Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rains in Pakistan kill 228, spark protests

Mass death in Karachi yesterday in the face of torrential rains. We can't know whether this storm was the result of global warming, but the key element of this story is in the details of how the deaths occur, and of the political conditions under which this takes place.

KARACHI, Pakistan - Collapsed houses and severed electrical cables killed at least 228 people after heavy rains and thunderstorms lashed Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi, an official said Sunday....

The country's economic hub, a dynamic but chaotic city with fragile infrastructure, frequently seethes with tension and street protests, some sparked by massive power outages. The atmosphere has been particularly tense since May 12, when political unrest left more than 40 people dead....

Most of the deaths were caused by collapsing homes but snapped power lines electrocuted at least 20 people people, Ahmed said.

Electricity was still disrupted in some neighborhoods Sunday. Residents angry after a night without power to run fans or air conditioners in the sweltering summer heat staged street protests, Karachi Mayor Mustafa Kamal said....

Reading the details of the story, we can see the way multiple systems under stress -- antinomian political movements, a wretched electrical grid, and generally awful urban infrastructure (and, we might add, massive political corruption) -- can be brought across a tipping point by an extreme weather event. Global warming will make these extreme weather events more common, precipitating political crisis in already-vulnerable places like Karachi.

Again, the takeaway is simple: the key headline impacts of climate change will not be weather events, but rather will be more general political crises.

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