Karachi’s flowing rivers of sewage

Published February 10, 2019
The filthy gutter water cannot be avoided no matter what side of the road or lane the traffic takes to.   / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
The filthy gutter water cannot be avoided no matter what side of the road or lane the traffic takes to. / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: It could be that those responsible for the city’s drainage system visited Venice sometime in their lives and madly fell in love with it, so much so that they decided to convert their city into Venice. But instead of having a canal system like that Italian city, here they came up with their own innovation of not cleaning any gutters or drains and letting them overflow to let the water flow freely on roads.

Of course many citizens here do not share the same romantic view of the people in charge of sewage disposal, and thus they complain. “Our disastrous gutter system and contaminated water is responsible for the spread of all kinds of illnesses and infections such as diarrhoea, typhoid, malaria, dengue, etc. But does anyone care?” asks an elderly gentleman from a low-income neighbourhood of the city. “Low-income neighbourhoods are the worst affected by the slackness of the people in charge. They see us as lesser humans,” he says.

A bird’s-eye view of the flowing gutter land that Karachi has become. / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
A bird’s-eye view of the flowing gutter land that Karachi has become. / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

“We don’t get enough clean water or drinking water to fulfil our needs but as for gutter water, well, we are literally floating in it,” complains a housewife from Karachi’s Saddar area.

“For some strange reason our lane on which is the entrance to our apartment building is always flooded with gutter water. While it is a big problem for us, it is also a huge matter of embarrassment for us, especially when we have guests and visitors. While giving them directions, we tell them to turn to the lane with overflowing gutters and they easily find their way,” says a resident of an apartment block near Teen Talwar in Clifton.

“The quality of roads is also worsening thanks to the stagnant dirty water here. For some reason the gutters are always leaking or overflowing here,” says a shopkeeper of the Plaza automotive market on main M.A. Jinnah Road. “We have cars pulling up in front of our shops for services but they can’t do that in gutter water so our businesses too are affected,” he adds.

Selling bun kebab in the worst of situations, or locations. / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Selling bun kebab in the worst of situations, or locations. / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

“I think people have become so used to having water on our roads that they have even stopped complaining about it,” says a young student who had stopped to buy a few snacks from a roadside stall also parked in stagnant gutter water.

As its name suggests, other than the distribution of water, the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) is the entity also mainly responsible for the city’s drainage system. But they point towards the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) as being responsible for the mess.

It is said that the infrastructure of the city is not prepared for the load imposed on it. The pipeline system laid underground is incapable of disposing of so much waste. They are narrow pipes not broad enough. Therefore sewage cannot be managed as gutters overflow.

It takes some clever footwork to save one’s footwear from getting soaked in the stinking water. / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
It takes some clever footwork to save one’s footwear from getting soaked in the stinking water. / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

Old single-storey houses are constantly being razed to the ground and instead tall buildings are coming up in their place as the city grows vertically to reach for the sky. But like a dancing peacock forgetting to look down at its ugly feet, the people behind these high-rises also forget to look at the problem at the base.

So unless lots and lots of money is spent on updating Karachi’s underground pipelines and drainage system, the city will soon drown in sewerage water.

Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2019

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