Saturday February 24, 2024

Resolving Karachi’s sewage problems

By S.m. Hali
August 24, 2020

Karachi is the capital of the province of Sindh. It is Pakistan’s largest city and the seventh major city of the world. Ranked as a beta-global city, it is Pakistan’s premier industrial and financial center, with an estimated GDP of $114 billion as of 2014. Karachi is Pakistan’s most cosmopolitan city, its most linguistically, ethnically, and religiously diverse city, as well as one of Pakistan’s most secular and socially liberal cities. With its location on the Arabian Sea, Karachi serves as a transport hub, and is home to Pakistan’s two largest seaports, the Port of Karachi and Port Bin Qasim, as well as Pakistan’s busiest airport, Jinnah international airport.Karachi was destined to become the New York of the orient but vested interests, terrorism, extremism and separatism have turned the once pearl of the East into a cesspit of garbage, blocked sewage systems and muck. The ongoing monsoon downpour has aggravated the situation.

An exasperated Supreme Court directed the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to clear all stormwater drains in Karachi and remove encroachments from them within three months. It is a pity that the financial capital of Pakistan has been allowed to become a hellhole for its citizens. The chief justice of Pakistan expressed his anger at the deplorable state of affairs and took the provincial government of Sindh to task for bad governance. The apex court has also directed the authorities to raze all encroachments and submit a report to the judiciary. Majority of the roads and streets of the metropolis are filled with sewage water, which has damaged the infrastructure and continues to cause a traffic gridlock on almost all the main arteries of the city. There are two main reasons for accumulation of sewerage water on the roads: a deteriorated sewerage infrastructure and blockage of sewerage lines by rags, bags of sand and solid bricks placed by some construction units.

The obstruction of the sewerage system is becoming a sensitive issue with every passing day with the responsible parties – Karachi Water and Sewerage Board, DMCs and KMC – doing little to remedy the problem.

Karachi’s problems are exacerbated due to the multiple organizations, who operate in the city’s administration but none is willing to assume responsibility. The mayor of the cosmopolitan city has said that people are certainly not exaggerating when they say water comes up chest-high into their homes. The city has a network of 550 stormwater drains which zig-zag through the city and flow out into the Arabian Sea, but many are obstructed by illegal construction, waste and sludge.

El Niño has caused some of the havoc. Scientists are still figuring out how global warming will affect the Asian monsoon, but in many parts of the world, higher temperatures are fueling more intense bouts of rainfall and the trend is for more erratic weather patterns, as predicted by climate scientists.

From 2014 to last year, the city recorded more than 70 rain-related deaths. After the havoc last month — with main roads submerged, sewage spewing from manholes and into homes, and power cuts lasting for hours resulting in the NDMA being called in to execute the unprecedented task of sorting out the city’s drains. The NDMA, helped by the military’s engineering wing, said it had cleaned three major drains in just under a week, clearing 42 choke points and removing more than 31,000 tonnes of sludge. Karachi’s predicament has aggravated because the stormwater drains, some as wide as 200 feet, have over the years, due to unauthorized construction, narrowed to just 30 feet. The main responsibility lies both with residents who have encroached on land along the drain, and the provincial government for letting it happen.

The province of Sindh has taken a larger share of control from the city authority but has not provided the budget owed, which a court ruling ordered it to pay. Solid waste dumped into stormwater drains exacerbates the flooding. It is estimated that the mega-city generates 13,000 tonnes of garbage daily. The Sindh Solid Waste Management Board collects 70 percent of that and takes it to two landfills but is not aware of the fate of the rest. According to officials, sewage is also being dumped in storm drains, as little has been invested in rehabilitating the crumbling sewerage system for two decades despite the city’s expansion, officials said.

For a long term solution, the Sindh government-led Solid Waste Emergency and Efficiency Project (SWEEP), funded with $100 million from the World Bank, claims that encroachment on most of Karachi’s large drains over a long period, coupled with their uneven width, caused disturbances in the flow of water needs to be tackled urgently. Drains feeding into the big water channels are also not well maintained, making the flooding worse. Karachi’s sewage woes can be quelled through a comprehensive engineering solution, rather than “firefighting” each year as the city does now with the NDMA chipping in this year.

The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board needs Rs15 billion to overhaul its system and they plan to replace lines in North Nazimabad, Liaquatabad, New Karachi, Korangi and Malir if funding comes in. A Herculean effort is required to clean the Aegean’s stables.