Karachi’s political and terrorist poisons are well known. Every day they exact their unerring costs from the city in corpses.
One day there is a bomb blast attributed to the Taliban, on another day some extremist group of another stripe kills a few more people. The intervals between political killings and terror killings are small and barely noticeable. The strikes and shutdowns birthed by each collectively filling the gaps and chasms in the city’s life.
These are not the only poisons produced by Karachi. The largest city in a rapidly urbanising Pakistan (forecasted to be a majority urban country by mid-century); Karachi’s toxicity is not limited to politics.
According to a report published in The Washington Post recently, “350 million gallons of raw sewage and untreated industrial waste flows into the Arabian Sea from Karachi every single day — an amount enough to fill 530 Olympic size swimming pools”.
This dumping of the city’s excrement is not all that makes a home in the Arabian Sea, in addition to it, 8000 tons of solid waste is also dumped into the Karachi Harbour every day from the unmonitored industrial operations that operate in the metropolis.
The mathematics of waste is simple, estimates set Karachi’s current population at around 22 million; making it the magnetic center of the country’s urbanisation. Human life involves human waste, but this second factor is unaccounted for in the development of infrastructure.
With political wrangling making consensus impossible and terror groups lurking and pouncing at any opportunity to add to the chaos; prospects for improvement on sanitation and waste management seem slim.
But, while terror groups and political opponents do not agree, all of them excrete, and that in sum is Karachi’s problem.
The collective waste of all these disgruntled and disagreeing groups is, according to The Post’s investigation all dumped untreated into the Arabian Sea.
The assumption that it flows away, and washes over only those revelers that celebrate their holidays on the city’s shores is also wrong.
Tons of waste from all along Pakistan’s agricultural sugarcane growing belt around the Indus flows the length of the country reaching its most poisonous near the city, at the point where it empties into the ocean.
The magnificent ocean side mansions and malls on Karachi’s coast look down at a sea full of sewage. Theirs, of course, is the least of the burdens.
The small coastal villages that used to, in less excrement and toxicity filled days, make their living from fishing find their livings now snatched from them.
Unsurprisingly, the city’s output of seafood is severely affected by the altered marine conditions, states the most recent investigation citing very high levels of chromium, cadmium lead and iron in the fish caught near Karachi’s coast.
If the fish are suffering, the fishermen are even worse off. To maintain the deception of a clean ocean, no studies have been done on the small nuclear reactor located near Hawks Bay. No one, it seems is curious about the levels of radiation that the plant is emitting into the settlements around it. Poor as they are, the inhabitants of surrounding villages regularly complain with hosts of medical problems, whose connections to the radiation and pollution are never explored.
The poor after all, are as expendable as the fish.
The beach has been a site of escape for the dwellers of Karachi for nearly as long as the city has existed. Its toxicity, however, is now reaching levels (one marine biologist’s interview for The Post called it one of the most polluted environments in the world) which require extreme caution.
It’s not just the choppy monsoon seas and the unpredictable rip tides that can carry off the revelers that come to enjoy a rare day off; the poison is in the water itself.
The vast unwashed of Karachi then, are thus bathing not in cleansing waters but in ones that serve only to dilute their own excrement and that of millions of others, human waste and toxic chemicals all mixed up into the waters.
The beaches of the land of the pure are like its politics, ethics and history then, rather impure.
The ocean that has for so long promised a respite and reprieve, ailing and burdened, an apt metaphor for the nation that seeks cleansing but cannot find it and chooses instead to simply ignore the filth.