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Sunday September 25, 2022

Karachi’s lost glory

September 21, 2022

A metropolis usually features neat sidewalks, clean pavements, planned housing and efficient installation of utility infrastructure. Once known for all of these, Karachi is no longer a comfortable city to be in. Our focus on preventive measures is missing, putting us into firefighting mode with no long-term strategies in place.

Over the last few decades, we have lost our green spaces to illegal construction and encroachments, depriving citizens of comfortable public recreation spaces. At the same time, the city is growing without any checks. This neglect is apparent in unkempt streetlight poles and utility power infrastructure, which remain covered in cobwebs of internet and TV cable wires.

The city’s streets become littered with potholes after rains, which hold dirty rainwater for prolonged periods, making it difficult for people to walk. In this off-putting and unsafe environment, we find children roaming dangerously close to electricity infrastructure and open gutters on roads, throwing caution to the wind and youngsters working at makeshift shops underneath tangled cables. The chaotic mayhem of wiring combined with ‘kundas’ (illegal connections) is an eyesore.

Karachi’s striking colonial architecture is now largely hidden or mottled by these convolving cables. We are unable to preserve the beautiful old architecture and heritage of our city because of billboards and cables, and shops that demolish the old interior to make room for their wares. These encroachments are often illegally placed and get in the way of utility services.

Sewerage lines choke when multi-storey constructions are made in plots designated for smaller purposes. Extending vertically may also bring these constructions dangerously close to power lines, posing a serious threat to the life and livelihood of the same vendors and shop owners. Unfortunately, it appears that the city’s residents and authorities willingly ignore such potential threats, which is extremely worrisome.

In this context, it is important for developers and builders to follow the law during construction and for the building authorities to keep checks on the city’s development work to ensure that it is safe and sustainable for its citizens.

In extreme cases, encroachment also blocks access to roads, increasing the challenge for utilities to provide their services safely and conduct maintenance or restore faults. Power companies across the country including Karachi regularly remove illegal wiring, and create awareness through campaigns about the dangers of 'kundas'.

All encroachments on electric poles damage the infrastructure, jeopardize the integrity of the electricity system, affect the service provision and most importantly bypass electrical safety mechanisms, thus creating public safety hazards. In recent times, a leading cause of many unfortunate incidents has been identified as internet and TV cables as they violated safety protocols and procedures.

Urban encroachment also correlates with the perception of crime in an area and impacts the value of property as well. Nobody would want to pay a premium price for a house or shop in an area where garbage collects at every corner, roads are narrow because of illegal construction, gutters overflow because the construction overwhelms their drainage capacity, and the constant presence of unsafe wiring poses a hazard.

Also, unattended garbage is a breeding ground for disease-carrying insects in a city that is already riddled with its fair share of challenges. As citizens, we don’t realize that prioritizing our environment above personal gains will actually result in higher returns for everyone. We continue to turn a blind eye to the integrity of our own lives in pursuit of economic prosperity.

While we expect our authorities and city stakeholders to take interest and ensure that our cities thrive, it is imperative that we also look at our own behaviour, which may indirectly be contributing to the problem.

Great cities are built on the back of strong civic sense and proper governance. While Karachi is expanding at a rapid rate, there may still be opportunity to intervene and slow the decline, if not reverse it. With small steps today, perhaps our future generations can make strides in a Karachi that has regained its glory as the city of lights and prosperity.

The writer is a journalist based in Karachi and can be reached at: Sara.amj@hotmail.co.uk

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