KARACHI: The Global Liveability Report, 2017 has ranked Karachi as the world’s sixth worst city to live in for the second consecutive year.
For a city plagued by incompetent governance, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s [EIU] Liveability Index will not surprise Karachiites. But it may raise questions on claims of an ‘improved’ Karachi. The index has ranked 140 cities based on stability, infrastructure, education, healthcare, culture and environment. Pakistan’s financial hub has fallen behind in each category.
“It’s [just] a perception,” insisted Citizens-Police Liaison Committee Chief Zubair Habib. “The situation has improved. We just need to put that information out there.” He emphasised the declining rate of organised crime in the city but admitted that the ‘police in Karachi is grossly understaffed’.
“We need investigation and forensic teams for all cases, not only high profile ones,” the CPLC chief told The Express Tribune. “There should be at least 50,000 policemen in the city to tackle security threats.”
Habib stressed that the police should have the autonomy to utilise their budget as per their requirements, adding that currently the Sindh government is making those decisions for them.
Much has been said about the city where the Sindh chief minister acts as the de facto mayor, while the actual elected mayor frequently calls on the court to grant him powers. The city of lights remains entangled in a confusing web of deception.
Unmoved by the ranking, the forlorn mayor of Karachi believes negligence is the reason behind it. “Karachi’s issues are increasing day by day,” Wasim Akhtar told The Express Tribune. “There is no will to attend to the city’s problems,” he said.
“Karachi’s infrastructure is not equipped for the constant influx of population,” Akhtar explained. “What is the point of new roads if you have no sewerage system in place?” he asked, stressing the lack of systematic development in the city.
“There is a state within a state in Sindh after the 18th Amendment,” said the mayor. “They [the Sindh government] make up laws as they please.”
Having filed a petition in the Supreme Court for the restoration of Article 140(a), Akhtar yearns for the revenue-generating departments that have been taken away from the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation. “All I can do is pay salaries and pensions,” he lamented. “I’m not even allowed to undertake a project worth more than Rs20 million.”
From the water board to solid waste and garbage collection, all the responsibilities that should fall under local government have been ‘usurped’ through notifications by the provincial government, Akhtar claimed.
As a metropolis, Karachi attracts those seeking medical relief but it lacks a proper healthcare system. The mayor said he is unable to maintain the 13 hospitals that fall under his care, due to lack of power and funds. Akhtar said that while the hospitals are under the mayor’s command, the responsibility to buy medical equipment falls to the Sindh government.
The CPLC chief is on the same page. He lamented how the police force lacks basic medical care, with rundown hospitals and low-cost insurance.
But where the state fails, the city’s people step up. With institutions such as the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation, The Indus Hospital and Aga Khan University Hospital amongst others, pro-bono work manages to give the people respite.
Similarly, private schooling has filled the void in the education sector in a city where authorities frequently bulldoze schools. With an approximate population of 27 million, Karachi’s future lies in its youth.
Khizra Munir, a volunteer teacher and alumni at The Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, said it is important to experience the city with an understanding and approach that is not just that of a student but that of a stakeholder in the ups and downs of the city.
Through their city orientation class, volunteer teachers construct experiences that encourage students to create public service campaigns that can help them ‘become more accountable Karachiites’.
The city that never sleeps embeds a kind of perseverance in Karachiites that even a powerless mayor has faith in. By signing memorandums of understanding with Chinese firms to create revenue-generating schemes, the mayor has started a plantation drive and distributed biodegradable disposable bags in a clean-up campaign.
When asked why he is still holding an office with no powers, Akhtar smiled. “If I give up, they [the Sindh government] will destroy everything.” As he completes a year in office, the mayor is unsatisfied but hopeful. “I have not achieved what I set out to but I am trying.”