RAINS EXPOSED DEPLETING KARACHI INFRASTRUCTURE

It also highlighted myopic plans and lack of coordination among various departments

SHABBIR H. KAZMI, Special Correspondent
Aug 28 - Sep 03, 2006

Many critics have been pinpointing the inadequacy and fragileness of the Karachi infrastructure. Most of the civic agencies and utility companies did not agree with the critics and often termed it 'obsession'. However, the recent rains, about 77mm in 24 hours, exposed the claims of civic authorities. Most of the roads were flooded with rainwater, electricity supply in certain areas had to be suspended due to breaking of overhead wires and thousands of fixed-line telephones went out of order. Even mobile networks experienced faults. Many office-going people had to spend the August 17 night at their offices due to worst traffic jams on the roads. Those who dared to face the torrential rain and traffic jam were stuck on roads for hours. They also lost contact with their families either because of malfunctioning of mobile phones or draining out of mobile phone battery due to frequent inward/outward calls.

Almost all the major roads in the metropolis were flooded with rainwater within a couple of hours of the cloudburst. It was not because of heavy rains but mostly due to overflowing of rainwater drain system. Ironically, Karachi suffers from absence of rainwater drain system because either the drains are encroached upon or are mostly filled with garbage. Though the civic agencies were busy in making "emergency arrangements", they either forgot to clean the drains or assumed that these drains were still capable of in-taking water from heavy downpour. However, most of the critics are of the view that authorities never bothered to visit the sites. Had they visited the spots the citizens would not have experienced the worst chaos.

In the past the areas normally inhibiting low and middle income groups used to face the adverse effects of rains. However, this time posh areas or government officers' colony (Bath Island) also suffered the after-effects of rains. Not only the Clifton underpass remained inaccessible for days, its adjoining areas still look like marshy land. The situation near Askari-I and PSO House on Khaleeq-uz-Zaman Road was not very different. Even after a lapse of nearly 10 days Khaleeq-uz-Zaman Road remained highly depleted and no one knows when this road would be brought back to its shape.

Residents of many areas, including Bath Island and DHA, faced immense problems in reaching their homes, even after remaining stranded in knee-high water on roads for hours. The recently constructed KPT underpass was flooded with rainwater. Residents of adjoining areas particularly Bath Island had asked the government to declare this area as calamity hit. Customers inflow at the shops located in the adjoining areas had reduced to less than 25% and the situation had not yet returned to normal.

In one of the interviews City Nazim Mustafa Kamal had expressed his grudge over highlighting Bath Island issue. He said that many areas were facing similar problems but Bath Island issue was being projected out of proportion. Many observers are of the view that Bath Island became focal point mainly because it houses high level bureaucrats, both federal and provincial. The objective was to highlight that if areas where VVIPs live remained in a shambles for days what could be the ground reality of the areas where low income group people live.

On August 24 the Governing Body of DHA expressed its deep concern, sympathies and support to the DHA residents for the agonizing sufferings they had to bear because of the recent rains. The DHA was directed to undertake restructuring and remodeling of all its existing sewerage and drainage systems in a futuristic manner to obviate recurrence of such a pathetic scenario in the future.

The Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC) also confessed that at least 20 people died due to electrocution during the recent rains. The corporation also announced to undertake immediate repair of 15 damaged substations, besides repairing the roofs of 32 grid stations. All these may fall under cosmetic surgery and it is yet to be seen how the scenario emerges.

According to another newspaper report thousands of PTCL land-line subscribers are still facing problems. The situation in Society, Pak Capital, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Orangi, Airport, Model Colony, SITE, Korangi, Landhi, West Wharf, Gulbai, Baldia Town, District Central, Cantt and DHA is still precarious and it is very difficult to say when these phones would be repaired.

According to many critics the real havoc in Karachi was created due to choking of rainwater drain system. Many TV channels and newspapers ran detailed stories to this effect. The emerging bottom line is that some of these drains have been choked due to improper cleaning and dumping of garbage by the janitorial staff of the civic authorities.

The critics also say that the over enthusiastic staff of the City District Government Karachi and contractors working on various projects failed in coordinating with each other. They also ignored the city maps showing underground electricity cables, drinking water pipelines and waste water disposal system. The result was the nightmare that was still being witnessed by the Karachi residents.

The residents of Karachi are forced to use pathetically poor public transport system. This includes decades-old and smoke-emitting buses, completely worn out taxis charging exorbitant fares and mini-buses (yellow devils). Highly depleted public transport system became a nightmare during rains. Most of the vehicles cannot be operated because of lack of fitness. Standing water on the roads caused the worst-ever traffic jams. The result is that a round trip which should take two hours becomes five/six hours long. Since people were in a rush to reach home/office they also started searching for taxis but drivers were demanding astronomical fares.

After the recent rains some quarters are demanding that circular railway system should be revived as soon as possible. City Government is also supporting this policy but many critics are totally opposed to this. They say whatever amount the City Government intends to invest in circular railway would go down the drain after a while because not only the system is inefficient but also incapable of providing access to all.