Karachi Disowned

Karachi, a city with dense population and ethno-linguistic and cultural diversity has been accommodating people from different backgrounds, creeds and religious beliefs who continue to bring with them their dreams of being able to succeed in the prodigious city. People from all over the country come to Karachi to establish their future, but it is ironic to perceive that no one really owns the city. When it comes to the governance, management and administration of the city, both the federal and provincial governments regrettably seem to be reluctant in governing efficiently.

The recent monsoon spells have unfortunately left the financial hub of the country in absolute ruins. The heavy rainfall on August 27, 2020 left Karachi and many districts in total shambles. Karachi alone recorded 223 mm of rain over just 12 hours, thereby breaking a 90 year old record according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD).

The repercussions of the unprecedented torrential rain resulted in a total destruction of urban life in the conurbation. The incessant rain caused immense demolition of the roads and drainage system, giving rise to a complete breakdown of city life. Atrocious damage to roads, sidewalks, drains, intersections and underground sewers led to unusual and widespread havoc in the area. Consequently, the over-spilling of drains and the complete non-appearance of properly directed flow of rainwater rendered the streets, transit ways and lanes inoperative. Dr Jamali, Executive Director of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre highlighted that,

“The havoc that has happened here from the inclement weather and the urban flooding has overwhelmed everyone. You would be shocked looking at the streets of Karachi. There is no way you can get out in that water.”

Pools and puddles of water mixed with sand and garbage added to the unsightly view. Consequently, they also blocked the drains, which further led to an over-spill of sewerage water and a stinky and polluted atmosphere. Adding to the catastrophe, the insanitary conditions post-rain also gave rise to the dangers of typhoid, cholera and other life-endangering infirmities and outbreaks. Pakistani activist, Jibran Nasir approached the public through a tweet stating the following:

“Appeal to [you] in public interest! I urge individuals and corporations to donate mosquito repellents to communities still stuck between sewage/rain water and without electricity. Government must also take measures and run effective awareness campaign on this to avoid malaria/dengue spread.”

Hazardous sinkholes came into formation on the roads of the metropolitan city due to the accumulation of continuous stagnant water on roads for days as no relevant authorities came to pump water from the roads until the public at large protested for civil rights. Almost all the underpasses in the city had been filled with water up to 16 feet high, thus being rendered completely out of use for a smooth and steady flow of traffic.

To make matters worse, the city remained completely immersed in darkness for not just several hours but days! The areas facing power outages included North Karachi, North Nazimabad, Nazimabad No 4, Malir Halt, Federal B Area, Gulistan-e-Johar and adjoining territories. More expensive residential areas including Defence Phases 1, 5, 6 and 8 and Clifton Blocks 5, 6 and 7 were also not spared and had major power failure for 6-7 days. It was nearly impossible to unrestrict the supply of electricity since the infrastructure seemed to be submerged under a lake because of the stagnant water and had caused water to flow into meter rooms and grid stations creating extensive faults and complications in power lines. In other areas, it had become hazardous to switch on the power supply because of the grave peril of electrocution and electric shock. Helpless residents who simultaneously had also been facing the issue of tap-water and gas supply shortage confronted K-Electric and demanded for power supply to be restored immediately. K-Electric stated,

“As an emergency safety measure we are forced to suspend supply to feeders associated with the grid stations. We are working closely with all authorities to control this situation. All possible resources including trenches, water pumps and sand bags around the grid have been deployed to block the water.”

Surprisingly, the streets of Karachi had not been devoid of storm drains, even when the whole region was part of the subcontinent, as drains of appropriate and substantial capacity had been built on the sideways. The locality was also blessed with a few natural drains which used to flow during rains and dump water directly into the sea. Accordingly, there was a decent and well-grounded environmental balance which separated the sewerage and rainwater lines. However, when the districts expanded in an erratic way, the drains built were sadly transformed into sewerage trunks. Throughout the years, builders and land-grabbers, heedless of their actions, incautiously carried out construction work and built houses, buildings and commercial establishments on and along the drains which were supposed to drain both sewerage and rainwater. The relevant authorities were either bribed or had been too inattentive and negligent to inspect the manufacturing of such raisings. Thus, the maintenance and cleaning of conduits became nearly impossible, leading to the chaos that we see today.

Karachi’s overall configuration has been transfigured in quite a reckless manner, regardless of whether it involves widening a road or constructing an underpass or settlement. This has led to urban flooding and a massive wrecking of the poor city which generates more than half of the revenue of the whole country, yet the government and administration of the country seem to be disinclined to spend on the upkeep and repairs of the infrastructure of the region. Prime Minister Imran Khan, in the wake of the recent devastation caused by monsoon rains, assured that,

“…the government would be announcing a plan for a permanent solution to the problems caused by floods by cleaning of drainage channels, fixing of the sewage system and resolving the huge challenge of water supply to the people of Karachi.”

The Governor of Sindh, Imran Ismail also said that,

“The last rainfall spell was not any ordinary spell of monsoon rains as no city in the world could have coped with emergency caused by 400mm downpour. The disaster was inevitable in Karachi no matter even if its storm water drains were de-silted and system of solid waste working was working well.”

It may be concurred that some margin should be extended to the government keeping in mind the unprecedented episode of a monsoon storm of such magnitude hitting the megalopolis. Nevertheless, it does not diminish the liability of the government to carry out regular repairs and maintenance of city drains, roads and other foundations, especially when a handsome amount of tax is being paid by the residents for the betterment of their city.

The Governor of Sindh, Imran Ismail has affirmed that,

“We will work together for the development of Karachi and for the purpose financial resources are being spared in addition to the provincial share of Sindh in the NFC (National Finance Commission award).”

The federal government has also committed to take immediate steps to ameliorate the situation in the country’s major city. Moreover, the Governor of Punjab, Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar had added that,

“The PM is reviewing the situation of Karachi on a daily basis. The Punjab government is also trying its best to take part in the relief work in the calamity-hit areas of Sindh.”

Karachi’s never-ending, high-spirited resilience is commendable. It is hoped that the vibrant city will return to its dazzling self soon, even after surviving such cataclysmic events. The commercial hub of Pakistan should receive the attention it truly deserves on a prompt basis.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which she might be associated.

Aina Zafar

Author: Aina Zafar

The writer is a second year LLB student.