The looming consequence of unplanned development

With no regard for environmental and safety standards, construction sites in Karachi are a threat to people’s health

Capital Development Authority workers clear out a nullah in Sector G-8 in the aftermath of heavy rainfall in the federal capi-tal. PHOTO: APP


Unplanned urbanisation is believed to be the issue that sits at the helm of many issues that plague Karachi, including strained resources, environmental degradation, and a variety of resulting health hazards.

Per rough estimates, the metropolitan city has expanded over 50 times in the last 74 years and has reached a point where the only direction left for it to further sprawl is upwards. This, in the last few decades, encouraged builders to hit the pedal on severe- and often unplanned- vertical development, the consequence of which has now started to burden the city’s residentiary.

According to Dr Razzaq Dogar, who is a professor of ENT at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center (JPMC), continued unprotected exposure to raw materials used in construction work can lead to a variety of medical problems, including allergic reactions and damage to the respiratory system. “Anyone close to a construction site is at risk of inhaling or ingesting cement and dust particles, that eventually make their way to the lungs. This increases the risk of developing respiratory infections, which is why any kind of construction around the world is a highly regulated process. However, in Karachi, there is no thought spared to this, which is one of the reasons that we are seeing a surge in breathing issues,” he informed.

Contextualising the issue, Karachi Urban Lab’s Senior Research Associate and urban planner Muhammad Toheed explained that Karachi’s growth has been proportional to its increase in population. Per him, areas like Nazimabad, Korangi, Landhi, Lines Area and Dhoraji, that once featured spacious properties are now entirely consumed by high-rise buildings of all shapes and forms. “On 45, 80, 120-yard houses where there used to be ground-plus-one [storey], now there are multi-storied buildings. The city has become a jungle of concrete, while builders have not been paying any regard to environmental laws. There is no concept of safety covers at construction sites, owing to which all the dust, gravel, and contaminants flow into the surrounding area and add to air pollution,” said Toheed.

Per Zubair Abro, who is a local environmentalist, it is the responsibility of the relevant agencies to enforce environmental laws during construction, in addition to scrutinising those who are in non-compliance.

When probed regarding the matter, the Association of Builders and Developers of Pakistan (ABAD)’s former chairperson Arif Jiwa said that the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) is responsible for issuing environmental laws for all major construction projects in the city. Although he acknowledged that construction materials can lead to severe health risks if not dealt with properly, the erstwhile ABAD head still maintained that all construction happening in the city was in compliance with SEPA standards.

On the other hand, however, according to Haji Taslim, who is a small-scale building contractor in the city, it is mostly large-scale construction projects where environmental regulations are taken into account, “but with so smaller projects, that Karachi is littered with, the authorities usually do not enforce any such restrictions and builders have a lot of room to do as they please.”

When presented the situation, the SEPA Director-General Nadeem Mughal said that environmental laws are duly implemented in major construction projects in the city. “We do not, however, issue NOCs for environmental regulations for small buildings. We try to enforce these laws during construction, but if we receive a complaint of violation, we act according to the law,” he corroborated.

Similarly, Sindh Information Minister Saeed Ghani also maintained that the Sindh government has issued instructions to all concerned agencies including Sindh Building Control Authority to enforce environmental safety regulations and other laws during construction. “The public should also play its part here. If they see any illegal construction activity, they should immediately report it to relevant agencies,” he said, agreeing that allergies and other health hazards have been taking over the city due to unsafe construction work.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2022.


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