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The United States Agency for International Development and Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment have launched a web portal called ‘Humara Karachi’. The portal is a one-stop platform to improve urban governance by providing virtual solutions to the residents of the city.
The closing ceremony for the project, which has been in the works for over a year, was held on Saturday.
At the event, urban planner Dr Farhan Anwar spoke about the objectives of this project and gave an overview of its components. "We tried to develop a virtual platform for urban governance by collecting information about several non-profit organisations and government institutions operational in Karachi," he said.
"The idea was to structure and make accessible data which is otherwise restricted to public officials and frankly, to accomplish this we had to work around challenges such as institutional degradation," he lamented. "And these challenges stress the need for a portal like the one we have developed," Dr Anwar added.
He listed four components of the project - a web portal, two mobile applications and a handbook. The developers and contributors took the stage one by one and spoke about the purpose of each component and the features it provides.
Web portal and handbook
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) officer Humna Mehwish Al-Quadri gave a preview of the website, which has the categories of governance, civic services, economy, heritage and archives.
"This web portal empowers citizens as it makes public interest litigation, civic governance and research generation possible for anyone who visits the website," she explained.
"The picture gallery includes original photographs of the city's skyline, old as well as modern architecture, places of worship and bazaars. The idea is to depict the side of Karachi that one would not find in a Google search,” she joked.
"The handbook we have curated makes certain laws such as clauses of the Right to Information Act and codes pertaining to the local government reader-friendly," she explained.
Vortech Innovations Chief Executive Talha Yasin spoke about the vitality of virtual platforms and how they can be used in creative ways to report and solve civic governance issues.
The eco-map he developed for this project allows citizens to report any civic issues that they see around the city and also enables them to recommend solutions.
The application can be used to document any issues, such as solid waste management, sewerage, encroachments or road-cutting. The user can simply sign in to the application and upload a picture of the issue they wish to report or resolve.
The data uploaded also accumulates statistics that are arranged according to the issue and the area the issues are reported from. The easy to read graphs widen the possibilities of research and are also made to assist the city government and authorities resolve these problems effectively.
"We often see that the youth, which constitutes roughly 64% of the population of Karachi, are so full of ideas and policy recommendations but choose to post them on private pages," said Yasin. "We needed a way to share the ideas expressed in these networks visible to the city government," he said.
The creators of Livelib, the mobile application, Mariam Vadria and Munaza Gulzar, showcased their app and the features it provides. The Livelib app is designed to locate public libraries in Karachi and address issues of maintenance and restoration that citizens can engage in. It also aims to revitalise the buildings they identified as 'ghost libraries'.
The project was acknowledged and appreciated by Governor Mohammad Zubair.
"The community efforts and engagement in this project are remarkable. Information Communication Technology offers endless possibilities for us to make Karachi an inclusive city," he said.