Thursday December 02, 2021

Karachi needs autonomous LB system to avoid becoming a ghetto

July 29, 2020

The rains that inspire poets, enrich the soul, bring life to dead and desiccated earth, the clouds thunder and the bolts of light crackle also bring a certain level of anxiety, discomfort and scare for many Karachiites due to the urban flooding that turns large parts of the city into giant cesspools and electrocutions due to snapping wires reflecting on total lack of governance and a government that has abdicated its responsibility.

This is primarily governance and institutional failure from which there can be no respite without a financially autonomous and independent of government LB system and a modern framework of the KWSB.

In case of Karachi, the urban flooding and the waist-deep water is no more limited to the old city areas or only the low lying ones but includes many posh localities, the newly built roads and underpasses inaugurated with much fanfare that have turned into water tunnels or canoe zones.

Many of these have turned into horrific death traps as people or cars are washed down into the storm drains or become victim to snapping wires or the unearthed poles.

On Sunday and Monday once again parts of city turned into giant stinking pools in the aftermath of just 78mm of rain and tragically claimed four lives.

The city has over 550 drains of different classifications, but 48 are the major ones including the Gujjar Lyari, Orangi and Mehmoodabad storm drains.

Believing as if time is a static reality, years of utter disregard and neglect to replace and expand the dilapidated, corroded sewerage system has become overloaded and woefully inadequate to meet the needs of an over populous city adding to the distress of the residents in almost every rainy season, signifying the break down of governance and institutional failure and a certain lack of interest from the government both federal and provincial.

Anticipatory action has never been the hallmark of the provincial government or timely release of funds to unclog the storm drains, months before the onset of the monsoon, could have given some respite to city. But that did not happen despite warnings by the Met Deptt of rains of messy urban flooding.

A phenomenon the world has now to live with as climatic changes turn ferocious and unpredictable with every passing year. Besides other factors, the failure to simply drain the stagnant rain water ironically has slid Karachi to among the “fifth least liveable city” in the world, ranking 136th on the list — — only managing to fare better than Damascus in Syria, Lagos in Nigeria, Dhaka in Bangladesh and Tripoli in Libya.

This has also put Karachi at a high risk of natural and human-made disasters and is one of the most disaster-vulnerable districts in Pakistan. Together this has very serious repercussions for business, commerce and foreign investments for the city considered an economic-industrial hub.

The city’s archaic, overloaded sewerage system requires major investments in rehabilitation, network expansion, distribution network and large pumping stations. The revival of the much delayed Karachi’s greater sewage plan S III is also imperative if the city has to have a modicum of some cleanliness. It was revised and approved by ECNEC at a cost of Rs 36.11 billion in 2018 and includes string of projects under the Lyari river, Malir river basins treatment plants after which it will eventually be drained into the sea as treated sewage.

But at the heart of this are certain stark realities of a fractured local body system that remains literally under the thumb of the provincial government, a dysfunctional KWSB,( Karachi Water and Sewerage Board) and a KMC( Karachi Municipal Committee) that has no control over the DMCs( District Municipal Committees), all in the greater wisdom of the PPP government that though resists amendments to the 18th Amendment but would resist with almost equal vigour the devolution of the Karachi LB system. Resultantly, the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board has yet to develop a single proper ‘landfill’. The KWSB, KMC and the District Municipal Corporations (DMCs) are supposed to be managing the drains and storm-water drains but their performance leaves much to be desired. They are financially dependent on the provincial government, that gives handouts on a partisan basis that are often delayed and adequate only for non-developmental expenditures like salaries. After Gen Musharraf’s development spree in Karachi, the last time a certain sizeable amount of money was forced out of provincial coffers was courtesy CJP Saqib Nisar who took a suo motu notice to secure budget to clear clogged drains, storm drains and removal of encroachments from them. But that was an ad-hoc arrangement for a specific period of time. The year 2019 was disastrous again as the CJP Nisar had gone home and now we watch the remaining monsoon spell with a heightened sense of eerie anxiety

The city needs a highly devolved and financially autonomous and accountable LB system run by technical experts. Radical improvements are required in updating the Provincial Financial Commission and making it available to the local governments. Similarly, modernization of Urban Immovable Property Tax system and its collection system needs to be harnessed to help the city manage some of its basic issues.

While a city the size of Karachi needs a lot more to be turned into livable and competitive in real terms of a megapolis, but for managing sewage, the KWSB must be allowed to become an autonomous and modern entity.

But none is effectively without allowing it to operate independently like the national and global practices. Without a financially autonomous city’s LB system, Karachi is likely to slip further down in liveability and becoming the world’s largest urban ghetto.