Monsoon devastation

August 15, 2019

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DESPITE repeated warnings of their arrival and expected intensity, the monsoon rains that swept through Karachi and other parts of Sindh over the weekend left a wave of destruction in its path. At least 27 people died due to rain-related accidents in the two days of relentless rainfall, the vast majority of them in Karachi. Most deaths were caused by electrocution or homes collapsing on residents, while one truck driver died when his vehicle fell into the Malir River. Just a little over a week earlier, the first spell of the monsoon led to almost 20 deaths in Sindh — again, largely due to electrocution from poorly maintained electricity poles and fallen wires. The Met department has now warned of even more rain this week. Are the governing authorities and various municipal boards prepared?

Following the first bout of rain, the PTI government grandiosely launched a ‘Clean Karachi’ drive, taking on the task of de-silting the city’s drainage sites before the Eid holidays. However, they too quickly learnt of the difficulties in cleaning this sprawling, largely unplanned urban jungle. The flooding inside homes and streets witnessed right before and during Eid was blamed on solid waste dumping inside the over 40 documented drainage sites of Karachi, while informal settlements built on top of them and along waterways were blamed for blocking the natural flow of the water into the rivers. Nearly half of Karachi’s population lives in these katchi abadis; they simply cannot be uprooted after living there for decades and having no other land or property to speak of. It would be inhumane. The failure of anti-encroachment drives has also pointed to that. This was also more recently acknowledged by Sindh’s chief minister, who said that demolishing the colonies built on waterways is not the solution and will only create more problems in the future. Instead, he suggested conducting a hydrographic survey and building new drains. He might be right, but creating a new network of drains could take years to materialise. For now, especially in light of the prediction of more rain, the provincial government must fix the existing problems. Cleaning drainage systems is not a one-off job; it is something that has to be done on a regular basis. All stakeholders with allegiances to different political parties must show more maturity than they have so far displayed, and work cohesively for the sake of the city.

Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2019