KARACHI: Massive encroachments over all major drains, including their outfall points, and the absence of a system to manage solid waste that finds its way into these channels continue to be Karachi’s Achilles’ heel, putting the city at the risk of flooding in monsoon, experts warned on Saturday.
Sharing their concerns over the city’s vulnerability to flooding, they said that Karachi’s weak infrastructure could not withstand heavy downpour and it might face a far more serious situation than what was recently experienced in Lahore where rain-related incidents not only caused extensive damage to infrastructure, but also led to 15 deaths.
“Lahore had 177mm rain but Karachi can’t withstand even 100mm of rain. There would be deluge everywhere,” said Mohammad Yunus representing the Urban Resource Centre.
According to him, Karachi’s main civic problem remains a lack of waste management and heavy encroachments over all major drains.
“Over the past decade, all major storm-water drains of the city [over 40 in number] have been encroached upon and concrete structures, including housing colonies, banks, shops and even markets, have been built over these channels,” he said.
A proper mechanism is needed for waste collection and disposal to save drains from clogging
He referred to encroachments on the land owned by the Karachi Port Trust and development of infrastructure by the Defence Housing Authority as well as by the KPT that resulted in closure of discharge points of city’s natural drains.
Most flyovers and underpasses in the city, he said, lacked a drainage system and the local municipality had to use motor pumps to drain out accumulated rainwater.
“Local officials often argue that rainwater will follow its natural route and discharge on its own. But, this is not how things work. You have to design the infrastructure in a way that helps prevent accumulation of water,” he said.
Drains’ cleaning brings no major improvement
Replying to a question about a recent drive of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation to clean up drains, he said so far it couldn’t bring a significant improvement.
One reason was the absence of relevant machinery with the KMC.
Salim Alimuddin, an expert on city’s drainage system who is associated with the Orangi Pilot Project, was of the view that while the government had done some work and laid new drainage lines where there was a need, the actual problem was that the outfall points of drains remained either encroached or clogged.
“No work has ever been done to clear drains’ outfall points. The major outfall points are located in KPT’s jurisdiction. Besides, the construction of markets and other establishments over drains is a serious obstacle in clearing passage of rainwater as these channels couldn’t be de-silted,” he said, adding that the government should have bound project developers to keep a few outlets for the purpose of removing sludge while they were constructing raised infrastructure over drains.
Mr Alimuddin was also critical of prolonged delays shown by the government in cleaning up drains which, he said, should be done at least two to three times in a year.
“Also, it’s time a proper mechanism is developed for collection and disposal of solid waste, most of which presently ends up in drains and clogs them,” he said.
He also suggested immediate removal of construction material/debris lying along the routes of Orange and Green line bus projects that could aggravate public inconvenience in monsoon.
Prof Raza Mehdi of the NED University of Engineering and Technology’s urban and infrastructure engineering department said Karachi’s civic conditions were as poor as they were last year and apparently no work had been done to address rain-related issues.
“There is no short-term solution and a holistic approach is required to bring improvement in civic conditions, including efforts to create awareness on proper waste collection and disposal,” he said.
KMC gets Rs500m to clean 23 drains
When contacted, KMC’s senior director (coordination) Masood Alam explained that the civic body had started cleaning drains and the work was going on at a fast pace across the city.
“We are focusing on 23 major drains with the help of maximum human and financial resource available to us,” he said, adding that though the total amount requested for the work was Rs1.28 billion, the KMC had received Rs500 million.
Mr Alam, however, warned that the purpose of the whole exercise would be defeated if the connecting distributaries feeding the big drains remained clogged.
“Those come under the jurisdiction of respective district municipal corporations. Having said that, meetings are being held with all stakeholders and the KMC is doing its best despite heavy encroachments,” he claimed.
He rejected an impression that the drains were only cleaned in the monsoon season and said that they were periodically cleaned but the matter attracted media attention only in the context of the rainy season.
According to him, proper management of solid waste can help minimise risk of flooding. Right now, 60 per cent garbage ends up in drains.
“Garbage is constantly being dumped into drains. If this waste is managed and recycled, we can also reap a lot of other benefits,” he said.
All storm-water drains in the city had turned into sewage drains and there were no channels left carrying only rainwater, he said.
KPT to install sewage treatment plant
A KPT spokesperson said that the port authorities were not responsible either for managing drains or the waste coming through them.
“We are directly being affected by this waste [though we are not generating it]. However, the KPT has committed to a Supreme Court-mandated commission to install a plant to treat the waste coming from three drains into the sea,” he said.
He declined to comment on encroachment and infrastructure over KPT’s land.
Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2018