Urban flooding threat may wash down ‘cosmetic’ govt measures in Karachi

Published July 2, 2022
(Top row): Many drains have been cleaned and garbage is piled up along their sides ready to litter the streets during rains, while some drains are still heavily clogged and may overflow into impoverished neighbourhoods. (Bottom right) Manholes without cover become life-threatening when the road is submerged under rainwater. (Bottom left) Billboards that have cropped up again despite court orders in the city pose a threat to unwary citizens below, especially during strong winds and heavy rains. —Fahim Siddiqi / White Star / PPI
(Top row): Many drains have been cleaned and garbage is piled up along their sides ready to litter the streets during rains, while some drains are still heavily clogged and may overflow into impoverished neighbourhoods. (Bottom right) Manholes without cover become life-threatening when the road is submerged under rainwater. (Bottom left) Billboards that have cropped up again despite court orders in the city pose a threat to unwary citizens below, especially during strong winds and heavy rains. —Fahim Siddiqi / White Star / PPI

KARACHI: The weather forecast predicts heavy rains and urban flooding in the city. Rains are expected on Saturday and if the heavens do not open and it does not pour there is still no need to heave a sigh of relief, because there is always a tomorrow. The rains are coming.

Are we ready to receive the rains is another story altogether. There used to be a time when our parents and grandparents were children. Growing up in this desert city, they didn’t know the meaning of urban flooding. The water that poured down from the skies was quickly absorbed by the parched ground and if any of it remained, it would flow down to the sea.

A lot has changed since then. The quails’ call during monsoons, which used to bring a smile to faces is now taken as a warning signal to brace yourselves for the worst. No one is safe from disaster. The basements will fill up in posh homes in Defence and Clifton and in any commercial building which have basements and the water levels outside will not go down by even a millimetre as more millimetres of rain is recorded. The poorest and the most miserable living around the Gujjar and Orangi nullahs will come out of their homes and slide into the gaping drains where there is no wall break their fall.

Met Office says Karachi may receive 100mm of rains in first onslaught

According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department, the city is expected to receive around 100 millilitres of rain during the initial monsoon showers. After taking it easy the entire year, the city administration seemed to have jolted out of its sleep only now to send out diggers to quickly clean the storm water drains and they have been at hard at work.

It is being proudly declared that 90 per cent of Karachi’s 41 big storm drains and 514 of their tributaries have been cleaned out. But whatever has been cleaned out has been piled up along the sides of those very nullahs. Come rain and all the piles of filth would either be on the roads mixed in the rainwater, like cocoa power in milk, or back into the nullahs.

Speaking to Dawn, researcher and technical expert Mohammed Sirajuddin, who heads the Technical Training Resource Centre which has been carrying out extensive surveys along several nullahs, pointed out to the fact that heavy rains would still result in urban flooding in Karachi despite all the cleaning being done at the drains.

“There have been diggers at work. Besides cleaning of the drains they have also created diversions for the water to flow out. But despite all that the silt and other rubbish taken out from there is not enough. There is still a lot more of that from where it came from. Even the culverts in the drains have not been cleaned enough and they are still blocked so a heavy downpour in all such areas will result in urban flooding,” he explained.

Usual instructions

While one can see the diggers at work diligently in Nazimabad, SITE Area, Korangi, etc, DHA has put up posters all over with instructions about how one can take care of oneself during the rain, you know, how to stay calm, follow the news on TV, keep your documents and valuables in water proof containers, empty your basement, etc. And if anyone is beyond doing all that there is a 1092 helpline number on which some nice folks will receive your distress calls.

As added advice, there are also the usual warnings from the power utility K-Electric regarding rain safety: stay away from electricity poles, power lines and trees and do not tie your sacrificial animals, or any other animal for that matter, to trees and poles.

And humidity is not the only problem here though. There are also the big billboards that have made a comeback despite the court orders. Now they are considered as a huge danger, especially during the strong winds and heavy showers when they may come flying down on the unassuming people below.

Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2022

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