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Rain-related incidents claimed 73 lives in Karachi in six years, data shows

Updated August 10, 2019

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A MAN and a woman walk near an electric pole covered with a plastic pipe in Buffer Zone on Friday. After over 20 deaths due to electrocution during first spell of monsoon rain, the people of the neighbourhood, with the help of the area’s municipal administration, have taken safety measures on their own.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
A MAN and a woman walk near an electric pole covered with a plastic pipe in Buffer Zone on Friday. After over 20 deaths due to electrocution during first spell of monsoon rain, the people of the neighbourhood, with the help of the area’s municipal administration, have taken safety measures on their own.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: As the Met office issued a forecast for a fresh spell of rain in Karachi, fears and concerns of the repeat of rain-related electrocution incidents have gripped the people of the metropolis.

Although more than 20 people died of electrocution in the first spell of monsoon downpour in the city last week, such casualties remain a permanent feature in the metropolis, where more than 70 persons lost their lives in rain-related incidents between 2014 and 2019.

Amid intensified criticism against the city administration, provincial government and K-Electric, many remain ignorant of the fact that the 23 deaths in last week rains were the not first episode of its kind as every year the monsoons wreak havoc on the city’s ill-maintained electricity and sewerage systems and cause dozens of deaths.

Recently compiled data from hospitals and figures appearing in the mainstream media suggests that since 2014 only one year had witnessed no death, because the city did not receive rain in 2018.

According to the six-year data, 73 persons had lost their lives in rain-related incidents in the city.

“If we start from 2014, some 10 people had lost their lives in that year during monsoon rains,” said a health official citing reported figures of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK) and Abbasi Shaheed Hospital (ASH). “Then in 2015, 12 people died in rain-related incidents, in 2016, 15 people had lost their lives. The figures of 2017 and 2019 remain the same as 23 persons died in each year during the monsoon rains.”

Electrocution was the top cause of death in most years

He said there was no major spell of monsoon rains in 2018. Electro­cution topped the causes of deaths in most years followed by deaths in roof collapse and drowning.

In the wake of a forecast of a new spell of rain, the city administration, provincial government and power utility have claimed to have been taking best possible measures to avoid such incidents that had recently been witnessed by the people of Karachi during the two days of rains that also caused urban flooding.

Experts warned that the frequency and pace of rains are expected to rise in Karachi in the years to come due to climate change. And Karachi might face more devastation in the presence of poor infrastructure and incompetence of the institutions, they said.

‘Karachi no more a normal city’

“Karachi is no more a regular or normal city — it has become an urban region,” said Dr Noman Ahmed, head of architecture and planning department at the NED University of Engineering and Technology. “The KMC [Karachi Metropolitan Corporation] over the years has lost the capacity to maintain the rain-related and other infrastructure that is required to meet such challenges. After induction of a third-party or contractor system, the KMC has no more such capacity. By late 1970s, every municipal body had its own workshop and staff for such situation but it has become obsolete now.”

He said that the way Karachi had grown so fast in terms of area, population and concrete structures, the authorities needed to revisit and revive the city’s existing drainage and waste-disposal system.

Over the years, he said, the priorities of the authorities had shifted from maintenance of infrastructure to execution of new projects, which had cut short the utility of the already existing system for such a situation.

“Due to climate change, it’s said that the frequency of rain and its impact or pace will increase in Karachi in a few years,” said Dr Ahmed. “If we don’t address the challenges right now, I fear the situation will further worsen. With such a system in place, entire district South of the city, other low-lying areas and even DHA will not be saved from flooding in rains like this.”

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2019