Karachi’s polluted sea

14 Oct 2019


The writer is a communication professional and a blogger.
The writer is a communication professional and a blogger.

PLASTIC isn’t the only issue we are faced with along our coastline; it is also the industrial effluent and untreated sewage. It is estimated that almost 500 MGD of untreated effluent is released into the Arabian Sea. The Karachi Port contributes a shameful 275 MGDs, Karachi’s Lyari River another 100 MGDs, while recent figures showed that 136 MGDs is dumped by the Defence Housing Authority; the rest comes from other tributaries including Nehr-i-Khayam, Malir River, and the Korangi Industrial Area. This has resulted in a staggering drop in marine life populations by 40 per cent.

A recent study Exploring Sustainable Solution For Wastewater Treatment: A Case of Lyari River concluded that there are hazardous levels of metal found in the river’s untreated effluent; these include nickel and chromium. Four decades back; the Lyari River was home to fish and migratory birds.

Are the 10,000 industrial units in Karachi that manufacture a variety of products ranging from textiles to chemicals installing water treatment plants? If so, are these functional? A lot needs to be done unless we want to walk amidst heaps of fish carcasses. We need strict checks lest we lose our environment forever. However, ultimatums by the authorities fall on deaf ears. Why else would we go to Karachi’s Seaview beach only to witness sewer water winding its way towards the sea, amidst the few remaining migratory birds that now nest here?

Industrial waste entering creeks is adversely impacting our wildlife and mangroves are dying as water becomes poisonous. Marine life such as shrimps are getting contaminated while the already few numbers of flamingoes will dwindle further. Fish being netted around our few lingering mangroves are mostly contaminated as well. If we are what we eat, are we waste too?

Pakistan’s largest city is like a sinking ship that is plunging deeper into its own waste.

During a seminar held on the industrial waste water management in December 2018, the water commissioner, retired Justice Amir Hani Muslim, stressed the need for all industrial units to have wastewater treatment plants. He mentioned that a treatment plant in Karachi was being used to treat up to 80 MGDs of effluent while approximately 4,000 industrial units were operating without such water treatment plants in the province.

For this fiscal year, Sindh had earmarked Rs2 billion for the installation of sewerage lines in industrial areas and the construction of five combined effluent treatment plants (CETP) in Karachi whose completion is expected by June 2021. The aggregate cost has been estimated at Rs11.7bn out of which 67 per cent of the cost will be borne by the provincial government and the remaining by the federal government.

These plants are aimed at filtering 94 MGDs of effluent before it is dumped into the sea. However, there is already a corruption investigation taking place regarding the Rs1bn CEPT in Kotri SITE, Jamshoro.

Keeping this picture in mind, it is no surprise that there remains a gargantuan gap between the need for efficiently treating wastewater and what is actually being done to rid our water bodies of this waste. Back in 2015, Karachi’s three treatment plants with a combined capacity of 150 MGD had become dysfunctional, paving the way for all raw sewage to be released into the sea. Compare this with Istanbul that has 154 functional treatment plants that process the entire 326 MGD of wastewater generated by its 15 million citizens who are probably living a guilt-free life. Iran uses nanotechnology for wastewater treatment; this is a far-fetched goal for us.

Earlier in July 2018, the Defence Housing Authority had informed the commission on water and sanitation that untreated wastewater from four of its phases would not be discharged into the sea after April 2019, and that effluent from its remaining phases would be treated through integration using treatment plant-VI by 2020. This decision was taken, after Justice Muslim’s visit to Seaview when he chanced upon four spots where untreated sewage was being dumped into the sea.

There are undoubtedly more unidentified areas where sea pollution continues. The dead fish often found and medical waste lying about is proof of the pollution that we allow. Take a walk around Seaview and you will come across corn chaffs and husks littering the beach apart from single-use plastics and glass bottles, and even clothes!

If we were to look at the overall picture of the world, according to the UN’s World Water Development Report, only 8pc of wastewater undergoes treatment in low-income countries as compared to 70pc by high-income countries.

We can hope that the five water treatment plants, in which hefty investment has been made, will become operational in the projected time frame and that the technology being used is tailored to suit not just the city’s climate but the water quality too. In other words, it should be compatible with the needs of a developing country like ours.

Developed nations have been using biological treatment of wastewater, ie aerobic and anaerobic, helping to generate biogas to produce electrical energy thus leading to an energy-efficient system. A technological advance of this calibre if applied to water treatment plants would lead to a cleaner Karachi.

However, going by our present state, it can be concluded that we have collectively become a massive burden on our environment and Karachi is like a sinking ship that is plunging deeper into its own waste.

Rules and regulations exist but the growing gap in terms of proper checks and balances shows that it might well be an exercise in futility unless there is a behavioural change.

Who is responsible for Karachi, the orphan city that contributes the most tax revenue for the country? We are all disgruntled children of a lesser god.

The writer is a communication professional and a blogger.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2019