This is a story almost all residents of Karachi can identify with. A commercial establishment in a residential area becomes a nuisance. But what do you do when that commercial establishment is a hospital that needs to run a noisy generator simply because it doesn’t get an essential uninterrupted electricity supply?
“Every morning I wake up and feel as if my head is about to explode and I have just survived an earthquake,” says Nargis Khalid, a resident of an apartment building in Defence Housing Authority (DHA) Phase I. The hypertension patient is “perpetually” on pain medication for the “permanent headache” she suffers. Khalid attributes the cause of her pain to the noise of the commercial generators running a stone’s throw away from her apartment on the premises of the Health Care Hospital (HCH).
The hospital has massive, approximately 100 MW, generators that run on a 24-hour cycle, explains her son and neighbour Saqib Zeeshan. According to Zeeshan, they have made several attempts to contact the hospital’s administration for an amicable solution to the matter but in vain. The residents filed a complaint with the DHA as well. In response, an officer, whose name Khalid could not recall, came to the building about a month ago and investigated the situation. There has been no news since then. Khalid says sound-proofing one of her rooms didn’t help either.
Another building occupant, Tayyab Bombal’s room is located right next to the hospital’s lot where their generators are out in the open. “The noise is unbearable and when we close our windows to try and block some of it out, it gets too stuffy,” he explains. According to Bombal, the generators have been in use for about two years but it wasn’t until nearly five months ago that they were on 24 hours. His five-year-old niece has trouble sleeping due to the excessive noise, which seems to get worse at night.
Jamil Ahmed has been living in the building for the last 10 years and says his children also suffer the most from the noise. “During the day the cars and people on the road also make noise, so some of the generator’s sound is muffled, but it is unfair to keep people up all night with the racket the machine makes.”
For their part, the HCH’s administrator Dr Rauf Zaman said that as their gas generator had malfunctioned the hospital was forced to use the noisy diesel machine for a few days. “But soon after, officers from DHA came to check out the sound levels of the generators and gave their approval of it being within acceptable limits,” he says. Zaman defends the hospital’s efforts to be neighbourhood compliant but adds that if the noise were really “all that loud” then why weren’t the cardiac patients in the emergency ward complaining as the generators are located right outside their ward.
Then he gets to the crux of the matter: “The Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) does not provide us enough power to run all our functions smoothly,” Zaman says. “We heard the residents’ complaints and have complied with the relevant parameters and standards.” But the hospital has a point too: it needs the generators to run crucial machinery, equipment and utilities because it cannot take a risk with its patients.
DHA was reluctant to comment on the issue but finally, its spokesperson Colonel Rafat Naqvi gave the following response: “The question is very vague. Since there are many departments in DHA – vigilance, complaints, engineering … etc. And a complaint needs to be lodged with them to prompt any action or inquiry. I checked with all the departments and they said they had not received any such complaints so we need to know who complained and to whom in DHA, for an evaluation.”
On a personal note, he said, “I have visited the hospital and did not find any noise as it has a proper glass case but obviously if there is empirical evidence, it needs to be put up before the authorities.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2011.