The Venice of sewage

February 20, 2022

Sewage on roads is a constant issue in Karachi, further exacerbated by a failing infrastructure on its last legs

The Venice of sewage

Once the city of lights, Karachi is now facing severe sanitation problems. Parts of the city are facing drain line blockages and roads flooded with sewage water. Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB), the provincial government and local administration have failed to resolve the sanitation issues.

The worst affected areas include Martin Quarters, Jahangir Road, Liaquatabad, North Karachi, North Nazimabad, Shershah, Jahanabad, Soldier Bazaar, Tariq Road, Paposh Nagar, New Karachi, Gulistan-i-Johar, Landhi, Allahwala Town in Korangi, Chakiwara, Orangi Town, Lines Area, MA Jinnah Road and the Habib Bank chowrangi. Residents say that complaints have been repeatedly lodged with the relevant authorities but apparently no one is listening. The citizens have resorted therefore to hiring private contractors for the cleaning of manholes and streets.

Ambreena Sultana, a resident of Federal B Area Block 18, tells The News on Sunday that she has had standing sewage water outside her house for two weeks now with no action by the sanitation department. “The union council office is at the end of the lane but despite several complaints they have not taken notice,” she says.

Ambreena says that the stench permeates throughout her residence due to the failing sanitation infrastructure. “Our sewerage lines are too narrow to cater for the growing population living in central areas of the city,” she says.

Swalay Muhammad, 40, a photographer and graphic designer living in Lyari, says that sewage water leaking onto the streets is a perennial problem. “We have reported the problem to South District deputy commissioner on the Citizen Portal. There has been no response,” he says.

Hafsa Naeem lives in North Nazimabad. She has to deal with a constant stench in the air due to garbage dumps and sewage water. “Sewerage lines are clogged and garbage is piling onto the street, making it harder to move on foot,” she says.

According to Dr Qaisar Sajjad, secretary general of the Pakistan Medical Association, sewage and garbage accumulation in public spaces is a serious health hazard. “The open sewage on roads is spreading disease while contributing to the spread of malaria,” he says. Dr Sajjad says that dengue virus and bacterial diseases flourish in poor sanitary conditions. “The government, local administration and the water and sewerage board should take initiatives to provide a sanitary and healthy environment to citizens,” he says, adding that this prevents outbreaks.

Ahmed, 50, runs a scrap shop on Jahangir Road near Shahrah-i-Pakistan. He says that the sewerage system along Jahangir Road and Martin Quarters collapsed several years ago.

“Major parties like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan and the Pakistan Peoples Party are engrossed in power politics. They are not ready to address civic issues like sewerage, garbage collection and road infrastructure. Little regard is given to how a population of 25 million is surviving without clean water or sanitation,” he laments.

Syed Mustafa Kamal, chairman of the Pak Sarzameen Party and a former Karachi mayor, says that the sewerage lines were last replaced in 2007. The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board fixed and replaced infrastructure as a part of the mayor’s Karachi Transformation Plan at the time.

Aftab Chandio, chief engineer for the sewerage system at Karachi Water and Sewerage Board tells The News on Sunday that no major sewerage line is currently damaged or blocked on any of the main roads in Karachi. “The maintenance department is working to fix the sewerage lines in smaller areas to improve the flow of sewage,” he says.

The Venice of sewage

“No separate budget has yet been allocated for maintenance. We have been using earnings from sewerage services. Karachi has a huge population which makes it hard to fix sewerage at the same time in all areas.

Chandio says, “No separate budget has been allocated for maintenance. We have been using the revenue from sewerage services. Karachi has a huge population that makes it hard to fix sewerage at the same time in all areas. The main roads of the city are clear. Some problems might exist in small pockets.”

“The Pakistan Public Works Department recently had laid new pipelines at Jahangir Road,” says Chandio, adding that both sides of Martin Quarters have been covered by the PWD.

“The sewerage system is too old and on the brink of collapse in Karachi,” says town planner Arif Hasan, the Urban Resource Centre (URC) chairperson. “There is no treatment system and the water drainage infrastructure is being choked with garbage, leading to sewage flowing in the streets,” he explains.

According to Hasan, the population of Karachi has outgrown the available infrastructure, leading to poor sanitation in the country’s biggest economic hub. He mentions that some Chinese companies currently have garbage collection contracts in Karachi but have done very little beyond monitoring the local sub-contractors.

Prior to Chinese companies, some Afghan collectors were collecting the garbage door to door. Now the local contractors hired by Chinese companies have also hired Afghan migrants to collect the garbage in various areas.

An agreement was signed in 2016 between the Sindh government and Changyi Kangjie Sanitation Engineering Company Limited, a Chinese company, for garbage disposal. It was initially decided that the company will collect garbage in South and East districts without charging any additional fees from the citizens. Garbage cans were to be placed outside homes as well. At the time, the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board also planned to sign an agreement with the company to collect garbage from other districts as well.

Abid Hussain Brohi, the administration director at Changyi Kangjie, says that the company started collecting garbage in East and South districts in 2016. “The company was responsible for cleaning the roads and garbage collection,” he says.

“The garbage collected from District South is being dumped near Dhobi Ghat, which is an initial landfill site for the district,” says Brohi, adding that the garbage collected from Korangi is being dumped in Malir Nadi (Korangi causeway), a small landfill site. “This garbage is affecting the environment and pushing the sea back,” he says. Currently three Chinese companies are collecting garbage from six districts in Karachi. These companies have fixed garbage cans in different parts of the city.

Sindh Solid Waste Management Board spokesperson Almas Saleem says that 10,000 tonnes of garbage is being collected daily in Karachi alone. “Changyi Kangjie is collecting garbage from South and East districts, Hangzhou Jinjiang Group, Sanitation Services and Company is collecting garbage from Malir, Kemari and West districts; while Gansu Heavy Industry Corporation is collecting garbage from Korangi,” she says.

Saleem states that garbage collection from Shah Faisal Town is scheduled to begin soon. “There was a shortage of vehicles and sanitary workers that caused a delay in services to the area,” she says, adding that the garbage is being dumped at landfill sites in Gond Pass and Deh Jam Chakro.

Almas Saleem tells The News on Sunday that Urbaser, a Spanish company, had signed an agreement with the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board for collecting garbage in District Central. “However, they have recently quit after they failed to provide the required documents to complete legal procedures,” she says. .

On July 19, 2021, the provincial government had signed two separate agreements for solid waste management operations with a Chinese and a Spanish firm. The companies would be responsible for lifting and dumping 3,500 tonnes of garbage from Korangi and Central districts from August 2021.

The contracts followed a meeting between Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and the officials of Gansu and Urbaser at CM House where an operations agreement was also signed. Local Government Minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah, Advisor on Law Murtaza Wahab, Chinese Consul General in Karachi, Li Bijian, Urbaser CEO Jaime Martin, Gansu CEO Liu Dongwaei, Gansu Pakistan CEO Liu Tao, SSWMB managing director Zubair Channa were also in attendance.

Once a city of lights, Karachi is now a city facing many problems.

The writer is freelance journalist based In Karachi. He can be reached on Twitter @Zafar_Khan5

The Venice of sewage