Urban flooding – is Karachi prepared?

Political parties pass the buck as citizens brave submerged roads

Fatima Shaheen Niazi September 28, 2021
A view of urban flooding in Dhok Khabba locality. PHOTO: AGHA MEHROZ/EXPRESS


After last year's destructive rain spell in Karachi, Prime Minister Imran Khan had stated, "We will be announcing a plan for a permanent solution to the problems caused by urban floods."

Similar promises have been made to Karachiites for years, but, alas, no change ever takes place. For more than a decade, the monsoon season has submerged different areas across the city. When it rains, roads get jammed, cars are destroyed, the K-Electric fails to do its job, and people lose lives.

Karachi has been facing such destruction for years, but last year something novel happened - elite areas in the metropolis were also flooded. Filthy street water entered residents' houses in Defence Housing Authority, ground floor portions were flooded, furniture and electronics were destroyed and numerous people were trapped in their houses for days due to accumulated rainwater on roads.

When the elite finally experienced what the rest of Karachi had been going through, social media platforms were flooded with criticism. However, when the monsoon nightmare took place, the ruling governments once again became engrossed in the debate of 'who is to be blamed'. In fact, the residents of the city have been searching for this very answer - who is responsible for Karachi's rain disaster?

Read Three killed as heavy rains lash Karachi for second day

In statements launched on the media, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) blamed the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which leads the provincial government, the ruling party in the Centre, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), condemned everyone, and the PPP blamed the Centre. Mid-June, Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry accused the Sindh government of incompetence, whereas Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah called out PTI for its "bias against Sindh." He also revealed that the PSDP schemes had been reduced ever since PTI came into power. From 27 schemes in 2017-18 and an allocation of Rs27.38 billion, the numbers decreased to 13 schemes and Rs8.5b.

While no single political party can be held accountable, the blame falls on the city's structure that has worsened over time. This includes the inept planning and development of buildings and bridges and land grabbing of nullahs.

If you trace the history of Karachi, the city was dominated by MQM-P - then MQM - as early as the 1980s. The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) too, has been run under the leadership of the aforementioned political party since 1988. The first KMC council head was Dr Farooq Sattar, followed by Muhammad Tariq Hassan in 2001 and Nasreen Jalil in 2006. The last MQM-P member that controlled KMC was Waseem Akhtar, whose tenure as the last elected mayor lasted from 2016 to 2020.

PTI on the other hand, has also been unable to modernise the drainage system of the city since they won the election in 2018. This may be due to the lack of understanding of Karachi's complicated typography besides political rivalry with Sindh's existing parties such as MQM-P and the PPP.

The PPP on the other hand, does not control all the jurisdictions of the city, and can only work in certain regions. They too, are entangled in a rivalry with other ruling parties, which refuse to cooperate. Karachi Administrator Murtaza Wahab, has complained several times regarding the federal government's lack of funding. The Sindh Government has also officially stated that Rs39b were provided to KMC in 2019, but MQM-P has provided no record of where the money went. Last year's rain made it obvious the money was not spent on the city, to say the least.

However, this isn't where the complications end. Several political parties also sabotaged the nullahs and drains on purpose by stuffing garbage in them. The reason? When Karachi floods, the leading political party of the region will be blamed. In this tug of war, all related individuals must realise that if the city is to be reconstructed, everyone must join hands and work together. They also need to understand that at a time where social media reigns the world, it has become impossible to ignore the people's woes. Working together will not only be beneficial for the city, but will also prove useful in building a positive image of the party leaders.

What can we expect this year?

It is a fact that no country in the world is prepared to deal with climate change. But since the damage monsoon did to the city last year, Karachiites have witnessed a considerable improvement as a new drainage system was installed by the Sindh government. This includes storm water drains that can combat Karachi's urban rain flooding.

Read Sindh government working to end traffic congestion in Karachi

Throughout the year, roads were dug up and rebuilt. Also, since KMC completed its tenure, PPP was left with less opposition and more jurisdictions to cover. Numerous residents have seen roads and drainage systems being improved to avoid future flooding. This is because earlier in January 2021, the CM constituted a committee that was given the task to tackle Karachi's water problems. Rs170 million was also given to the KMC to clean the drains.

While water was spotted in several roads of DHA during the rains that occurred earlier in July last year and on September 3, 2021, there has been no instance of urban flooding in the city except in DHA and Clifton. And since Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC) is a federal body and is responsible for maintaining the infrastructure of DHA, we know just who to blame for not learning their lessons from the past.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th, 2021.


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