THE initial realisation that Cyclone Tauktae was headed for the Sindh coast prompted the powers that be in the province to call for ensuring that Karachi’s drainage system was in working order. While the weatherman now says that the city — along with Sindh’s other coastal districts — is out of danger as the cyclone makes landfall in India, the nightmare of last year’s monsoons is fresh in the mind. After the heavens opened up in August and unleashed some of the heaviest rainfall in the metropolis’s history, Karachi’s already creaking drainage system collapsed, and with it much of the city’s infrastructure, including electricity, water supply and communication systems. However, here the lessons of disasters past are quickly forgotten. The cyclone may have thankfully changed course, but the real test of the authorities’ readiness will come when the monsoon season sets in later this summer.

The government is quick to issue statements indicating it is ready to deal with disaster, as was the case when the cyclone alarm was sounded. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and when disaster does strike, more often than not the state is not able to cope. After last summer’s monsoon disaster, the high and mighty of the land promised to resolve Karachi’s urban flooding problem. The federal and provincial governments and disaster management bodies as well as other state institutions promised not to leave the megacity in the lurch, while the apex court ordered Karachi’s nullahs to be cleared of encroachments. One hopes all these efforts will bear fruit and that the disaster of the past will not be repeated in the city. The fact is that due to decades of neglect by the federal, provincial and local governments Karachi’s drainage system has been destroyed, with the natural flow of water blocked and sewage and solid waste thrown into storm-water drains, while encroachments have done the remaining damage. Along with cleaning the drains, a long-term solution is needed to address the issue.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2021

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