Water rescue

August 07, 2022

Concerted efforts are needed for a permanent solution to Karachi’s rain-water problem

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arachi received heavy rains in July this year, inundating many areas, including the Defence Housing Authority (DHA). According to the Met office, the Masroor Base observatory recorded a total of 606 millimetres of rain during July, followed by 587mm in Gulshan-i-Hadeed and 524mm in the DHA. It was about 181 percent more than the average rainfall in July after 1961.

Almost the entire city received heavy rains. The most affected residential areas, besides the DHA and the old city, were Korangi, Malir, Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Gulistan-i-Jauhar, Nazimabad, Liaquatabad, Orangi, North Nazimabad and Gulshan-i-Hadeed. These areas remained submerged in rainwater for several days. The rainwater could not be drained from low-lying areas of many towns for days, causing health and hygiene issues.

The torrential rains caused flooding in many suburban areas including the housing societies of KDA Scheme 33 because large parts of these housing schemes are built on natural drains that have been carrying storm water to the sea or Malir and Lyari rivers. Nahar-i-Khayyam, the Soldier Bazar nullah, the City Station nullah too have been encroached upon by residential colonies and commercial buildings. This has affected the natural flow of rainwater into the sea.

The Malir river, which carries water from other tributaries from the Kirthar foothills passes through Korangi’s industrial area and disposes of its water into the sea. For several years now it has been overflowing due to blockages. The gushing water from the Malir river this July disconnected the Korangi area from the rest of the city. Its two culverts on the main roads were destroyed by the torrential flow into the Malir river. Only one passage of Jam Sadiq Bridge remained open for driving towards the Korangi industrial area.

The Lyari river flows from Sohrab Goth to the city’s congested areas of Liaqatabad, Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Garden, Golimar and Lyari. After crossing the Mauripur Road it discharges into the sea. Water from the Lyari river this year disconnected the road leading to the New Lyari Town and Khuda Ki Basti from the Gadap Town.

The rains also affected the old city areas, including the famous Bandar Road (MA Jinnah Road), the commercial street, II Chundrigar Road and the adjacent area in the South district, which remained under rain water for a couple of days after rains had stopped. Despite efforts by the municipal administration the water could not be drained due to poor infrastructure and choking of the main storm-water drains.

Rainwater entered many homes and shopping centres in vast areas, causing damage to property as well as hardship for the residents. The provincial government has been appealing to the people to stay at home to be safe during the rains.

The main thoroughfares and underpasses remained inundated under rainwater for several hours after the heavy downpour, despite the city administration’s round-the-clock operation to drain out water. The commuters, especially motorcycle riders were the worst sufferers. Due to submerged thoroughfares many two-wheelers either broke down or were unable to move safely.

The storm-water drains have narrowed over the years due to the construction of residential and commercial buildings on both banks of the drains — the main cause of inundation of many city areas in 2020.

Unprecedented rains had also played havoc in many areas of Karachi two years ago, in 2020, when an emergency was declared in the city. Areas like the New Nazimabad and Surjani Town had remained under water for several days and their residents had had to move to safer areas.

All the city’s major storm-water drains discharge most of the rainwater into either Lyari or Malir rivers or directly the sea. The main drains are frequently blocked on account of the garbage thrown into those. This year, the provincial government had been calling for precautionary measures but the arrangements proved insufficient.

Most storm-water drains have grown narrower over the years due to the construction of residential and commercial buildings on both their banks. This was the main cause of inundation of many city areas in 2020.

After the monsoon in 2020, both the federal and provincial governments made concerted efforts to clear and widen the main storm-water drains in the city. After protests by the opposition parties in the city, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government at the Centre entrusted the job to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to carry out the civil work to clean the three main storm-water drains through the Frontier Works Organisation. The Sindh government was asked to provide the required funds from a World Bank loan to carry out these activities.

Three main nullahs which were originally storm-water drains have for several years been used as sewers. Both sides of these drains have been encroached upon by people in connivance with some political parties and professional land grabbers who sell the land to the poor. As a result, when a government tries to remove the human settlements along the Gujjar nullah, Korangi nullah and Manzoor Colony nullah, it faces a lot of resistance from the residents as well as political workers.

The government has announced a compensation plan for the affected but many people say they have not been paid the promised amount. The provincial government had promised to provide alternative housing to the displaced people but the promise remains unfulfilled.

“Some people have received rent payments but no alternative houses have been provided,” says Zahid Farooque of Urban Resource Centre, an NGO. He says most people have not even received the rent amount because of a lack of documentation.

The work for desilting and widening of the three main storm-water drains is still in progress.

This year the city’s Southern posh localities of Defence Housing Authority (DHA) and Clifton too received heavy rains that damaged properties in several phases of the DHA. Phase II of the society was the worst hit; however, other areas were also affected. Some people remained stranded for many days due to knee-deep water around their homes.

This was the third time that the DHA’s drainage system failed to carry the storm-water to the sea.

Laid in 2007, the storm-water drainage system for the DHA was unable to carry the entire rainwater from its residential and commercial areas. The main traffic arteries in Defence therefore remained submerged for several days. Some people staged protest demonstrations outside the offices of the Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC) and the DHA for their failure to drain the water.

Efforts are made around the monsoon rains every year to drain the water. Once the rains end, efforts for a permanent solution are discontinued.

The author is a senior journalist, currently working as a development communication professional in Karachi

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