KARACHI: It is ironic that the political parties who have spent the past few weeks bitterly arguing over Karachi on late-night talk shows and endless press conferences have not stepped up in the past few days to actually work for the city they are fighting over.
Several feet of water collected in inner-city neighbourhoods where roofs collapsed, people were electrocuted, traffic jams grew chaotic and the water continued to seep into residences, offices, shops and godowns.
According to Abdul Ghaffar, who has been living at a relief camp that has been turned into a permanent housing area in Musharraf Colony, the makeshift houses built for the flood victims has also been flooded. “There is a foot of water!” he told The Express Tribune, adding that there were reports that a child had died in the settlement on Monday night after the rain entered their houses. “No one from the government has checked on us,” he complained.
No government has ever managed an adequate response to the rains - notable examples in the past decade include riots over power outages and the flooding of the Clifton underpass - and the problems seem to have multiplied this year.
DCO Karachi Mohammad Hussain Syed did not respond to requests for an interview, but told the Reuters news agency, “We have recorded 50 to 100 mm (two to four inches) of rain in Karachi and the situation is pretty bad. Many main roads and areas are inundated at the moment and it can turn even worse.”
EDO Masood Alam said that the government has seen new problems in the city as a result of this year’s rains. “The population explosion, the change in rain patterns, but mostly, the increase in encroachments… this has all contributed to the problems. Areas which were clear last year have been flooded in this year’s rains.”
Alam is clear that the real issue is with the encroachments of storm water drains.
According to him, at least 70 per cent of them are encroached on and need to be restored to their original width, height and depth. “The encroachments must be removed, regardless of which political party is involved.”
“People have encroached on their land of their own will,” Alam remarked. “A poor man has built a bathroom; a rich man has built a swimming pool. They have collectively contributed to the chaos of the city.”
The stakeholders, Alam says, need to sit down and face the music and figure out a permanent solution. But they have yet to agree on deciding how Karachi will be run, and governance has taken a backseat. While the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) agreed to roll back the commissionerate system, little appears to have been done on agreeing to reforms in the local government system, a key demand from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).
Interviews conducted with party leaders in August indicated that the two parties would agree on a system of local government after Eid-ul Fitr. However, former Sindh home minister Zulfiqar Mirza’s tirade against the MQM just before the Eid holiday seems to have put an end, for now, to any talks of reforms or the parties working together.
Since Mirza’s press conference on August 28, the MQM has responded with press conferences of its own, including one addressed by party chief Altaf Hussain. Politicians from the PPP and MQM have spent hours debating Karachi on television talk shows, but there has been little done when it comes to managing the city’s civic affairs.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 14th, 2011.
You can watch a slideshow of pictures from Karachi here.