Moving beyond the outrage

Updated 30 Aug 2020

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The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

OVER the coming days there will be a lot of news, and even greater outrage, about how tragically Karachi has been let down by all its stakeholders, with its citizens having been left at the mercy of nature, to fend for themselves.

The justifiable outrage at the collapse of civic services in the face of unprecedented rains will lead to calls for separating the sprawling and, without doubt, failing metropolis from its mother, Sindh; equally there will be suggestions that the 18th Amendment is the fountainhead of all evil.

In a few weeks, the debris from the disaster will be moved from the middle of the streets and major arteries, and left in piles by the roadside to become a permanent part of the urban architecture; the majority of the daily-wage-earner population of Karachi will be overwhelmed by bread and butter issues.

And, of course, people will generally start suffering from outrage fatigue as always seems to happen and there will be a great risk that the affairs of the city would start slipping to the default ‘business as usual’ mode, ie nothing is done to address issues that cannot be left unaddressed any longer.

But, please, please don’t let that happen. In your anger and despair, you are right to feel whatever you do and say whatever you think is right. Beyond that let’s not be distracted by red herrings — whether of the separate province or repeal of the 18th Amendment.

Let’s not be distracted by red herrings — whether of the separate province or repeal of the 18th Amendment.

Slogans that trigger political acrimony, ethnic tension and potential strife can’t deliver solutions. What is incumbent on us is to hold to account each of those who have failed us and force them to deliver as they should. No excuses should be entertained.

The PPP has been at the helm in the province since after the 2008 elections and has a lot to answer for. It has devolved many functions of the local bodies to its own provincial government and must explain how the various civic bodies directly under it functioned or, more appropriately, failed.

I promise if the PPP shows half the consideration to Karachi and its citizens that it has often shown to Malik Riaz and his various projects such as Bahria Town Karachi etc, the metropolis would take a giant step towards having its status as the ‘city of lights’ restored.

The MQM is another culpable entity. During the Musharraf era, and even during the PPP tenure when it held the key to keeping the federal government in office, it could have accomplished so much but threw it all away.

Water and sewerage infrastructure and an ambitious public transport system that would work for the multitudes were sacrificed in favour of expensive flyovers, underpasses and signal-free corridors for the few. Even those worked to a point, eventually delivering accelerated traffic to multiple choke points.

Read: What caused the floods in Karachi?

It was shocking to see images of the artery to the financial heart of the city, I.I. Chundrigar Road, submerged. Whatever happened to the project which saw storm-water drains built under the thoroughfare while causing months-long disruptions and challenges to commuters a few years back?

The less said about the various other dominions that have contributed to transforming the city of lights into one large garbage dump, interspersed by cesspools, the better. Yes, you guessed right. The cantonment boards and the DHAs which are autonomous islands within the metropolis. Many parts of these islands currently seem submerged.

To say the mess has no solution is wrong. Everyone knows what is possible when decision-makers are not motivated by outright greed, narrow, parochial agendas or petty politics. Within Karachi, there is considerable expertise. I don’t need to name names.

Anyone interested in developing a policy aimed at delivering to the millions of Karachiites will not have trouble locating the wise men and women with enviable expertise and sterling track records in urban planning and egalitarian solutions to all that ails our beloved city.

In recent days, I have watched architect-urban planner Arif Hasan on Samaa Digital very articulately describing what the main impediments to draining storm water are. Surely, he is one among many such experts we have in our midst whose expertise and integrity are both above board.

Then, of course, there are resource constraints. Former Karachi administrator Fahim Zaman, appearing on the Dawn News programme Zara Hut Kay, explained how grossly under-resourced the city was and how that was exacerbating its woes.

In terms of funding, he said, Karachi has one-tenth the budgeted amount of what Mumbai spends and one-twentieth the resources Istanbul is allocated when its population is smaller. “And remember this is the budgeted amount. Often there are shortfalls in actual disbursements.”

Editorial: Orphan City

Against a rather dismal backdrop of recent days where so many lost their lives and millions of others had a harrowing experience, there is a ray of hope. After two years of confrontation with Sindh, Prime Minister Imran Khan called Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah and the two leaders have pledged to work together to ease Karachi’s pain.

The MQM must join hands. A broken Karachi is not going to be in anyone’s long-term interest. Once basic faith and civility in discourse is restored and some headway made in rolling out solutions, the next logical step would be to negotiate the right quantum of autonomy and resources for the local government.

Consensus legislation must follow. Admirable as it was watching the Sindh chief executive and his team, as also MQM local elected officials, wading through waist-deep water to get a first-hand understanding of the challenge and supervising relief efforts, their time is much better spent developing and executing plans to obviate such emergencies.

Or we’ll be back to square one when the heavens open up the next time. Some experts say it would take 10 billion dollars to fix Karachi. Let’s see how many billions can be shaved off that if all stakeholders display political will and a commitment to the cause.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2020