Orphan city

Published August 29, 2020

IT seemed as though all the sins of omission and commission inflicted on Karachi over several decades came together in one terrible, catastrophic day. Pakistan’s largest city and its financial hub was on Thursday battered by record-breaking rains. At least 19 people were killed in rain-related incidents, bringing the death toll to 30 during three days of torrential downpour. Several were electrocuted, some drowned in the rising waters. Millions across the city, even in the upscale DHA areas managed by the Clifton Cantonment Board, saw their homes and businesses flooded. There was no electricity; even mobile phone services were disrupted. Karachi was in effect rendered non-functional, with its residents largely left to fend for themselves.

Undoubtedly this has been an unprecedented monsoon in Karachi: at around 485mm, the rainfall in August this year has shattered an 89-year record. It is, however, equally true that the city drowned under the weight of the criminal negligence and bottomless greed that have characterised its governance for many years now. All those ruling Karachi now and in the past, as well as various other influential stakeholders, are to blame for its descent into one of the world’s most unlivable cities. The city mayor, whose tenure ended yesterday, belonged to the MQM, and the PTI in 2018 emerged as the largest party in Karachi. Strident (and correctly so) about the merits of devolution when it feels threatened by what it perceives as the centre’s interference, the Sindh government nevertheless refuses to devolve powers to the local level. In fact, through a legislative change in 2013, it eviscerated the very concept of third-tier governance. Its indifference to Karachi’s suffering, for the sake of preserving its political predominance and its control over the massive funds that would otherwise go towards local government, is reprehensible in the extreme. Meanwhile, the PPP’s top bosses are minting billions through their stakes in high-rise construction projects of dubious provenance all over the metropolis, recklessly straining its already crumbling infrastructure.

The MQM’s depredations are not far behind. Even when it ran a working local government in Karachi, many among its leadership looked out first and foremost for themselves. The party perfected the practice of ‘china-cutting’ whereby plots were sliced off from public parks and other amenities and sold for huge profits. No attention was given to urban planning, upgrading the drainage system or developing a sustainable solid waste disposal system. Instead, natural storm-water nallahs have been used to dump solid waste; or else encroached upon, often with the collusion of those in authority. In their obscene quest for self-enrichment, the political parties, and other players in the highest echelons of power have treated Karachi as their personal fiefdom, to loot and plunder at will, rather than a city meant to be the gateway to a progressive, prosperous Pakistan. This must end now: enough is enough.

Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2020

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