Pakistan Heat Wave: Lessons From Sheltering from a Gathering Storm

By: Michelle F. Fox, Director of Art + Communications


The Pakistan heat wave is an unforgiving reminder of the threats and dangers of rising temperatures. During our research in Pakistan through the Sheltering From a Gathering Storm project, we found that these types of heat impacts are likely to increase with climate change and urbanization.

Below is a list of materials that speak to the challenges and potential solution spaces for building resilience to heat.



Highlighted ISET-International resources on heat impacts



Resource 1: Projecting the Likely Rise of Future Heat Impacts Under Climate Change for Selected Urban Locations in South and Southeast Asia

An excerpt from the discussion paper:

“While heat is already an issue for the large fraction of the poor population that suffers from a lack of appropriate shelter and access to basic water and energy, the rapid rise in heat is likely to become an inescapable challenge. As the average daily heat-index reaches human body temperature, lack of cooling will significantly impact economic productivity and pose severely heightened health risks. Although South Asian populations have learned to cope with episodes of heat, future heat events will become relentless as the number of days of excessive heat increases and gaps between heat episodes shrink or even disappear.

Overall, the heat-season will start earlier in the year and last longer into the fall. Both daily and nighttime temperature and heat will reach unprecedented levels that are difficult to escape without access to active cooling. Daily maxima in the late afternoon can possibly be partially ameliorated through construction of simple forms of shade and through the use of evaporative cooling. For rapidly increasing nighttime minimum temperatures, however, which previously provided natural relief, there is no obvious, simple adaptive measure. A form of active but clean, low-energy cooling will be necessary to help the large populations of urban, peri-urban and even rural poor cope with the coming changes without leading to counterproductive increases in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Screenshot 2015-06-24 09.59.44

Resource 2: See the Sheltering team’s presentations on heat impacts in South Asia here.






Resource 3: Sheltering From a Gathering Storm: Temperature Resilience in Pakistan

Excerpt from the report:

“Melting ice and rising sea levels have been the hallmarks of climate change impacts as popularized by scientists and the media alike. Reduction of habitat for polar bears and loss of biodiversity and glaciers in colder areas have been causes of great concern. From this study, we see that increased humidity (coupled with raised minimum temperatures inside shelters) may threaten the livelihoods of millions of people who are under considerable stress from the economic impacts of heat. More research is needed to identify areas where such threats to human existence are imminent and may start exhibiting impact within the next 15 years. Climate change will seriously impact urban areas in Pakistan. Increases in the temperature minimums and heat index need greater attention. The T-min is the most important variable for shelter design. Heat impacts vary by gender and occupation. Temperature increases will make cities unaffordable for the poor. New T-min heat reduction measures are needed. Several passive technologies for heat reduction have been proven effective. Concrete is unsuitable for heat resilient housing. Greater awareness of heat reduction measures is needed. Heat is not the only problem affecting poor communities.”

Resource 3: Dirty Canals. Scorching Sun. No Escape.

An excerpt from the blog:

“Men complained of the mosquitos that made it impossible to entertain or to even sit outside in the evening to enjoy whatever breeze there might be. One man went so far as to say that their conditions were worse than those of the dead in the graveyard. Women, who generally are very sheltered, are forced to wet their clothes and sit outside in order to get some relief.”—An account from research in Rehmanabad, Faisalabad, Pakistan


Resource 4: Temperature Impacts on Health, Productivity, and Infrastructure in the Urban Setting, and Options for Adaptation

Excerpt from the discussion paper:

“Heat waves and warming temperatures pose a serious threat for human settlements worldwide, especially in urban environments. Research shows that increased temperatures, coupled with the urban heat island effect, can have a crippling effect on both biological and infrastructure systems. As the number of people living in cities continues to increase, so does the vulnerability of target groups susceptible to the impacts of heat. In an attempt to better understand the risks involved, the paper explores literature surrounding the implications of heat including morbidity, mortality, work productivity, and system failures. In addition, the paper highlights potential options for adaptation, which scale from the individual level to that of policy implementation, including the importance of managing impacts from a multi-stakeholder perspective.”

Resource 5: Forthcoming: Transforming Vulnerability: Shelter, Adaptation, and Climate Thresholds

This peer review article by Marcus Moench will be published in Climate and Development later this year.


This paper synthesizes collaborative research results on the economics of alternative strategies for building resilience of housing systems in response to current conditions and projected changes in climate. Research undertaken in Vietnam, Gorakhpur, and Pakistan demonstrates cost effective solutions for reducing risk from flooding, extreme storm events and increases in daily temperature maxima. These solutions benefit poor and vulnerable groups by enabling adoption and enhancement of strategies implemented by more wealthy groups. They involve specific steps to alter and strengthen shelter system designs and demonstrate avenues for supporting existing patterns of autonomous adaptation that have large social and economic benefits. The solutions leverage private investment. Most strategies would be enhanced by urban resilience planning but have benefits even when planning is impossible. Addressing projected increases in daily temperature minima and the heat index more intractable. Multi-model projections for case areas suggest heat index increases of 5-7 °C, more than double projected temperature changes of 1-3 °C. These will have large impacts on health, especially manual laborers and groups, such as women, children and the elderly that are housebound without air-conditioning. Few cost-effective solutions exist and further research and innovation is needed.

Leave a Reply