As if the target killings in Karachi were not enough to traumatise the city to the extent that it is just barely able to keep going, a tragedy in Lyari where a five-storey building collapsed, killing at least ten and injuring over 12, has added to the city’s woes.
The committee looking into the matter said that sewage which seeped into the building’s foundation had made it weak and this has affected other buildings in the area as well. The Karachi and Sindh building authorities should have declared these buildings dangerous and evacuated all residents — but they claim that they do not have legal authority to do this. Furthermore, maybe the residents would not have a place to go, which leads to the point that buildings which are so vulnerable should never have been approved in the first place.
Rescue efforts were slowed down because the building was located in such a narrow lane that access was limited and heavy machinery could not be used for fear that other buildings in the area would collapse due to the vibration. All this points to poor planning of the area and of the buildings themselves, which increasingly put residents’ lives in jeopardy, but which go largely ignored by the Karachi Building Control Authority (KBCA). Like other municipal services, it is easy to pay them off for their approval of building plans. Furthermore, powerful building mafias have no qualms changing approved plans and adding storeys to buildings as they please in order to make more money. It would appear that the judiciary, by not giving decisive verdicts on such cases that are taken to court and by and large staying silent on such issues, is supporting this mafia. We say that we should solve problems ourselves if the government can’t do it and perhaps this is possible in sectors like education but when it comes to lawlessness, be it target killings or approving buildings that pose safety risks, then there really is nothing that citizens can do without the backing of relevant authorities.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Many more buildings may collapse at any time, killing more people, if the KBCA does not get its act together — it must ensure that all dangerous buildings are evacuated and corrupt staff weeded out.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2011.
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