Karachi after rains

Aug 28 - Sep 03, 2006

Rains in Karachi can best be described in Sudeep Sen words: "The monsoon showers came too late, giving ample time for a prolonged drought. But when they eventually arrived, they brought with them the full fury of an unstoppered monsoon the rain pelting down hard, cracking open newly laid tarmac, exposing the earth and elements once again. The pouring water persisted, overflowing until everything was effected weak roofs, power lines, trees, unwarned people, shelters almost everything".

Recently, the heavy rains paralyzed the civic life in Karachi with at least 26 electrocuted, many areas got inundated and almost all traffic routes were clogged, the phone lines, the power cables, the aerial routes what was there that was not affected by the rains and the mayhem was so loud that the disruption could be seen through all corners of the media.

The incapacitated infrastructure after rains was a simple example of the ill measures and unconcerned behaviors of the past governments towards Karachi, the biggest economic zone of the country. The city government also remained incapable to cope with the after-effects of the rains. The main sufferers were the common people whose life completely stood stagnant because our roads were not planned up to the standard of storm drainage and sanitary sewerage systems. The water remained accumulated on the same places after so many days of the rains and giving ample time for the subsistence of mosquitoes and house flies and till now no sprays were used in the city to curb the chances of ailments that this condition could arise.

One of the local newspapers pointed out that "from time immemorial, cities and buildings have been equipped with storm drainage systems and sanitary sewerage systems.

The drainage system helps prevent flooding by diverting rain water and melted snow, and the sewerage systems are there to protect public health and the environment by collecting and treating waste water from houses, schools, hospitals, businesses, industries, etc.

For the storm drainage, a master plan has to be drawn up showing the levels and slopes of the land and areas within urban limits and an engineering strategy and designs are developed to ensure that the worst precipitation (over a set period of years) is safely carried away to a nearby river, lake or the sea. This is mainly based on the natural fall-off of the land, as it has existed over centuries.

Part of the strategy is the administration and implementation of storm drainage regulations, the control changes and improvements in streets, roads, curbs, plot and land development inlets, gullies, pipes, culverts, and channels, and ensuring that all are efficiently maintained and cleaned (it is against the law to alter the flow of storm water).

Efficient drainage of surface water is critical for city roads, as saturated soils do not have the stability and load-bearing capacity to support modern highways carrying heavy traffic. Excess water from rainfall, a high water table, or local flooding creates problems in the pavement structure because of buoyancy of materials in the saturated layer and the reduction of friction forces between soil particles. This creates a loss of bearing capacity of the base, sub-base and sub-grade materials. Impact from wheel loads creates excess water pressures, excess water causes erosion of the base material, and the useful life of a road is reduced.

In the cities of developed countries, the roads, curbs and gutters or roadside ditches are all part of the minor drainage system. Roads are also part of the major drainage system and are subject to certain limitations. When the flow in a road exceeds allowable limits, a storm sewer system or a channel is required to convey the excess flows. The primary function of roads being traffic movement, the drainage function is subservient and must not interfere with the traffic function of the road.

This is enough to understand what basic strategy we need to ensure the safety of the roads that could prevent the hazards of such kinds of catastrophes. The city situation worsens as many areas went out of electricity during and after rains. A press clipping show the electricity unrest in the city during rains. The Karachi Electric Supply Corporation's distribution system was hit by the heavy August 17 rain and as a result various localities remained without electricity supply for hours.

People in various areas complained that power supply to their localities stayed disrupted as it rained. They complained that the centralized complaint telephone number, 118, was not responding and local area complaint numbers were also engaged, or there was nobody to attend telephone. Some people complained that power supply was disconnected to their areas well before the rain started and it was not restored till late in the night.

The spell of heavy rain in the evening disturbed city life, besides affecting power supply to many localities. Cable repairs could not be carried out in most of the areas due to accumulation of rainwater.

Apart of it, the dangling power cables that took lives of more than 20 people were not taken into account and lives of innocent persons remained at the mercy of the KESC's uncontrolled environment. Thus there was a virtual collapse of water, power, communication and transport networks in Karachi during the recent rains.

How to plan for such kind of emergency is the role of the city government, which remained aloof of the infrastructure of Karachi for many years. Recent rains in Karachi have proved that there is no action plan available with the city government to counter even two days of heavy rains. What if Karachi gets more rains, how the economic life of the city would suffer and what would be the contingent plan to save the civic life? No answers.

In one of the press conferences during rains, it was said that "Karachi is presenting look of Moenjodaro as hardly a few millimetres of rain turned its roads into ponds of filthy water while no steps were taken to drain the accumulated rainwater from thoroughfares by the city government. KPT underpass was flooding and the residents of Clifton, especially Bath Island, were compelled to confine to their residences for over a week due to accumulation of rainwater in their locality".

Despite being the gateway of Pakistan and contributing 70 per cent to the national exchequer, Karachi got no helpline, emergency centres or officials to listen to public grievances and redress them. No compensation was paid to the 20 persons who were killed in rain-related incidents, however, the city administration bears the responsibility for such accidents.

The aftermath of the rains are deplorable in the very sense that each nook and corner of the city is filled either with stagnant water, filth or sewer thus Karachi was wearing a look of un-administrative network where from traffic to communication to electricity all the networks had been worn out during the couple of hours of heavy rains. Now every mind has one thought - whether there should be rains or no rains in Karachi.