Overflowing gutters: Flooded streets leave residents trapped in their homes

As authorities turn a blind eye, people in North Karachi try to fix sewerage lines on their own

Oonib Azam July 14, 2015
As authorities turn a blind eye, people in North Karachi try to fix sewerage lines on their own.

KARACHI: The residents of North Karachi have never spent such a miserable Ramazan before. For the last six months, the streets in Sector 11-A have been flooded with sewage, leaving them unable even to step outside their houses to offer prayers at the mosque.

"Not once have I been able to go to the mosque this Ramazan," elderly Aslam Siddiqui told The Express Tribune. "I am old; I cannot see properly and I cannot hop over the stagnant water like a young man. I do not remember the last time I stepped outside my house."

According to Fawad, a resident of the area, the sewerage lines are badly choked and need to be replaced, or at least cleaned with proper machinery. "The time is not far when we'll be using boats to move around these streets," he remarked, gesturing towards the foul-smelling water flowing outside his house. "We have made several complaints with the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) and the Commissioner Office but they have paid us no heed."

With no response from the authorities, the residents have resorted to collecting money on their own to clean the sewerage lines. "We are also planning to buy lids for the manholes as the existing ones are all broken, choking the lines," shared Fawad, adding that they could not change the lines themselves since it would cost millions of rupees. "There must be a reason we pay monthly bills to the KWSB. Why should we do everything on our own?"

Ubaidullah, the prayer leader at the area's Siddiqui Akbar mosque, said that the mosque's management also filed complaints but to no avail. "Last year, we replaced one of the choked lines with our own money," he adds.

The Commissioner Office, which had been making tall claims about the city's drainage system ahead of the monsoon season, seems to be in the dark about the issue. As far as the North Karachi assistant commissioner, Syed Arshad Ali, knows, there have been no complaints of overflowing gutters in the town. Fawad, on the other hand, said that he filed a complaint at the Central deputy commissioner's office on June 8, adding that he had a stamped receipt to prove it.

The KWSB officials, too, claim to have no record of any complaints. Syed Majid Ali Bukhari, the area's executive engineer for sewerage, says he had no idea the situation was this bad. "I only took charge of this post four days ago but I have been serving at a lower rank here and to my knowledge, no such complaint has been made."

He maintains that he would never allow any resident to replace the manhole covers or operate the lines themselves. "This is the KWSB's job and they will do it when they think the time is right."

When asked why the lines were not cleared before Ramazan, he explains that there is only one machine for this task in the entire town and it was only used if there were complaints. "We just have four sweepers for Sector 11-A and 11-B; it is not possible for them to check every manhole in the area."

Imran Aslam, a resident of Sector 11-A, on the other hand, claims that the KWSB office-bearers had asked for kickbacks to clear the lines. "Nothing happens in this city until you line the pockets of the officials," he comments. "Instead of giving them bribes, why shouldn't we clear the lines ourselves?"

However, Bukhari denies that any bribes were demanded, while also refusing to accept that there were any overflowing gutters in the area. Similarly, KWSB's North Karachi chief engineer Jameel Akhtar claims that the town was completely clean. "If there are any complaints, the residents should come to my office. I cannot go to check the lines in every street."

Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2015.