KARACHI, Aug 3: As the monsoon slowly peters out its wrath across the metropolis, the debris that it leaves behind consists of a lot more than broken infrastructure.

The rains have also washed away the façade built by the present and preceding city governments that the years of chronic mismanagement, corruption and grand but ill-designed civic projects were over in Karachi. As of today, the inefficiencies of the two city governments that have been elected under the local government programme of the present regime stand starkly exposed.

The wrecked roads, broken bridges, clogged stormwater drains and gutters, and massive traffic jams speak volumes of the infrastructure that the authorities have constructed, as well as of their crisis management skills. The most vivid example of this is the KPT Clifton underpass.

Hailed at its launch on Oct 1 last year as ‘a unique achievement’, its collapse on the first day of the monsoon showers was not less spectacular. Within a few hours the underpass was filled to the brim and remained so for the next few days. Its effects, however, were quite a bit more extensive than its immediate area, as the entire Khayaban-i-Iqbal was inundated along with the adjoining area of Clifton’s Blocks 6 and 7, as well as several parts of Bath Island.

The Khayaban was closed down soon after and remained in that state for the better part of the week. The fire department had stated that it would take eight hours to pump out the water, provided there was no rain, as there was plenty, matters continued to deteriorate.

The resulting public outcry, rather than resulting in emergency measures being taken and adoption of a strategy to avoid such situations in the future, led to finger pointing and accusations flying forth between the KPT and the city government. This is still going on as this article is being written. But what was the actual reason for this massive infrastructure failure? And what are its likely consequences and after effects?

Investigations by Dawn have led to the conclusion that both the city governments (previous and present) and the KPT are responsible for the underpass fiasco. The project for the underpass was initiated under the Tameer-i-Pakistan programme launched by President General Musharraf. In this regard, the KPT was asked to undertake to finance a scheme in the city, and it chose to build an underpass at Schon Circle.

While the project was initiated with great fanfare, there were several surprises in the management of its logistics and planning.

First, as mentioned above, the idea was for the KPT to finance the project, not undertake to have it constructed. But, as things go in Pakistan, the KPT was dead set in having the sole control over the design and implementation of the project. To this effect they formed a basic design plan, and presented it to the then corps commander.

The city nazim had already agreed to the scheme, as he wanted it constructed under his rule for obvious political reasons. But in order to rush it through, he bypassed the relevant technical departments, especifically the transport and communication department and the works department of the city government, who had strong reservations on the design.

Dr Tahir Soomro, former EDO of the transport department, says that the local technical officials were entirely overlooked. However, as form was more important than substance, the design was approved and the project given to Nespak.

Subsequently, the construction was carried out in the required ‘record time’. During the construction period, while technical assistance of the city government department experts was sought, they were never shown or asked to give their comment on the entire layout.

According to Dr Soomro, the first thing that has to be done when such a new project is being designed is to conduct a topographical survey after which a conceptual and then a preliminary design is formed. After this a hydraulic design is formed of the area of impact of the project, that is the area where it will be constructed and the surrounding regions.

The Hydraulic design basically looks at how the project will stand up in case of a rainfall. Isolating the area does this and extrapolating how much water can accumulate, and where and how this can be disposed of. The benchmark for the level of water is the highest rainfall during a 100-year period. On the basis of this survey, says Dr Soomro, the water dispersal mechanism is constructed.

The water dispersal system itself is made up not just of normal storm drains and gutters connected to them. Dr Soomro explains that whenever a bridge or underpass in built, it has certain special water dispersal conduits called interceptors built into them. The first interceptor is usually located immediately after the structure starts.

It is built in a transverse direction — that is across the angle of the road. As the water rolls down the incline most of it is caught by the interceptor. If the rain is strong and the water rushed over, there is a second interceptor built halfway on the decline. And finally, if the rain is torrential, there is a final and largest interceptor at the end of the decline.

All these three interceptors are connected via pipe to a large container built on the side of the bridge or underpass. A pump is attached to the container, which then conveys the water into the main storm drains, and out of circulation. This system is a default requirement in all such projects.

While it is not known that to what extent this system was build and employed in the scheme of things, it certainly didn’t work. While part of the reason for this may be the non-availability of electricity for the pump, another major reason, as pointed out by Dr Soomro, is the lack of a natural escape route for the water.

This was previously available in the form of the nearby Nehr-i-Khayam, which empties into the boating basin. However, in recent months, a part of the Nehr has been filled in and construction is planned on it. This has brought the limits of that waterway from a cross section area of 1,500 square feet to 150 square feet.

In addition the line connecting it to the boat basin is a 36 inch pipe which can provide service for 100 gallons where the requirement is over 1,000 gallons. Both these factors have played a huge part in contributing to the dangerous situation that has developed in the area.

The city government, as a means of last resort, has pumped the water out of the underpass and into the adjoining area, resulting in the water depositing itself at the lowest points in the locality, which happens to be the basements of the buildings lining Khayaban-i-Iqbal.

This has led to the breakdown of all the cars parked in them, causing unnecessary monetary hardship to the owners. Amir, a resident of Kehkashan flats, says that his brand new Corolla’s engine has been ruined after three days of standing in the water. Most of the residents are in a similar fix.

But much more serious is the condition of the buildings’ foundation. Cracks have appeared in several of the complexes, and most of the residents are thinking of moving out as soon as they find a place. An elderly resident complained to Dawn, “We have contacted everybody from the corps commander to the city nazim to everybody else in authority, and while they have made promises nothing concrete has been done so far”. He also points out that in 1994 it rained ‘much harder than this’ but the water was dispersed soon after the rain stopped. This time, though the rains are not as hard, the situation is 10 times more serious, he concludes.

While the KPT underpass fiasco is most evident because of the current monsoon, there are several such disasters waiting to happen all over the city. Currently, four underpasses are being constructed at Nazimabad, Liaquatabad No.10, Gharibabad and Sohrab Goth. Surprisingly, all the projects are being carried out by a single firm, Mehran Builders.

Initially, the company was given the task of constructing the Sohrab Goth underpass, but later the three other projects were given to it. This is despite the fact that the company stopped construction at Sohrab Goth, ostensibly due to non-payment of dues. While this has been made, work is still to resume at the site.

According to sources in the city government, the preferential treatment accorded to this company may have something to do with the close relations their owner enjoys with the current city nazim.

It remains to be seen though whether Mehran Builders will be able to improve on the performance of Nespak. One thing, though, which must be kept in mind is the lack of natural waterways due to encroachment on nullahs and streams all over the city. Dr Soomro maintains that unless an alternative is built for these, the chances of a KPT underpass situation re-occurring are only a matter of time.

He proposes that detention ponds, container for stormwater, be made compulsory at all the underpass sites. But this remains unlikely, given the penchant to build unreliable and grandiose constructs quickly, rather than go for solid, reliable and long-lasting designs. Given that our leaders have developed a habit for such schemes over the years, it is unlikely to matter that such experiments and nepotism are done at the cost of the common people. But then do they really matter?

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