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February 8, 2021

Still dealing with aftermath of last year’s flood, Malir villages face a new threat now

Karachi

February 8, 2021

The homes and sources of livelihood of 4,000 Samoo Goth residents were snatched beacause of the Malir River's flooding last year, according to Amina Malah, a former village councillor from the area. Picture by author

First it was the flooding of the Malir River caused by the rains and now it’s the construction of the Malir Expressway — there seems to be no end to the miseries of the poor residents of Samoo Goth.

Though unprecedented rains and urban flooding in August last year brought life to a grinding halt everywhere in Karachi, Samoo Goth, a village situated near the Malir River, was among the most affected localities of the city.

Heavy rain caused the Malir River bund (embankment) to break, resulting in Samoo Goth being flooded with four to five feet of water, along with other villages and neighbourhoods situated on the river bank.

The residents were left with only the clothes on their bodies while everything in their homes was lost. They returned after spending two months or so in relief camps, but the government did not provide them any kind of rehabilitation or relief assistance.

During a visit to Samoo Goth it was observed that the flood had destroyed all the farms, lands and gardens, destroying the residents’ only sources of livelihood: farming and herb cleaning.

Chaghi, a 58-year-old widow, lives with her divorced daughter and a mentally-ill son. She has been living in the village since childhood. “I don’t even remember when my parents came here during my childhood. I got married and spent my whole life here,” she said.

She lamented that her house and everything inside it was lost in the flood. “My goats, wood, crockery and every little thing were swept away in the floodwater. For the poor there’s no justice here. Now I only seek rehabilitation and help from God.”

Photo by author

Amina Malah, a former village councillor from the area, said the homes and sources of livelihood of 4,000 Samoo Goth residents were snatched because of the flood. “Most of the families in the village lost their CNICs [computerised national identity cards] during the flood.”

Shaista Rashid, another resident, said as she recalled her ordeal that her brick house was situated on the river bank. “When the river flooded, the walls crumbled and everything was taken away by the water.” she said.

She could only save her two children, and being two months pregnant at that time, it was difficult for her to run. She said her husband was away seeking employment, so the other villagers helped her move to a safe place.

Shaista was also forced to live at the relief camp for a few weeks. “When we asked about rehabilitation, the authorities told us we could take our tents back home. It was the only relief from the government,” she said. Her husband has now set up the tent at the village, and they’ve made it their permanent home.

Sami Memon, a journalist covering Malir’s rural areas, said dams on the river were broken because of the flood, affecting all the nearby localities, villages, farms and lands. “The damage was not caused by nature but because of mismanagement on the part of the government. No rehabilitation plan was devised for those affected by the flood.”

Saleem Baloch, a Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) MPA from the area, claimed that the government had provided relief to the people at the time of the flood. “But the people later returned home to resume their lives on their own. We’re still making efforts to get them the compensation that was announced by the government after the flood.”

He said that to prevent any flood-like situation in the future, the government is taking some major steps. “First we’ll remove all encroachments to clear the flow, as several people are residing inside the Malir River, which is affecting its natural flow.”

But now Samoo Goth’s residents are losing sleep over another problem: the construction of the Malir Expressway, which PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has termed the “biggest civic infrastructure project ever done by any provincial government in Pakistan under public-private partnership”.

The Malir Expressway will be built as an access-controlled 38.5-kilometre-long high-speed toll expressway to connect Karachi’s centre to M-9, a motorway between Karachi and Hyderabad. However, the residents of Samoo Goth and around a dozen other villages fear that the expressway’s construction will displace thousands of families when their homes and lands are demolished.

Memon said that the construction of the Malir Expressway can bring more bad news. He explained that the contents of two major storm water drains, Sukhan and Thado, fall into the Malir River, which flows into the sea.

“If the expressway disturbs the natural flow of water in the river, it can cause more destruction if another flood-like situation were to emerge in the future.” Zahid Farooq, the joint director of the Urban Resource Centre, claimed that the expressway project’s environmental impact assessment, which is mandatory for any major project, hasn’t been carried out.

“No design has been shared with the local communities; no resettlement plan has been shared with the locals to be affected, as 1,996 people would be affected by the Malir Expressway project.”

As Lahore does with the Ravi River, saving water in wells and serving the lands by constructing walls after every few kilometres, the same thing can be done with the Malir River, he advised.

Baloch said the Sindh government never intended to render the people homeless or jobless. “In our entire history, we have neither displaced people from their homes without proper compensation nor have we done any downsizing in the job sector,” he claimed.

“If the Malir Expressway route is changed slightly, it might add a kilometre or two to the route, but the houses of the poor would be saved. The PPP has certainly been working on changing the route and saving the villages.”