When it rains in Karachi

August 9, 2020

As the port city braves devastating monsoon downpour, the NDMA is sent to clean up. However, this is a short-term fix amidst a blame game between political elites

Like every year in the monsoon season, Karachi braved a spell of devastating urban flooding in late July that caused a complete breakdown of urban life.

This year, Karachi experienced torrential rain as per the Meteorological Department’s near accurate prediction. Floods because of recent rain, particularly on July 27, proved to be much more disastrous mainly in Karachi’s two most populous districts - Central and West. Several roads, streets, and homes were flooded with rainwater. Commuters were stranded on roads during rain and in many parts of the metropolis people and cattle suffered electric shocks. Residents of the low-lying areas suffered property damage amounting to millions of rupees following an hour-long downpour

A few days after the devastation caused by rains, Prime Minister Imran Khan directed the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to start the clean-up in Karachi. The NDMA is a federal agency that is designed to move in and launch operations when disasters strike. It sprang into action on August 3 with military assistance and started clearing the city’s drains.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Peoples Party-led Sindh government, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan led Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led federal government continue to blame one another. Mayor Waseem Akhter laments the lack of funds and his limited powers and the Sindh government’s non-cooperation, saying that “he is a toothless mayor of the city where there are too many decision-makers.”

Provincial Ministers Nasir Hussain Shah and Saeed Ghani in a press conference said that after the recent rains the media had given the impression that Karachi was submerged. They said this year the situation was much better than last year.

Many provincial lawmakers faced backlash for posting images of selected main roads, including Shahrah-e-Faisal - lauding the Sindh government for clearing it from rainwater within a few hours. Residents said that provincial lawmakers were trying to misrepresent the condition of the city as several low-lying densely populated residential areas in the metropolis were actually submerged in rainwater.

The KMC is responsible for 41 major stormwater drains while 500 minor drains fall under the purview of the six District Municipal Corporations in the city, according to Muhammad Toheed, a researcher associated with the Karachi Urban Lab. “The responsibility also lies with the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board and Sindh Solid Waste Management Board - two bodies operated under the Sindh government that have failed in their responsibilities to clean the drains and remove and dispose of the garbage and solid waste,” Toheed writes in one of its recent piece on rains.

In the beginning, the PPP leadership was angry over the federal government’s decision to send NDMA to ‘clean’ Karachi, calling it a conspiracy against its provincial government. However, lately, the Sindh government has praised the steps taken by the NDMA and assured its support and cooperation to complete the job before the next spell of rain in Karachi, expected to start on August 6 (at the time of filing this report).

“Given the boundaries of Karachi, its population, and the nature of the problems, there is an urgent need for the federal government to play its role in natural disasters and extraordinary circumstances,” said Shah.

Shah said that in his meetings with the NDMA chief the chief minister had provided him with complete information about the problems of the city and ground realities and assured him that the Sindh government would provide its unconditional support, he said.

The NDMA said that the Sindh government had agreed to clean 19 drains while the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) has been tasked to remove garbage from Gujjar, Korangi and Mowach Goth drains. “The focus is to remove debris from 21 choked points of these drains. Some 24 excavators, two loaders, 90 dumpers, and 224 workers are engaged in the cleaning operation,” NDMA said in a statement.

The MQM-P and PTI’s Karachi leadership demanded that the federal government “intervene” and play its role for the people of Sindh.

“We are very grateful to Prime Minister Imran Khan for prioritising the solution of Karachi’s problems,” said PTI Karachi president and MPA Khurram Sher Zaman.

“Given the failure and incompetence of the PPP-led Sindh government, the federal government has decided to give responsibility to provide relief to the people of Karachi to the NDMA. We demand that the federal government intervene in Sindh, as the provincial government has completely failed to provide basic needs to the people,” said Zaman.

However, a section of political leaders believes that sending the NDMA to “clean up” Karachi cannot be a permanent solution. Pak Sarzameen Party chairman Syed Mustafa Kamal has urged Prime Minister Imran Khan to meet with Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah in the presence of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and the media to have the problems of Karachi solved.

“The poor governance situation of the port city has not only become problematic for its residents but also become crucial from the security perspective,” said Kamal, who has also served as city mayor.

Prime Minister Imran Khan on July 27 also said that “Karachi’s long-standing problems can’t be solved unless the elected local government representatives of the people become financially, politically and administratively autonomous in the spirit of the Constitution”. He had also directed the attorney general to immediately appeal to the apex court for an early hearing of and decision on the petition related to Article 140-A that was filed in the top court.

The MQM-P, a coalition partner of the PM’s PTI, lauded him for raising his concerns over the Sindh government’s alleged attempts to paralyse the local government system and for backing the plea filed in the apex court for Article 140-A’s implementation.

The writer is a The News staffer. Email: [email protected] and Twitter: @zalmayzia

When it rains in Karachi