See More on Facebook

Analysis, Environment

Why did Karachi sink in the rain?

The city’s topography has been altered without any regard to the overall form of the megapolis.


Written by

Updated: August 16, 2019

As per the Meteorological Department’s near accurate prediction, Karachi experienced torrential rain this month.

27 people died and many more were injured. The situation was compounded by Eidul Azha that was being celebrated at the same time. Scores of cattle markets were set up in different locations across the city in addition to the central outlet along the Super Highway. Poor animals and their hapless keepers had to face a tough ordeal. Prices fell down sharply as animals began to fall sick due to the downpour and the filth.

The rain caused a complete breakdown of urban life. Poor design and management of roads, drainage, intersections, underground sewers and sidewalks caused unparalleled chaos and damage. Due to the over spilling of drains and the absence of properly directed flow of rain water, streets, transit ways and lanes were rendered unusable.

The mayhem exposed grave shortcomings in planning, development and management of a city that houses over eight per cent of the national population. Many factors contributed to this disappointing scenario.

Editorial: Monsoon devastation

The lack of any bulk drainage mechanism along the major streets was an obvious cause of the problem. It is ironic that the prime corridors — I.I. Chundrigar Road, Shahrah-e-Faisal, Shaheed-e-Millat Road, Karsaz Road, Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan Road, Shahrah-e-Pakistan and many other arteries — all became pools of water.

It is not that these streets are devoid of storm drains. Even before Partition, they were built with storm drains of appropriate capacity on their sideways. The hierarchy continued to the secondary- and tertiary-level streets and by-lanes.

Karachi is also blessed with more than a dozen natural drains (nallahs) that used to flow during rains and carried the water into the sea and creeks. A reasonable environmental balance existed thanks to the separation of sewerage and rain water.

As the city expanded in a haywire manner, the storm water drains were transformed into sewerage trunks. Even the planned neighbourhoods had their primary sewerage conduits ejecting into the nallahs.

Over the years, land grabbers and builders recklessly constructed structures on, and along, the nallahs. With the irregular reclamation of nallahs’ banks, the width of the water stream decreased. This created a perpetual problem both for the usual flow of sewage and the rain water during monsoons. In certain cases, these constructions made the maintenance of nallahs impossible.

Karachi’s topography has been altered without any regard to the overall form of the city. Whether it’s widening a road, constructing an underpass or a settlement, only local engineering benchmarks are taken into account. This causes disasters like the present episode, and the flooding alongside the Super Highway and its adjoining areas is an example.

Read next: Why Lahore gets flooded every year — and how to stop it

Coordinated decision making for development and management is necessary to prevent such disasters. Decisions that stem from scientific wisdom gained through analysis and evaluation of realities give rise to better results.

In Karachi’s case, decisions are geared to generate political benefits, instant praise from masses due to high visibility and short-term gains only. Neglect of pressing issues in favour of stand-alone mega projects and the over dominance of the provincial government on the local tiers of government are just the few glaring issues.

Demographic data, maps and scientific opinions are needed for proper urban drainage and flood prevention plans. While this information is gathered, its usage is constrained due to difficulty in free access, lack of updates and incompatibility and differences in formats.

In the recent past, Karachi has seen intense densification in existing neighbourhoods due to the street commercialisation policy enforced by the erstwhile City District Government since 2002. Over 40 major corridors have been declared commercial areas.

The policy has enabled the plots on these streets to be converted into high-rise constructions. At the same time, the ensuing pressure on water supply, electricity, sanitation, drainage, transportation and parking space was not taken into consideration. It was criminally assumed that by earning revenue, the vices of development could be ignored.

Spot commercialisation is already taking place in various areas of Karachi. Multiple jurisdictions, lack of motivation to enforce the law and the absence of political will to differentiate between short-term revenue gains and sustainability are the common issues found here.

Spot densification alters the rain and sewage water flow gradients. Property owners only develop their own plot-level services with no consideration of the overall flow of water. In many cases, physical structures such as speed breakers obstruct the water path.

In-depth: Cities, climate change and Pakistan’s extended urbanisation

A short while ago, a federal minister launched a cleaning drive for Karachi. At the onset, the clean-up of storm drains began. With enormous expenditure on manpower and machinery, some nallahs were partly cleaned and the recovered solid waste was deposited at their edges. As rain intensified, the collected waste slipped back into the drains.

Solid waste is deposited into the drains as no alternative is available. With rising consumerism, solid and liquid waste has multiplied. An intelligent approach is required to manage the waste in an environmentally friendly manner.

Scores of technological options are available that convert solid waste into electrical power. Sindh Solid Waste Management Board and municipalities shall do well to explore them. This would also ensure proper water flows into nallahs and prevent them from becoming a total liability.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Dawn
About the Author: Dawn is Pakistan's oldest and most widely read English-language newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Analysis, Environment

Japan: Koizumi offers no concrete plan on coal

The new environment minister needs to offer better ways to tackle climate change.  During a ministerial meeting of the U.N. climate summit in Madrid on Wednesday, Shinjiro Koizumi, the Environment Minister did not express concrete steps for reducing coal-fired thermal power generation. Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi did not express concrete steps for reducing coal-fired thermal power generation, for which construction of new plants is currently underway in Japan, during a ministerial meeting of the U.N. climate summit in Madrid on Wednesday. “I am afraid I cannot share new development on our coal policy today,” Koizumi said at the ongoing 25th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate


By The Japan News
December 13, 2019

Analysis, Environment

India, China step up the wooing but Rajapaksa in no hurry to align Sri Lanka

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will try to balance the competing interests of China, India in the region. The conversation in regional capitals after the emphatic win of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the Sri Lankan elections last month centres around a central question: Will he manage to pull a Sheikh Hasina on India and China? The reference, of course, is to the Bangladesh Prime Minister who many believe has managed to successfully push her country’s interests by balancing the competing strategic ambitions of China and India in South Asia. And Rajapaksa knows a thing or two about protecting what he believes are his country’s core interests. After all, he braved the Western world’s intense criticism – and India’s acute discomfort given its large domestic Tamil population – of the means adopted by him as Defence Minister in his brother and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s


By Ishan Joshi
December 12, 2019

Analysis, Environment

Nepal moves up in Human Development Index but still lags behind in South Asia

Nepal’s human development index of 0,579 indicates that people are living longer, are more educated and have greater incomes, according to the Human Development Report. Despite global progress in tackling poverty, hunger and disease, a ‘new generation of inequalities’ indicates that many societies are not working as they should and Nepal is not an exception, according to a new human development report released on Tuesday. The old inequalities were based on access to health services and education whereas the new generation of inequalities is based on technology, education and the climate, according to the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report. “Previously, we talked about wealth as a major driver for inequality. Now, countries like Nepal are in another inequality trap and that concerns


By The Kathmandu Post
December 12, 2019

Analysis, Environment

Myanmar running out of time to cope with climate change, warns historian Thant Myint-U

Myanmar is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the effects of climate change and is grossly unprepared to deal with the consequences. WASHINGTON – Myanmar is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the effects of climate change, and is grossly unprepared to deal with the consequences, warns historian Dr Thant Myint-U. The Myanmar historian, author and conservationist was in the United States recently to speak on his most recent book examining race, capitalism and the crisis of democracy in Myanmar titled “The Hidden History of Burma”. In an interview for the online video and podcast Asian Insider, Dr Thant told The Straits Times the threat of climate change tipped his ledger towards pessimism about the country’s future. “I think whatever we think of the ledger in general, perhaps it comes to 50/50,” he said. “When you add on


By The Straits Times
December 9, 2019

Analysis, Environment

Is polarisation driven by Hyper Information Disorder Syndrome?

In a study of Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Poland, Turkey and the US, writes ANDREW SHENG, scientists attribute populism to the rise of decisive leaders who push nationalism, demonise opponents and stir up issues that further divide societies. BANGKOK – Mass protests seem to be breaking out all over the place, from Hong Kong to Santiago, Tehran, Bolivia, Catalonia, Ecuador, France and Iraq to Lebanon.  The root causes of these protests have many local reasons, but there are common themes, such as inequality, corruption, incompetent governments, rural-urban migration, demography, anger, social media and demand for change. But underlying all these protests is the growing polarization of societies, increasingly manifested in viol


By Asia News Network
December 9, 2019

Analysis, Environment

Rohingya Crisis Fallout

Transparency International Bangladesh has painted a grim outlook for the crisis. Bangladesh faces long-term financial, political and security challenges as Rohingya repatriation may not happen anytime soon, said Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman. The fund from the international community for nearly one million Rohingyas may not sustain as no strong international initiative has been taken to oblige Myanmar for creating a conducive environment for the refugees to return soon, he said. “As a result, Bangladesh’s socio-economic instability will grow. There are risks of security at local and national levels. The crisis also creates political and diplomatic challenges for the government,” Iftekharuzzaman said. It also involves the risks of growing extremism as the people who face violence are more likely to become violent, he said at a press confere


By Daily Star
December 6, 2019