Cool Infrastructures: Life with Heat in the Off-grid City

Co-Principal Investigator from Karachi, Pakistan: Dr Nausheen H Anwar

Team: Adam Abdullah, Aqdas Fatima, Atoofa Samo, Soha Macktoom, Mohammad Toheed

Acknowledgement: This three-year project is funded by the United Kingdom’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). This grant was secured by the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in partnership with research institutions in Pakistan, India, Cameroon, Indonesia, France, Germany and Singapore.

Rising temperatures are impacting cities with heat waves and sustained periods of chronic heat evident. Cool Infrastructures: Life with Heat in the Off-Grid City is a three-year research project that aims to enhance our understanding of the social and technical infrastructures for cooling in contexts of global warming and urban poverty across South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Sub Saharan Africa. This research project was developed to fill specific gaps in evidence and data on access to cooling across cities in India, Pakistan, Cameroon, and Indonesia.

In Pakistan, international and national frameworks for responding to extreme heat have led to urban heat action plans - such as the Karachi Heatwave Management Plan - and public awareness raising. However, action on overheating by Karachi’s planners and governors and more broadly, by national and provincial policy makers, remains top-down and technology driven; frequently challenged by unexamined assumptions about energy cultures and practices, and the vulnerabilities of the poorest groups. There have been no comparative attempts to document how people living in contexts of urban poverty manage heat or meet their needs for cool food, water and space. Hence, there is limited evidence about whether current strategies are a good fit for the contexts in which they are deployed. This project puts 'access to cooling' at the centre of a major new interdisciplinary and comparative study of human-infrastructure interactions in 'the off-grid city'. The projected effects of 2-4 degrees C global heating on cities make the impact of uneven grids for energy, water and transportation on cool infrastructures and practices an urgent arena for scholarship. For further details about this project, partners, resources, please visit main project website or the UKRI website.


  • How does heat help us to understand and analyse social, economic and gender inequalities in the off-grid city?
  • What is the configuration of systems, materials, technologies, relationships, and knowledge through which marginalised urban residents currently meet their needs for cooling in the off-grid city?
  • How are everyday relationships to cool infrastructures shaped by deeply rooted, alternative understandings of the ‘physics’ or ‘metaphysics’ of heat and health? How are people’s ‘thermal tolerances’ shaped by exposure, exertion, and general health, or by forms of precarious work in the context of economic insecurity?
  • Scoping Study on Heat Governance in Karachi

    The Scoping Study (forthcoming) looks at the terrain of heat governance in Karachi based on a review of key policy documents, plans, grey literature, and academic and scientific literature concerning the city’s emergent heat governance space. We draw on these to outline the role state and non-state actors are playing in Karachi's heat governance, and the importance of understanding heat, vulnerability, and inequality in a relational context. It also charts the city’s rising temperature over the past 50 years.

  • Thinking about the Politics of Shade

    Although the climate has admittedly always been hot and humid in cities like Karachi, increasingly ‘hotter’ temperatures are exacerbating the impact of heat on urban dwellers. With temperatures soaring to 45 C between May and August, a key question we investigate revolves around the issue of diminishing shade in an urban landscape that is increasingly dominated by concrete and asphalt.

  • Geopoll Survey Data Analysis

    We are analysing the findings of a GeoPoll telephonic survey conducted in June and July 2020, across four countries including Pakistan, on the compounding effects of heat and Covid-19. The data is being put together in a report for the Red Cross Climate Center (RCCC). The report explores the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on populations of four cities (Karachi, Hyderabad (India), Jakarta, and Douala). Karachi section of the report, compiled by the KUL team, gives an overview of Karachi’s climatic patterns, including a brief timeline of the COVID-19 context, and the ensuing lockdowns enforced in 2020. Using data from the 2020 Geopoll survey on the COVID-Heat nexus, the report explores how the pandemic containment measures changed heat mitigation behaviors of people in low-income households before and during the pandemic.

    The analysis points to significant implications for future planning for heat in rapidly urbanizing populations with limited or constrained infrastructures of electricity and water, especially with respect to gender-differentiated everyday practices. The report is currently under review by the RCCC, and will be available soon for public access.

    The open-access Geopoll data on Karachi also helps to locate and understand the new findings within KUL’s own archive of spatial and demographic datasets generated using past research projects and fieldwork. Analysis of the Geopoll data in SPSS and NVivo will help to refine the methodological aspects of subsequent fieldwork exercises. It will provide insights into the impacts of structurally produced vulnerabilities compounded with climatic factors, which affect the already marginalized, poor population groups in the city. The analysis will help generate qualitative parameters to study such populations in innovative, more relevant, and more actionable ways.

  • Solar Patterns and Morphology

    KUL is looking at how seasonal and annual solar patterns within Karachi interact with the city’s morphology to produce shade and cooling.

Published Work

Heat and COVID-19 in the Off Grid City

March 2021

Authors: Nausheen Anwar, Sulfikar Amir, Jamie Cross, Daniel Friedrich, Aalok Khandekar, Marie Morelle, Elspeth Oppermann and Anindrya Nastily. July 2, 2020

“Heat and COVID-19 in the Off Grid City” published in Somatosphere, outlines how the relationship between heat and the contagion demands closer scrutiny against the backdrop of rising global temperatures, and the paradoxes for governments and urban authorities of managing these issues simultaneously.


Heat in Urban Asia: Past, Present and Future

22-23 April 2021

by Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

From KUL, Senior Research Associate Soha Macktoom presented a paper titled ‘Negotiating Shade in Changing Urban Climates in South Asia’ co-authored with Nausheen Anwar, Director KUL and Jamie Cross, Professor of Social and Economic Anthropology, University of Edinburgh. The paper opens up the social study of heat by exploring how people negotiate access to shade in South Asian cities, with a particular focus on the practices of those working outdoors. KUL Senior Research Associate Adam Abdullah also presented a paper titled ‘Heat in a time of Corona: an analysis of the nexus of thermal practices and virus transmission management in three cities’, together with Cool Infrastructures Co-I’s Dr Elspeth Oppermann, Research Fellow, Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, and Dr Anindiya Nastiti, Researcher & Lecturer, Bandung Institute of Technology, Indonesia. The paper explores the compounding effect of urban heat and mandatory confinement measures during the 2020 Covid lockdown in these cities, and how the residents used available materials and technologies to mitigate the effect of thermally uncomfortable indoor environments.

Gobshena Global Conference: Resarch into Action on Locally Led Adaptiation

18-24 January 2021

Hosted by Integrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe)

From KUL, Senior Research Associate Adam Abdullah presented at a session titled 'Climate Adaptive Heat Stress Management in South Asia'. Adam presented on the heat management practices of low-income populations with limited access to electricity and water during the Covid-19 pandemic. The data was drawn from a GeoPoll survey conducted during June and July 2020 in four cities across the Global South as part of the Cool Infrastructures project. The presentation speculated on some tentative insights drawn from the survey data. Prof Jyoti K Parikh, Executive Director, IRADe chaired the session. Other speakers included Scientist, Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), Dr. Subhash Chander Bhan, who spoke on early warning systems in place in India; former Director General, IMD, Prof. Ajit Tyagi, who spoke on heat impacts/stress management in South Asia along with the increase in heatwave over time; and Dr. Vijendra Ingole, who presented interesting meta-analyses of the relationship between ambient temperature/heat waves and mortalities in the South Asian context. The proceedings of the session can be accessed online here.