Climate Change, Cities and Violence in the Time of COVID-19: Perspectives from South Asia
GCRF Climate Change and Urban Violence Global Engagement Network (CCUVN), supported by the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), is a pioneering initiative in examining the interface between urban violence and climate change research and practice. CCUVN is led by Prof. Dr. Nausheen H. Anwar, Director, Karachi Urban Lab (KUL) at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Pakistan, and co-directed by Dr. Arabella Fraser, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom.
CCUVN organized a three-day online workshop Climate Change, Cities and Violence in the Time of COVID-19: Perspectives from South Asia from 24-26 June, 2020. The workshop’s aim was to generate new knowledge exchange by academics and practitioners who work on violence and climate change issues in South Asia, by bringing into focus three interconnected themes:
(1) Gender, Climate Change & Violence
(2) Cities, Climate Change, Displacement & Development
(3) Covid-19, Securitization and Climate Change
Gender, Climate Change and Violence
The first session of the workshop was commenced by the introductory speech of Dr. Nausheen H. Anwar. As the chair of first session, she welcomed the panelists and participants of the workshop and introduced the Network which focuses on multiple and growing forms of interpersonal violence that arise within cities. The CCUVN comprises of 8 stakeholders, collaborators and partners located across sub Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and South Asia.
The first speaker of the session, Dr. Farhana Sultana, who is Associate Professor of Geography at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, USA, discussed gendered climate injustices in marginalized urban spaces. Dr. Sultana who is also Research Director of Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration (PARCC) at Syracuse University shared insights from one of her research projects. Dr. Sultana shed light on the ongoing water crises in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which is identified as the most vulnerable to climate change, according to the UN. Due to its location in the river delta, it faces severe water-related crises. Moreover, water injustice is heightened in Dhaka due to lack of urban planning, uncontrolled population growth, and social inequities leading to climate apartheid for at least 1/3 of the residents. Due to lack of water coverage to poor urban areas, many families in Dhaka have to access water through informal means such as through a water vendor.
While articulating the water security issues, Dr. Sultana also talked about the intersectionality of class and gender. Poor women in the slums have limited access to water and have to walk miles to fetch it, women of the upper-class use water for non-survival activities such as washing cars, filling up swimming pools and watering their garden.
In Dhaka, water injustice is also marked by gender differences because women are primarily responsible for domestic responsibilities, which includes fetching water for the family. She asserts on the complexity of the hydraulic component in the climate crises as she says, ‘Everything about water has a gender component. Poor women who live in informal settlements face double burden of climate change and patriarchy’.
Such a gendered division of labor in the household, patriarchal oppression and water scarcity in the slums increases the physical workload on women as well as the emotional stress. Lack of socio-economic and political representation of women leads to unfair and gendered roles in the slum community, she added. Dr. Sultana further emphasized the need for a gender perspective into the water crises and to shape policies keeping in mind the water-gender relationship to protect the rights of women and promote women’s agency in the socio-political sphere. “Heeding gendered implications of climate change is important because different patriarchal norms and inequities have placed women and men in differentiated positions in climate change and the corona virus,” said Dr. Sultana. Her ending note focused on the need for an eco-feministic approach to address the patriarchal barriers embedded within the climate crises and urban violence.
The second speaker Dr. Nichola Khan – who is Reader in Anthropology and Psychology and Director, Centre for Research in Spatial Environment and Cultural Politics at University of Brighton, UK – deliberated upon her topic, “Climate Change Analysis, Responses and Knowledge: Reflections on Gender, Migration and urban Violence in Sindh”. Drawing from her research on young men’s violence in Karachi’s MQM party, she offered observations on the relationship between gender violence and climate change. She argued, ‘Climate change itself is a form of urban violence’, wherein the term urban violence can be understood from a sociological and anthropological perspective. Urban violence, she argued, ‘is a multiple interrelated form on a continuum of structural, institutional, political, economic, cultural and symbolic violence’. By this definition then, gender hierarchies are naturalized and inseparable from societal patriarchy on a continuum with physical violence and are especially exacerbated in crisis situations such as military lockdown, urban conflict and climate change that are all characteristic of Karachi’s urban and political landscape. Dr. Khan asserted that the complexities of climate change can only be understood by truly looking at urban ecology, consequently allowing meaningful engagement with relevant policies such as the International Paris Climate Agreement.
Women form an undeniably central presence in this urban ecology, though they have been systematically overlooked in the dominant narrative. According to Dr. Khan, Karachi has endured intense political party and military violence over several decades during which women have carried many additional burdens including killings, imprisonment and disappearances of sons, fathers and husbands, increase in domestic violence, losses of freedom, income loss due to strikes and price hikes and norms that largely confine them to their houses. City unrest has been accompanied by marked increases in domestic and sexual violence against women. In terms of climate change, this is relevant because the Global South in general and minority groups such as migrants and women in particular have been disproportionately impacted. Thus, if climate justice and climate change communication are truly to be achieved, these marginal voices must be elevated and brought to the forefront. Dr. Khan noted that ‘climate activism has historically been a middle-class pursuit and minority activism has been ignored in what Naomi Klein calls the ‘Violence of Othering’. Thus, addressing climate change calls for highlighting the experiences of the most marginalized including women, by including the voices of feminist political ecologists and policy makers.
Further, Dr. Khan grounded her claims empirically through the case of Sindh. Sindh’s severe climate-related events have forced climate-stressed rural populations to cities. These are occurring amidst steep structural changes in urban areas such as large scale infrastructural development. Such migrations increase poverty and vulnerability amidst tough working conditions and poor access to health services. For example, in Thar, Hindu women are made to work as truck drivers. Minority women are forced into sex work or domestic help because of poverty. These issues are exacerbated by continual military engagements in Sindh. Northern Sindh is said to the training ground for Jihadist and terrorist groups. These tales of migration and the severity of their impacts on the urban set up have however, failed to translate into any permanent environmental migration policy. Dr. Khan elaborated on this gender dimension across climatic problems related to land, water and air in Sindh, highlighting how each of these natural resources bear the potential of dire climatic disasters in the near future.
Dr. Khan concluded by emphasizing, “Structural racism, sexism and climate change are the big political issues of our time and they must be tackled jointly... there is no way to confront the climate crisis as a solely technocratic problem. It must be addressed in the context of gender violence, poverty and privatization, colonialism and militarism.” Her address thus emphasized the need of adopting an interdisciplinary approach to tackling the climate change problem in South Asia.
Last speaker of first session, Dr Imran S. Khalid – Research Fellow and Head of Environment and Climate Change at Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Islamabad – discussed his topic, Grasping at the Dying Spring: Plastic Bags, Tsunami and a Corridor. He started off by contextualizing his arguments on a quote by Rachel Carson from her book The Silent Spring, ‘A grim spectre has crept upon us almost unnoticed and this imagined tragedy may easily become a stark reality, we all shall know’. This grim spectre, according to Dr. Khalid, is the climate change faced by South Asia today which is not a ‘spectre’ of the future but a ‘stark reality’ of the present that according to him, we must all face.
One of the IDRC projects Dr. Khalid was involved in in 2014, looked at the impacts of climate change on migration in Pakistan, the cotton belt as well as water governance. His focus was in flood governance systems in Pakistan, studied through the lens of political economy considerations, equity injustice concerns as well as insights from past flood events. He argued that contemporary infrastructural and developmental projects along riverbanks have only exacerbated the frequency and severity of flood events, which were a historically recurring hazard in Pakistan as it is. He drew upon the cases of Dera Ghazi Khan and Jhang districts as areas which regularly suffer from flooding. Situation is particularly dire in Pakistan’s Canal Colonies, a remnant of the country’s colonial history.
Since the focus of development in such areas is structural, in the form of buildings dams and barrages for example, the responses to floods and managing their risks is also structural i.e. by making bunds, dikes and embankments. These are meant to keep the flood waters within a particular area, but they get breached, affecting neighbourhoods and communities that populate such risk zones, causing significant amounts of damage both in terms of lives lost and infrastructural destruction.
The power-play at work complicates this relationship between flood risk and the communities it affects. The committees responsible for upkeep of barrages, embankments and flood risk management consist of government and army officials, who decide the steps necessary for avoiding floods. Yet their lack of expertise in the matter and the absence of local grassroot voices in such decision making exacerbates the risk rather than controlling it. Livelihoods and communities that are at risk thus get marginalized in the official narratives. Political connections and party politics also play a role in deciding breaching zones so that areas with strong political affiliations can secure themselves against these breaches, reflecting the lack of equitability in Pakistan’s flood management policy structure. This situation is further worsened by the unplanned development taking place along these riverbanks.
Policies are lacking especially when it comes to gender so that women play a minimal role in policy making and are severely marginalised in the process. In these areas, women play a significant role in agriculture and handicraft, help run small businesses, yet they are not taken into account when it comes to decisions regarding floods. This discrimination is clear when one looks at Early Warning Systems that do not cater to elderly and the women. For example, announcements of flood risk are usually made in mosques, a highly male-centric space that systematically excludes women. Governmental plans for post-disaster reliefs do not take into account gender issues such as concerns of privacy. There is also a gap between existence and implementation of flood-protection policies. There is a deep disconnect between policies and on-ground realities, that must be addressed for any real improvement to the situation.
Dr. Khalid nuanced this argument with the issue of plastic bags, a contentious matter between the government and businesses across Pakistan. He argued that when agreement could not be reached on such a simple issue as banning of plastic bags in Pakistan, flood-management is a far larger and complex issue.
In the end, the speaker offered explanation for the complexities between policy formation and implementation regarding climate change issues in Pakistan vis-à-vis the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) project. He argued that CPEC introduces a security paradigm into the already complex policy matrix, so that policy decisions for environmental protection ought not to be against interests of CPEC. These conflicts of interest complicate the issue at hand, making future decisions difficult yet more incumbently necessary, he said.
The presentations from the first session of the workshop brought to light key issues regarding the discrepancies in climate-related policy, particularly with regard to gender. Problems such as differential risk, as well as disparity in individuals’ capabilities to cope with stressful circumstances due to their social categorization were identified as limiting factors in the implementation of long term, sustainable planning. The question and answer session followed by the presentations served to detail the nuances of such concerns, highlighting the multi-faceted and strongly political nature of the gender-climate nexus. As Dr. Nausheen commented, the challenges brought forward by the interplay of gender and climate issues are observant on several scales beyond the level of the city, and in South Asia, these interplay with long existing colonial influences, rendering climate change as being beyond merely a technocratic and apolitical issue.
The intersectionality of such issues was highlighted in Dr. Farhana Sultana’s response to a question regarding whether patriarchal influences exist on an institutional scale, particularly in the context of urban Bangladesh. She said that patriarchy is cemented in authoritative bodies beyond just existing within communities, which has a pivotal impact on participation in policy, and differences in levels of opportunity. According to her, this is particularly evident in the fact that despite playing a major role in climate change research, most of the work originating from Bangladesh was initiated by men. Additionally, such biases also present themselves in funding allocation, which rarely keep non-male groups from the global south in consideration. Dr. Farhana emphasized the necessity of deploying research ethics to practice representation and tackle the issue of fragmentary policies at the grassroots level, which requires recognition of the political backdrop in front of which such matters play out. Additionally, it is important to recognize the multitude of social categorizations that result in discriminatory politics.
In response to a question from the participant Saba Aslam, asking about the possible impacts of the inclusion of women in communities in Dera Ghazi and Jhang, Dr. Imran Khalid noted the double standard that exists in women’s policy. While women are active members of household management and small-scale businesses, they are excluded from the narrative at the institutional level, particularly in government policy. While he explained that gender mainstreaming policies are in order, they are severely lacking in implementation, which is particularly harmful in disaster warnings and relief programmes risking their safety and health. Dr. Nichola Khan also addressed the intersection of climate change and gender vulnerability in response to the question of Fatima Yameen by using the Brighton City Council as an example, which strives to discuss climate change issues and their Interactions with forms of exclusion. Such policy-building practices are necessary in order to employ participatory democracy and develop more equitable opportunities. She also suggested the importance of starting locally, profile raising around diverse figures, and creating variety for political and social community acts. As she stated, this would help increase knowledge, and thereby increase political will.’
Maryam Siddiqui, from the audience, questioned the effectiveness of making research and interventions community-specific, particularly because of the diversity and differential standings of members of a community. In response, the panelists emphasized on focusing on the process of creating spaces for varying narratives, which can culminate to bring about change on a community level. As Dr. Farhana suggested, in order to move forward, engaging with the communities, recognizing their interests and giving them the opportunity to be heard are all essential to form inclusive policy, which can be upheld through the use of accountability, feedback loops and mechanisms.
Cities, Climate Change, Displacement and Development
The theme of second session of the workshop, organised by GCRF Climate Change and Urban Violence Global Engagement Network (CCUVN), was ‘Cities, Climate Change, Displacement and Development’. CCUVN is a pioneering initiative in examining the interface between urban violence and climate change research and practice. CCUVN is led by Prof. Dr. Nausheen H. Anwar, Director, Karachi Urban Lab (KUL) at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Pakistan, and co-directed by Dr. Arabella Fraser, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom.
The first panellist for the second day of the workshop was the Chairperson of Centre for Migration Research and Development (CMRD), Colombo, Sri Lanka, Dr. Danesh Jayatilaka. He talked about his research conducted in north Colombo where most of the communities residing had migrated to Colombo from rural areas seeking safety, better employment opportunities, marriage, education, etc. He discussed his research on underserved communities in Colombo and the issues of relocating and resettling them in the city.
He asserts on the increase of rural-urban migration, which has been taking place since colonial times as the British colonizers improved the road systems and railway lines improving urban mobility. Migrants and non-migrants connected through social networks, which led to a conducive environment for community building. However, aside from all the benefits of rural-urban migration, there was a lingering fear among people because these places have a high crime rate, drug trafficking, gangster, mob killings etc. Therefore, it made people concerned about safety. Dr. Jayatilaka commented on such complexity of living, saying, “When you have such complexity, you are not sure whether you want to stay, or you want to leave.”
He then discussed the Metro Urban Development Program led by the World Bank, which works for resettlement projects to alleviate the livelihood of people. Programs like these promote efforts to minimize the relocation of underserved communities. “When you move people, their livelihood gets disrupted,” says Dr. Jayatilaka. The projects and donors help connect with the community needs to improve the conditions following the displacement.
Second speaker of the session, Fatima Tassadiq, a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed her research on Kapoorthala House in Old Anarkali, Lahore where the residents were evicted by the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) with only a day's notice as it prepared the area for the construction of the Orange Line.
Land Acquisition began in 2014, initially 54 properties slated for acquisition in Kapoorthala House. 258 slated for acquisition in the immediate surrounding area. This displaced around 8000 people in total, most of the land was acquired in 2016. A court order initially protected a shrine in the area and certain properties in the immediate surrounding area. These properties were not demolished until 2017, due to a Supreme Court order overturning the lower courts order. The LDA then started construction on that land. Most residents in this area in particular had already received compensation from local authorities and were waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision.
Tassadiq highlights the lack of communication between authorities and community members, especially in terms of no notice period being given on when to move out. No one was aware of when they would have to move out. Some individuals did not have other places to move to, while the ones who did could only be there on rent.
Tassadiq calls this form of displacement a form of Urbicide, a term which translates as ’violence against the city’. Urbicide is a form of ‘Urban destruction that occurs through the confluence of capitalist development, structural impoverishment and socioeconomic disparities’, she argued.
Families displaced were compensated under two separate schemes, one catered to those with ownership documents who were compensated under the land acquisition act of 1894, and the other scheme, a charity fund, catered to those who did not have these documents. Those compensated under the charity fund were given a lot less. Since a lot of demolitions for the construction of the Orange Line occurred across informal settlements, most families did not have ownership documents. Due to joint family housing styles in Lahore and especially old Lahore, the money had to be divided amongst family members. This left individual families with little money, with family dynamics also dictating how much money each person would receive. The trauma of leaving behind ancestral homes and anxiety from having to find a new place is also something that should not be overlooked, according to Tassadiq.
One of the impacts of this displacement was inheritance litigation. ‘Intra family conflicts made their way to the courts’, she said. LDA refused to give compensation until these cases were resolved, leaving some families homeless and without compensation. Many families had to leave the city because they could no longer afford housing. Furthermore, a sense of community in these areas gave women a sense of security and mobility, a lot of which was lost when they had to move far apart. This also resulted in the loss of income when moving out of the city. For those left behind in the neighborhood, an influx of male laborers made mobility an issue as well. On the other hand, people whose properties were only partially demolished did not receive any compensation. Pools of stagnant water, dirt, debris and blocked alleyways due to construction made mobility an issue in these areas. Air quality and noise pollution due to construction were all factors that were overlooked which triggered eye infections, high fever etc.
The last speaker of the session, Rashee Mehra Senior Associate – Academics and Research at Indian Institute for Human Settlements, New Delhi opened her discussion, titled Urban Planning During a Pandemic, by introducing the audience to the Mei Bhi Dilli campaign started in 2018 that aimed to make the Delhi Master Plan more and more inclusive. The campaign is run by single society organisations, researchers, activists and individuals. It primarily questions the intents and targets of urban planning, raising the question, ‘planning is for whom?’ Mehra argues that planning as a discipline and planning in practice both are ‘exclusionary’, as evidenced by failure of master plans across South Asia. There is a dichotomy in the formal and informal aspects of planning, that must be tackled to move ‘beyond the tokenistic representations’ of multiple groups in a city like Delhi. Mehra critiqued that cities are predominantly planned to cater to able-bodied young men, while turning a blind eye to the lived experiences of the majority of citizens who are left out of these extravagant city plans. The Mei Bhi Dilli campaign thus called for an inclusionary space and a city plan that catered to and accommodated the needs of different social groups, including women, the handicapped, gender minorities and other marginalised groups. It really questioned this millennial agenda of word-class city making and the focus on mere aesthetics. The campaign strove for a city plan that was more inclusive and looked beyond the paradigm of a world-class city.
Mehra argued that the COVID-19 pandemic really brought issues Mie Bhi Dilli had been campaigning for to the centre-stage. The need to focus on informal livelihood, housing and sanitation suddenly became more dire because of the pandemic, making invisible communities more relevant and prominent in the urban landscape. There were massive migrations out of the city to rural areas because the Indian government imposed a severe lockdown and curfew on the city. Many lost their lives as they walked on foot out of the cities, which Mehra found ‘reminiscent of the partition migration crisis’. This was accompanied by massive food and health insecurities due to under-served informal settlements lacking basic sanitation and tapped water. Directives of the government such as handwashing and social distancing in such dense built ups were impossible to put into practice when basic facilities needed to implement these directives were absent. Basic provisions such as access to toilets became a luxury, thus visibilizing the initial concerns and agendas of the Mei Bhi Dilli campaign.
Mehra argued that cities in India do not possess the built infrastructure and the social structure to handle a pandemic that affects people irrespective of class, gender and spatial location. The COVID crises thus puts into perspective how ill-equipped cities are to deal with climate crises that may become more frequented in the future. This shows how resilient our cities are when there have been similar experiences in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Calcutta and other South Asian cities like Karachi and Dhaka.
So, Mehra posed the question, ‘what can a people’s urban plan look like?’ Policy makers and urban planners will, in light of the facts that have emerged during the pandemic, now be looking at migrant housing, sanitation provision etc. The campaign has thus been in dialogue with the National Institute of Urban Affairs to come up with strategies to deal with pandemic situations such as provision of isolation wards, dissemination of information and health provisions at neighbourhood levels.
Mehra brought to light the plight of street-vendors of Delhi in particular. ‘Delhi was unprepared for mass migration out of the city but we do have a chance now to prepare for a reverse migration into the city because the rural economy of India cannot absorb that many workers, so we will see people coming back into the city for work for their livelihood’. Street vendors, on return, will have to renegotiate public space because corona has marked so sharply what a public space looks like. So, a post-pandemic public space where you have to have social distancing, sanitize, be mindful of hygiene and have protective equipment like masks etc will have to be regulated by the government in a way that livelihoods can be restored. If this is not done, it will lead to a complete destruction of India’s informal economy on which it is heavily dependent. Thus, from a development perspective, spatially, the city must be equipped to deal with these crises. That will determine the resilience of cities in the future.
The second day of the workshop titled Cities, Climate Change, Displacement, and Development successfully brought critical aspects of urban risk, violent infrastructures and the role of law and safeguards to the forefront of the conversation. These topics were further explored in the question and answer session, which revealed the inherent complexity of such issues, particularly in their interplay with the broader frames of fragmentary governmental bodies, migration-led crises and their inseparability from the backdrop of climate change.
One important question which was repeatedly highlighted throughout the discussion was that of the role of the government in implementing resettlement policies and their subsequent relationship with the affected communities, as well as other multilateral agencies such as the World Bank. Tackling the latter of the two, Dr. Jayatilaka highlighted the importance of safeguarding policies in terms of both the people and the environment while envisioning infrastructural development; he especially emphasized its necessity in protecting communities from natural and development-induced consequences in the long term. While he gave some examples of such policies in effect in Colombo, including the adoption of the new social and environmental frameworks, it was apparent from his response that there are significant shortcomings on the ministries’ part in implementing them due to the scale of urban displacement that is observed. An example of this was brought forward by a member of the audience, who highlighted the forced eviction of 91 families by the military in Colombo without ample consideration of rehabilitation policies. Perhaps even more telling was Fatima Tassadiq’s response regarding her observations of such dynamics in the case of the Kapurthala House. While she took note of the fact that grievances resulting from displacement are inevitable in vulnerable communities due to the monetary and emotional disruption, she strongly suggested that a better policy would have resulted in more equitable results, that is if monetary compensation and resettlement policies were more carefully planned out. Indeed, the authorities she had reached out to clearly stated that resettlement was never seriously considered under the land acquisition act.
Another crucial aspect brought forward regarding community-government dynamics was the agency of the people themselves in demanding change and their reactions to fragmentary policy implementation. Rashee Mehra illustrated the importance and effectiveness of community action, particularly in informal settlements which governments dissociate from, often labelling them as illegal spaces occupied by encroachers. In her response to the question regarding any solidarities she had observed during the pandemic in vulnerable settlements in Delhi, she talked about the collective action undertaken by civil social organisations and volunteers in order to protect migrants and other at-risk groups, which also led to a government collaboration to manage the issue of food security during lockdown. Despite so, she brought forward a critical issue, namely the impact of governmental negligence towards marginalized groups which inevitably leads to people losing faith in the national infrastructure, as well as promoting feelings of alienation. As she powerfully stated, “Corona did not break the system; it just exposes a broken system that already exists”. Anti-people stances in combination with the media-led infodemic rooted in fearmongering is what is, according to Mehra, needed to be re-evaluated in order to form a more inclusive and sustainable policy.
From the questions that were asked regarding the effectiveness of community action by Arsam Saleem, Sobia Kakar and Saba Aslam, it was apparent that the way moving forward is to adopt participatory planning practices and improve community engagement with local authorities. As Fatima Tassadiq explained, compensation plans were only agreed upon after large-scale community resistance on the fronts of its induced destruction of informal settlements, damage to heritage sites, and general opposition. She also pointed out that local politics is a defining aspect of such resistance, with differential compensation rates based on voter distribution evident in her case study. Finally, Rashee Mehra also reinforced this idea and suggested that developing an understanding between the affected settlements and technical planners through mediatory bodies such as activists and informed locals is essential in order to carry out effective planning.
COVID-19, Securitization and Climate Change
Program Manager, Search for Common Ground, Colombo, Nirmani Rillapala Liyanage was the first discussant of the third session of the workshop organised by GCRF Climate Change and Urban Violence Global Engagement Network (CCUVN), which is a pioneering initiative in examining the interface between urban violence and climate change research and practice.
Liyanage’s talk primarily focused on two aspects of her research and practice as an urban planner in the city of Colombo. She emphasized on the issues of COVID-19, which are related to urban violence and security. During the rise of COVID-19, she witnessed the lives of the marginalized communities living in the slums. Upon reaching out to the people, she noticed a common trend among the community. The lockdown due to COVID-19 was implemented without any prior notice leading to inevitable chaos in the community. They could manage to survive the lockdown for a few days but did not have adequate supplies saved to last more than a week.
After a week into lockdown, it was noticed that the government was supplying grocery items but at a cost not affordable by the slum community. As a result, the elected members of the council were approached and the issue of starvation and malnutrition of the low-income families amidst lockdown was raised. It was promised that low-income families would be supported by the government’s relief packages. However, when inquired from the people, the reality came to light that no support from the government was given to them.
Enraged and starving families were on the brink of breaking into the stores and markets, raising the risks of urban violence. To prevent such circumstances, money for them was raised through social media campaigns, which led to 3.5million worth of donations being collected. She highlights the outcome of this study during the pandemic that it does not matter how willing the government seems to be to respond to the disasters. The government tends to exclude ordinary people and is not ready to accept them as partners.
At first, the government and the elected members of the council refused to accept any help from the common people. However, after the first week of lockdown and dreading the possible outbreak of violence from the slum community, they asked the private sectors and NGOs for support. The problem is here that the government always takes the people as recipients. Hence, the lack of value of people and the real-time role they can play in community building and nourishing is often overlooked.
In her concluding note, she briefly touched upon the disastrous consequences of climate change and rural-urban mobility. In Colombo, many people will start living in vertical slums. Hence, as a result of a lot of people living in a small land will create a conducive environment for unhygienic and unhealthy conditions in post epidemic situation.
Second discussant of the session Dr. Mirwais Khan who heads the Healthcare in Danger Initiative of ICRC talked about violence, healthcare and COVID. Dr. Khan emphasized that healthcare includes not just healthcare workers but healthcare transport, facilities etc. The ICRC, which partnered with 11 countries to collect data over the period of three years, found 2400 incidents of violence reported in the healthcare sector in which 600 healthcare workers were killed or wounded. ‘In Pakistan we used an evidence-based approach for tangible interventions and to work towards behavioral change.’ Dr. Khan states an aspect overlooked by the media, which mostly covers target killings when it comes to healthcare related crimes.
Sharing his findings, Dr. Khan told that 60% of healthcare workers in Karachi had experienced violence or witnessed violence against other professionals over the span of 1 year. In across 16 cities in Pakistan with over 8500 respondents, almost half the respondents who were healthcare workers had experienced violence. Dr. Khan emphasized the overflow of urban violence into healthcare settings for example target killings along sectarian lines, prevention of ambulance services.
Talking about COVID and Climate Change, Dr. Khan discussed about force used against protesters demanding PPE kits. He highlights police/physical violence used against them. There was violence against workers due to certain misconceptions e.g. SOPs issued by authorities regarding the management of those who passed away from COVID. This led to more violence. Deaths on arrival in hospitals would lead to attendees getting violent against healthcare workers. An increase in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases due to climate change has also led to an overflow of patients in the healthcare system, further contributing to the problem, he added.
United States Institute of Peace Country Director Dr. Adnan Rafiq focused on the micro level dynamics of the situation in Pakistan. He looked at the intersection between securitization and the emerging challenges of climate change and COVID-19 in terms of how national security policy has evolved given the expanded nature and spectrum of various emerging national threats. These threats are rooted in Pakistan’s identification as a ‘security state’ and a ‘garrison state’ because of the accumulation of vast security apparatus since its inception. These security threats not only include India as Pakistan’s traditional enemy, but also the emergence of extremism and terrorism on Pakistan’s own soil in the past 20 years that has led to extreme violence and instability. Thus, security concerns have an overwhelming sway over national policies, making them a determining factor in how the state responds to the pandemic.
In that historical context, the health pandemic and its implications for national security has also become a pressing security paradigm for Pakistan. This has two aspects: a) the intrastate dynamics and b) the state and society perspective, as COVID has had an impact on both in Pakistan.
As far as the intrastate dynamic is concerned, there has been a power asymmetry: the security apparatus has had a strong influence on public policy. Economic policy, health, development and education, which should fall under the umbrella of welfare provision, have been under the wing of the security apparatus so that they have been shaped to serve the state’s security interests instead of keeping civilian enhancement as priority. There has been much less emphasis on welfare provision for the sake of welfare provision, thereby rendering issues such as environmental preservation and climate change as unimportant on the scale of national priority. Dr. Rafiq went on to say that as long as these issues are not guised under the narrative of national security concern, the institutions and policies necessary to counter and tackle them will not take centre-stage because of the historical pattern of what traditionally categorizes as ‘key national security concerns’. Only a greater securitization of these environment and health issues, such as the COVID crisis, and categorizing them as national threats where institutions such as the NDMA take control, allows them inclusion into the national security domain. Dr. Rafiq argued that this ‘welfarization of national security’ is the only way through which health experts and environmentalists can take a lead in developing state policies.
On the state-society dimension too, there is a disconnect between those disproportionately affected by crises such as the COVID pandemic, climate change and so on, and those who drive policy. Climate change issues have manifested themselves on the community level in the form of questions of water availability, sanitation issues and a host of urban violence dilemmas, where local electoral politics have been at the heart of dealing with them at the community level. At the policy level however, such pressing issues are not always recognized as a fallout of climate change. Here climate change is often perceived as a ‘big disaster idea’ such as flash floods and droughts. But even these are relegated to the backgrounds because there are always more pressing political national issues to deal with. Dr. Rafiq claimed, ‘there is a lack of understanding or framing of more politically relevant issues at the constituency level as climate change issues so that there is greater political impetus for the political class to do something about it and frame it as such’. Thus, this framing is much needed to pull climate change concerns into the domain of national policy. Dr. Rafiq concluded that it is in this policy domain that the state-society disconnect manifests itself.
Dr. Robert Farnan’s insightful presentation served to consolidate the discussions spread throughout the span of the workshop and move them towards the necessary phase of evaluation. He outlined four key aspects which he felt were grounded in each presentation, and thus require further attention. The first of these was the notion of subjectivity. Dr. Farnan suggested that lived experiences, social backgrounds, and the categorization of people within different urban contexts are all essential considerations, not only because they shape how people situate themselves within urban spaces, but also because they heavily inform the distribution of social and economic entitlements, consequently influencing the differential experiences with regards to resilience among particular groups. According to him, social construction is thus a crucial aspect of understanding how urban vulnerability and risk is distributed.
His second focus was on the concepts of inclusion, participation, and their relation to representation, something that was noticeably common in the panelists’ emphasis on the benefits of greater inclusion in decision-making processes. He put forward the notion to focus on processes that inform ideas of inclusion and exclusion, and the divergent capacities that lie within them. Particularly important was his recommendation to consider the implications of discourse and varying narratives when thinking of governing arrangements, both formal and informal. Consequently, he poses this as the key to understanding how social identities invariably relate to resource allocation, making them essential in forming a comprehensive policy that is inclusive of marginalized groups.
The question of scale on a geographical as well as a temporal level was another highlighted theme, with Dr. Farnan bringing forward the importance of its impact on the operation of environmental government arrangements, specifically in its ability to limit peoples’ participation in decision making. Here he articulated the necessity for examining cross-scale interactions, drawing from his own fieldwork in Nepal which illuminated the need to test how resilience and vulnerability counteract at varying levels.
He then presented his final concept: transformation and its significance in moving beyond preliminary ideas of adaptation, tying the aforementioned themes together. He put great emphasis on using transformation as a framework to bring about long lasting changes in forms of equality and sustainability, highlighting the inherently political nature of the climate crisis in South Asia and otherwise. Alongside, he suggested a focus on learning systems and participatory democracy as technical aspects that may be worthwhile to explore in such a domain.
Finally, Dr. Farnan addressed the rest of the panels with questions to forward the discussion. He first suggested to explore how Nirmani’s observations on piecemeal planning and the lack of participation can be used to look at how local networks are bound up in broader discourses around urban risk. The idea of an infodemic presented by Dr. Mirwais was also something Dr. Farnan felt needs to be looked into, especially concerning the processes through which information is revealed and accessed, there by questioning the linear trend of increased information seen as the solution to policymaking. Additionally, he spoke about the relationship between public health and security, and its broader interaction with discourses of Pakistani identity.
Dr. Arabella Fraser and Dr. Nausheen Anwar opened the floor for discussion once the speakers had delivered their individual monologues. Dr. Fraser reiterated the primary objectives of the session that were emphasized by the speakers as ‘climate change being political, the multiple forms of violence and their relationship (with climate change) and the urban dynamics of inclusion and exclusion (in regards to public policy and practices of climate change control). She expressed the need to address ‘the way forward’ at this juncture of COVID and climate change. In that vein, she posed the following questions for discussion among the esteemed speakers in the panel: ‘Does this moment close down or open up spaces (and) discourses to be talking about climate change and urban violence? Is it promoting practices that reinforce historic tendencies toward securitization and violence that might mitigate the human development view of climate change? What is the likeliness of grassroot climate change resilience going forward, considering the kind of embattled terrain climate change discussions are in formal political arenas?
Dr. Amiera Sawas contributed to the discussion by posing a further question, “What’s the ‘theory of change’ that is forward-looking that could be done in an innovative way so as to actually influence processes of climate change prevention and to provoke the policy response (about climate change issues)?” Nirmani responded by highlighting how participatory planning and governmental efforts to get the public to participate in government practices, is merely ‘inclusion for the sake of inclusion’. Talking about the case of Colombo where Nirmani is based, she argued that in reality, the government is only making sure that through participation, people are nodding to its plans. It does not take into consideration the experiences of those at the forefront of such climatic and policy dilemmas. This injustice Nirmani called ‘a different form of violence’; it is slow violence. It is a violent mode of urban development where people are only subjects of planning and development rather than its drivers or partners. She argued that this type of violence is slowly embedded into the system. People no longer feel that they are being subjected to it. This slow violence is ‘secularised’ and ‘normalised’ at a rate that people are now willing to accept it. Community leaders who are solving the problems as they emerge with no help or assistance from the government, also simultaneously praise the government. This can be attributed to the narrative of slow, state-driven violence getting normalised. It is not that the government is unwilling to practice participatory measures. Rather, the involvement it encourages looks like it is promoting participation while strategically preventing meaningful participation. Thus, two factors, i.e. slow violence and the absence of widely shared agendas (in the form of blueprints etc.) accompanied by the unwillingness to break the hierarchy and accepted norms of bureaucratic practices, all contribute to an unequitable structure of urban development and tacking of climate change issues on policy levels.
Next, Dr. Mirwais was invited to comment on the different forms of violence in relation to the themes of subjectivity and representation, especially in terms of how these shape and reproduce violence. He addressed the idea of an ‘infodemic approach’ that involves raising awareness as a policy measure. He argued that information production in this pandemic crisis is closely linked to the resources behind it, so that the ‘right kind’ of authorised and verified information is backed by more resources. The quantity of information about health care and other aspects of the pandemic necessitate an investigation into the processes involved in knowledge production and consumption. He thus emphasised the need and pertinence of ‘communities of concern’ such as the CCUVN, that can function as linkages between academia and people and push for change, especially against violence on health care. These will help widen bodies of communities of concern, promote interventions and advocate for legal and policy changes. Dr. Mirwais thus saw the CCUVN as an opportunity to broaden the community of concern in an environment of COVID, climate change and urban violence.
Dr. Nausheen went on to ask Dr. Adnan about the welfarisation of security and furthered the conversation of top down reform and ways to change. He stated first that identity is at the heart of Pakistan’s formation. Sindh, for instance, is associated with water and its rivers. Identity thus, also in a way, informs this very technocratic and bureaucratic process of top down reform. ‘The government has shown that policy in a pandemic is driven in a very top down manner’. The only counter narrative, he highlighted, that has emerged has been due to state failure in major security efforts such as counter terrorism efforts. He questioned whether COVID will be seen as a similar security issue. One instance of resistance he pointed out is when wider societal problems affect the upper echelons of society as well i.e. the elite. He pointed that certain bottom up reforms have only come about due to some of these issues affecting the elite. This thus opens our eyes to a huge disconnect in terms of understanding issues like climate change, where tangible effects may not pass over to the elite.
Dr. Nausheen also asked Rashee Mehra about participatory planning in cities and asked how we can counter centralised mechanisms in places like Delhi. ‘The DNA of bureaucracy is very similar in India,’ Rashee said while comparing India to Pakistan. She said that what’s changed in terms of activism in India is resistance to the government that is currently in power. ‘With the military in Pakistan, there’s Modi in India,’ she said. This resistance essentially brought a small minority in India together because there's been an attack on participation in democracy. This has led to People talking to each other across disciplines. This includes forums, caste activists speaking up and informal initiatives that many activists have joined/started. She emphasized the need of a gender perspective as well and talked about how even that came about due to major instances of violence such as the 2012 gang rape in India. She stated that this is when gender activists in India really started engaging in urban planning e.g. considering if there’s enough lighting on the streets or enough street vendors to make women feel safe. She concluded by saying that violence coming from the state is motivating a lot of people to take a stand. She also emphasized the importance of collaborative efforts between urban planners and experts on fields such as caste, race and gender.
Dr. Arabella Fraser closed up by expressing the desire to extend the conversation to Latin America, the Black Lives Matter movement where similar threads may be seen. “This is a moment of activism as well as crisis,” she said. Concluding the three-day workshop, Dr. Nausheen highlighted that South Asia is incredibly diverse, highlighting threads specific to South Asia because of a shared history of colonialism and issues of representation talked about that apply globally.