Another rain, another disaster?


arachi has yet to receive the full blast of monsoon rains for this year. While the city management is making tall claims about the preparedness, the past experience does not make one very hopeful. The light rain and drizzle that the city recently saw exposed the hollowness of some of these assertions. As per reports, three people died due to rain-related accidents on July 23.

Recently, elected municipal councillors, chairmen of union committees and towns were very concerned about the status of preparedness. Most of them complained about the debris and solid waste heaps that have been deposited in major nullahs, especially in Karachi Central and West. Where repairs and small-scale development have been undertaken, the work has been observed to be of dubious quality.

Nightmares from the past rain episodes continue to haunt the citizenry. During the previous years, especially 2020 and 2022, poor design and management of roads, drainage nullahs, intersections, underground sewers and sidewalks caused much chaos and damage. Due to spilling of drains and absence of properly directioned flow of rain water, the down town streets, transit ways and lanes were rendered unserviceable. Thousands of people could not reach their homes and had to spend the night in their offices or other accessible location. Hundreds of vehicles were stranded on the streets; thus, further restricting road use. In short, it was mayhem. The experience exposed the grave shortcomings in planning, development and management of the megalopolis. The city has not reached the disarray in a day. Many factors have contributed to its degradation.

The absence of any mechanism of bulk drainage along major streets was an obvious cause of the problem. It is ironic to note that prime corridors including II Chundrigar Road, Shahrah-i-Faisal, Shaheed-i-Millat Road, Habib Ibrahim Rahimtoola Road (Karsaz Road), Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan Road and Shahrah-i-Pakistan all convert into puddles of water whenever it rains in Karachi. It is not that these streets are devoid of storm drains. The city also has more than a dozen natural drains (nullahs) that used to flow during rains and carried the rain water into the sea. A reasonable environmental balance was created due to the rational separation of sewerage and rain water. As the city expanded, mostly in a haywire manner, some of the storm water drains were turned into sewerage trunks. Sadly, even some planned neighbourhoods were developed with their primary sewerage conduits ejecting into the storm drains. One can also find land grabbers and builders recklessly constructing structures on nullahs. Irregular reclamation of nullah banks reduced the width of the water flow stream. This created a perpetual problem both for the flow of sewage and the rain water during monsoons. On many occasions, it caused a serious threat to life and property of dwellers who resided in adjacent neighbourhoods. There are several locations in the city where multi storeyed buildings have been illegally constructed on top of nullahs. In certain cases, these constructions render the maintenance of nullahs impossible. While drains have been developed in a few locations, the connectivity of smaller drains with main drains has been compromised in certain instances.

Ad hoc urban development has also impacted drainage of rainwater. For a very long time, Karachi has been subjected to urban development decisions that ensure profiteering by a few at the cost of many. The promulgation of the commercialisation policy and bylaws by the defunct city district government of Karachi (CDGK) in January 2004 is a glaring example. Six major corridors of the city were declared commercial with the onset of this policy. Since then, the number has multiplied. High rise construction on major roads, on residential plots became possible under this arrangement.

The decision was taken by the city council of the then CDGK. This represented a bonanza for real estate builders. At that time, the only studies or base work undertaken towards this end were the workings on the distribution of commercial gains and revenue sharing. The intensity of load on various components of infrastructure such as water supply, electricity, sanitation, drainage, transportation and parking space were not taken into consideration.

Another rain, another disaster?

It was apparently assumed the revenue generated will help deal with the vices of such development. ‘Spot commercialisation’ is now common in various areas of the city. Among other challenges, this practice distorts the rain water drainage options for the neighbourhoods. Multiple jurisdictions also impede comprehensive drainage planning. Corridors of movement passing through multiple jurisdictions are routinely affected. One finds most of these corridors inundated during rains as access to existing drains is obstructed during commercial development works.

A major challenge the city will face in the wake of torrential rains is the ongoing developmental works. There is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Red Line construction taking place all along the University Road and allied corridors. It is one of the major arteries of movement where major neighbourhoods, educational institutions and healthcare facilities are located. Currently, it presents a picture of complete chaos. The construction work that is aimed at securing a separate right of way for the BRT buses has hampered the routine flow of vehicles. The side drains, service lanes (where they exist) and other infrastructure are in a state of disrepair. Excavation works have rendered movement along this corridor an extremely difficult task. How this corridor will fare during torrential rains is anybody’s guess. Similarly, development of storm drains and allied works is also being carried out in some parts of Defence Housing Authority. Since these works are being done along ordinary corridors of movement, an unprecedented hardship is already faced by residents and visitors. Authorities shall do well to announce plans for speedy drainage of rain water and facilitate pedestrian and vehicular movement during the monsoons.

Published in The News By Dr Noman Ahmed 30 July 2023