abnormal’ and ‘retarded’. Such derogatory terms are also one of the reasons that people are in denial and refuse to seek treatment for their illnesses.

Read Part A: Reflection of Personal Experience here.

Read Part C: Problems and Solutions here.

Pakistan Ill-Equipped to Deal with Disease of the Mind

Part A: Reflection of Personal Experience

I can still recall how it all happened so fast. I was in our car with my dad. Suddenly I burst out in tears. There was so much sadness. We were having a normal conversation but I just had this sudden profound urge to cry my lungs out. I wanted to scream as the tears rolled down my eyes but soon I realized I had lost my voice. I could barely speak because I was gasping for air. Air! I wanted to breathe but I couldn’t. My chest hurt while I took shallow breaths that barely reached the depths of my lungs. I thought maybe I was having an asthma attack. I wanted to vomit. I felt so nauseated. The entire place was spinning. I couldn’t see properly or hear anything or breathe anymore. There was only pain.

As I continued to take shallow breaths my dad drove me to PIMS. I couldn’t talk or breathe. I had no idea where my dad was taking me. Yet at the back of my mind I knew I was in the hospital. I could see and hear and understand but my response was so delayed and slow. The doctor asked me questions and I could barely speak with all the tears. She looked angrily at me. I was grown up woman crying like a little baby and was unable to describe the simple symptoms I was experiencing.

They gave me an oxygen mask and made me sit there for fifteen minutes. Then a nurse struggled with my hands to insert gravinate in my veins which she was unable to do so three times. My hands swell and then I vomited. It took me over an hour to normalize but I was so worn out and tired by then. They made me go through a lot of tests which I recognize is important to help in eliminating the obvious causes of this attack. It included ECG, Chest X-rays, blood tests and what not. Everything was clear. So they sent me home without diagnosis.

It happened again. But this time I was able to evade the situation I was in locked myself in a room and started breathing heavily. I was able to control another panic attack. They had happened before too but because I was alone and was able to escape the situations causing the attack I was able to normalize faster. Sometimes these attacks just happen for no reason. That is when one feels overwhelmed and chest starts hurting.

You must be wondering why I am mentioning such a detailed account of what happened. It’s because I was not the only person who had a psychological issue and ended up in the hospital and the medical doctors did not diagnose the disease as they were not prepared to do so. Anxiety disorders and panic attacks aren’t that difficult to deal with, once someone knows what they are dealing with and what approach they should take to manage the problem.

Read Part B: The Neglected Special Needs Children here.

Read Part C: Problems and Solutions here

Ask Yourself Why

We believe in so many things or people in life. We like and dislike many things or people for many reasons. We hold such beliefs close to our hearts. They are based on certain facts and experiences that are unique to each one of us.

The question of ‘what you believe in’ is not as important as the question of ‘why you believe in it’

I just recalled an incident a couple of years back. I was friends with this guy and he was an atheist. I was at that stage in life when I was struggling with my religious identity. I wanted to know why I was a Muslim. It was very important for me. To gain insight into this question I asked him a similar question because he seemed like an intellectual person. I asked him why he was an atheist the conversation became a bit long and I asked so many why’s I guess he felt I was questioning in faith-or rather faithlessness.

So imagine asking the following questions:

What religion do you follow?

What political party do you support?

I say I believe in Islam. I believe that PTI should be the leading party. But imagine adding the ‘why’ to the same interrogative sentence. Why do I believe in Islam? Why do I believe PTI should be the leading party? After you listen to someone’s answer to the question why with an open mind you will develop a deeper understanding for the person and their choices. You will learn to respect them maybe, depending on how convincing the argument is. But the key is having an open mind to opposing ideas.

We often DON’T ask OURSELVES the ‘why’. It is important for the critical thinking skill that we lack very often and do not bother to imply by asking why do we do what we do or why do we believe in what we believe in.

Self-evaluation is very uncommon and only few know how precious this gem is for personal growth and development. The problem in Pakistan is that our education system does not focus on a life skill like this which will help in the intellectual and spiritual of an individual but it will also develop and understanding and compassion for the people in society.

Dilemma of an Overweight Female Citizen of Pakistan

fat

‘Shouldn’t you lose some weight?’

‘So how far into your weight loss program are you?’

‘Ah. You have gained some weight.’

‘Hm. You look fat.’

So on and so forth. Yes, these ever consuming questions and statements that plague everyone who meets me. So dear random citizen (or relative) who is concerned by my overweight appearance, this is dedicated to you. But please take note that every time you tell me how I need to lose weight, you lose respect in my eyes.

I honestly appreciate your constant remarks about my weight. I get it. You are concerned for my well-being. But please elaborate on how losing weight would be so beneficial for me? So I get it when you have a normal weight the chances of you getting cardiovascular diseases is low and there are a million health benefits. But how can you tell by looking at me that I am not physically active? You cannot. You know why? Because even though I am overweight I workout 150 minutes every week which is the required amount. Do you? I am physically fit and do not have any disease currently. Alhamdulillah.fat

Furthermore, physical activity in itself is beneficial for mental health. I agree. It makes you intelligent, releases stress, and makes you happier. But I am physically active and I eat just as much; the reason I don’t lose weight that fast. I love food, period. I am not giving that up just so I could lose a few inches around my hips and my waist.

And if that isn’t really the reason why you want me to lose weight then what is? Would losing weight make me look more ‘beautiful’? Is that why you want me to lose weight? Because if that is the reason then let me say this; beauty is subjective. It changes from person to person, place to place and era to era; what might be beautiful for you might not be for me or someone else across the world. If you follow the set standards that society has defined as ‘beautiful’ then we can’t be on good terms. Those standards are shallow and unintelligible. Being skinny and fair shouldn’t be the only measures of beauty.

I think I am beautiful the way I am, thank you very much. I do not support or endorse the unintelligible shallow society’s standards. I create my own standards. Allah created me with a broad bone structure. He gave me hips wider than yours. I don’t have a problem with it and you shouldn’t either.

Climate Change & Poverty: An Unbreakable Bond

We have all heard the term climate change. However, for some reason I don’t feel like Pakistan and its population care much about its impact. Is it because it only strikes the poor in our society and they don’t even know that its climate change? Or is it because the elite are in most cases well-shielded from the drastic impacts? If you don’t care then ask yourself, why is the world going crazy over this issue?

We all can agree on the fact that changes in climatic conditions of an area will directly impact the agricultural produce. For Pakistan climate change is a big issue since it is highly dependent on agricultural produce for its GDP. To simplify it, imagine you own a huge piece of land. The land is dependent on rain (hence called rain-fed area). 80% of your income comes from the crop you produce and sell. Now imagine because of climate change, there is no rain (or the rain pattern has changed). You have no crop to sell and hence you have no money.

Many small farmers go through this ordeal every day because of climate change. Every time disasters take place, the poor in the society pay the heaviest price. It is always the farmers, the fish mongers, the fisherman, the laborer, and the miners who pay the price.

Pakistan ranks 10 on the Global Climate Risk Index and is under threat from climate change effects even though it has contributed a miniscule amount to global greenhouse gases. Climate change-induced disasters, particularly floods and erratic rainfall patterns, have badly affected water, agriculture and energy sectors. It is evident that this climate change affects the destitute amongst us at a greater level.

Poverty and climate change are very well connected. The drastic increase in deforestation has a lot to contribute to the climate change-induced disasters. Deforestation largely takes place because poor people have no other sustainable means for income and have zero access to fuel their stoves. Poverty is also the main reason as to why people don’t educate their children which leaves them as illiterate further contributing to the lack of environmental awareness problem. According to World Bank, 62% of Pakistan’s population lives in rural areas hence, employing 50% of the labor in agricultural related activity. Agriculture is climate sensitive and it is obvious how this could impact the poverty stricken people.

According to World Bank, ‘Ending poverty and addressing climate change are the two defining issues of our time. Both are essential to achieving our sustainable global development. But they cannot be considered in isolation.’ Tackling the issue of poverty would also help mitigate the effects of climate change on the national level. This calls for organization at grass-root level to adopt approaches that would help curb the effects of climate change induced disasters.

Good news regarding global poverty is that according to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (2015), the target of reducing extreme poverty rates by half was met five years ahead of the 2015 deadline. Furthermore, more than 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990. This should galvanize and inspire similar approaches to be adopted by the Government of Pakistan to tackle poverty and address the issue of climate change at local, regional, and national level.

The Conference on Climate Change in Paris needs not isolate the issue of climate change but rather use an integrative approach to resolve the issue at hand. Currently, the best approach Pakistan should adopt would be to tackle the issue keeping in the mind the section of the society most affected by the disastrous impacts of climate change.

The writer is Chairperson Environmental Watch Trust and can be reached at blackstreaks@gmail.com.

The Fault in Our Teaching: Part 1

Ever since I started teaching I heard many tell me that I was too friendly with the students. Never in my wildest imagination did I thought I would be told that I am ‘too friendly’ with the students. I still do not understand how my being friendly is a problem for other teachers, as long as it does not impact a child’s learning negatively, because after all that is why we are here, right?

Apparently people have a habit of confusing friendliness with leniency. I have a strong belief in maintaining balance. I am neither too friendly nor too lenient. There are boundaries that I have set. However, what the main problem teachers think is that this results in students taking ‘advantage’ of the ‘friendly’ teachers. But have we ever wondered why this is the case? Why do students feel like they can ‘use’ such teachers?Treat-others-as-you-would__quotes-by-Swedish-Proverb-90

Unfortunately, the problem with our teachers is that they have been strict for far too long. The problem arises when we as adults forget that just like adults have ego, self respect and dignity so do children. I still vividly remember how my history teacher threw my copy across the classroom floor when I got all my answers wrong in 6th grade. I was hurt. I never respected that woman. I never learned anything from her. I don’t remember anything I studied during her class but I do remember this one event. It is carved into my memory.

When teachers emotionally or physically abuse children, often children become too shallow. So when they ‘rarely’ see a ‘friendly’ teacher they assume that she is weak and will be easily manipulated to their will. Okay so now the children sound like evil villains. Remember this, bad people aren’t born they are made. The environment at home matters, no doubt about that, but the way students are treated at the school matter too. An average child spends half of his/her time awake at school.

For all the teachers holding on to grudges against children who falter at some point and do something unethical, please forgive them. Not for their sake but for your own sake. For all the teachers trying to be authoritarians, stop bullying them. Not for yourself, but for the sake of everyone involved. For all the teachers who do not admit they are wrong and feel ‘hurt’ when corrected by a student, let go of that ego. You are only teaching children to be perfectionists, which is incorrect and impractical.

I respect teachers who make mistakes, accept them and apologize. I respect teachers who are so down to earth that they consider themselves equal to the children and not superior to them. Treat your students the way you want to be treated!

My Teaching Philosphy

For me, learning is a process of acquiring and enhancing knowledge and skills. Since aptitude varies from individual to individual, the process of learning should also vary.

According to my teaching methodology, a teacher’s main job is to facilitate learning. The process of facilitated learning is where students are encouraged to take more control of their learning process. Therefore, when I teach, I drive the learning process of the students on their inquiry, curiosity, and questions. I base the child’s learning on discussions that result due to the inquiry and make sure that every child is included in the discussion and has something to add. There is also ample evidence that supports that active learning promotes memory retention.

Learning Pyramid by Howard Gardner

Learning Pyramid by Edgar Dale (1946)

Figure on the right shows the learning pyramid developed by Edgar Dale (1946), an expert in audiovisual education. This pyramid is, to a huge extent, very accurate. It shows the approximate amount of learning acquired when using various methods of teaching. Most of the learning takes place when one is teaching others. This is why I involve most of my students in activities where they themselves are explaining what they had learnt to others. This can be done by involving them in group discussions or presentations of any kind related to the topics. Furthermore, I like to integrate various types of learning methodology. Research supports that students retain more when the instructor mixes different teaching methodologies.

It is evident from research that every child is different. Learning is different for every child. The theory of multiple intelligence challenges the idea of a single Intelligence Quotient (IQ). Howard Gardner (1983) has mentioned 8 types of intelligence:

  1. Verbal-linguistic intelligence
  2. Logical-mathematical intelligence
  3. Visual-spatial intelligence
  4. Musical intelligence
  5. Naturalistic intelligence
  6. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence
  7. Interpersonal intelligence
  8. Intrapersonal intelligence

Everyone has all eight types of the intelligence listed above at varying levels of aptitude. Perhaps there are even more than these that are still undiscovered. I believe our schools should be able to harness the intelligence and interests of students and pivot learning around what interests them, for interest and passion is a great driving force for learning.

However, this does not mean that what works for one student might work for another. This is something every educator should cater to and keep in mind. Some students need separate one on one time. I make sure to keep personal counseling sessions after each chapter is finished to answer questions, revise, and review the previous material. William G. Spady said it right:

“All students can learn and succeed, but not on the same day, or in the same way”

Throughout my experience in the education system, either learning or teaching, I have realized that we base our learning on the child’s capacity to cram; not remember, but cram. Cramming is different and remembering is different. Memory matters. While everyone has different capacity of retaining information, cramming has proven to be very useless in the long run.

Furthermore, test scores do not generally test what they aim to; especially not in Pakistan’s education system. Tests are made by teachers therefore; it changes from teacher to teacher and it also depends on the teaching styles. Most teachers don’t let the students explain in their own words because they would make mistakes. Mistakes are a huge part of the learning process. We need to give room to students to make mistakes but we also need to set a limit to how many mistakes might indicate zero to no learning. Furthermore, I have found rubrics to be very beneficial in this regard. They help breakdown the various elements of measurements.

Since the dawn of technology information flow has changed. It is faster. Every day we gain access to new information. Every day that previous information becomes obsolete. Research has shown what a student learns while he/she starts college changes exponentially by the time he/she graduates. It is becoming more and more important to teach kids how to synthesize information after developing fundamental concepts, than teaching them how to cram. I am in no way undermining the importance of remembering important facts, rules, and laws, however my main aim is to help students access and synthesize that information.

Changing era means changing learning styles and it means teachers need to change the way they have taught and to a huge extent what they have taught. Furthermore, just like learning, teaching methods are also ever evolving and a teacher is someone who will have to unlearn some techniques and learn some new one as Alvin Toffler has said:

“The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Hiring Experienced Professionals Only?

hiring

‘Experience is the teacher of all the things’, Julius Cesar. That is undeniably true. However, if not given any opportunity there will be no way to gain experience.

Are you an unemployed undergraduate looking for an entry level job? Have you seen the years of experience requirement for those entry level jobs? Have you held your head in shock and dismay at how stupid it sounds; because I certainly have.

It doesn’t matter whether you have a degree from abroad or even if you have a strong reference. I have tried all that. It took me months to land an entry level job even though I studied for sometime in USA and had strong references. Clearly the HR managers at most of the firms are either too dumb, or they just don’t care about the consequences of the overzealous requirements they post for job applications. I will only say one thing, passion trumps experience in all walks of life as Phillip Di Bella said, ‘Passion is the one thing experience can’t teach’.

‘As a job seeker, remember this: You only lack experience if they want it done the same old way’, Robert Bault

The problem is people are better at being bosses than being leaders. These bosses treat their workforce like slaves and not like a team. Leaders teach their subordinates and take them places. Then again it’s not their fault because certain people are not passionate about the jobs they apply to and ‘ditch’

‘Hire passion first, experience second, and credentials third’, Paul Alofs

I believe that hiring passionate inexperienced individuals and then training them could be a great team building exercise. It would also help filter out those who are not at all interested in pursuing the career. Not all successful people started as experienced professionals. They started with an undying passion for their field. Combined with never ending persistence, they are who they are today.