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KARACHI, June 22: With the city receiving its first rainfall of the season on Thursday, the move to clean and de-silt Karachi’s major and link storm-water drains (nullahs) appears indefensibly belated. Most citizens expressed apprehensions about flooding if choked storm-water drains prevent rainwater from flowing into the Arabian Sea.

Karachi’s waste water — including rainwater and sewage — drainage network is a 232-kilometre system comprising 64 major storm-water drains, of which seven nullahs are of key importance.

In addition, there are 430 link drains. Sixty per cent of the city’s waste water is channelled into the Lyari River while 40 per cent is directed into the Malir River, to be finally disposed of in the Arabian Sea.

With fully-fledged monsoon rains just round the corner, however, the city’s newly-created municipal services department has so far cleaned just one of the seven major drains, while work on one other is under way. According to official sources, 85 per cent of the Nehr-i-Khayam has been de-silted while the cleaning of the Manzoor Colony nullah will be completed in another two to three weeks. Once this is done, work will start on the other five drains — the Soldier Bazaar nullah, Pitchar nullah, Gujjar nullah, Orangi nullah, and Korangi nullah.

The citizens of Karachi cannot help but ask why the City District Government Karachi (CDGK) has initiated the de-silting process just a fortnight before the expected start of the monsoons, when the task ought to have been spread over the entire year.

The executive district officer (EDO) of the municipal services department, Masood Alam, admitted that only Nehr-i-Khayam has so far been cleaned and confirmed that the other storm-water drains will be tackled by turn in about two weeks, once the Manzoor Colony nullah has been cleaned. He added that properly de-silting and cleaning the drains will take a least one week each.

Meanwhile, the 430 link drains falling under the jurisdiction of each of the city’s 18 towns will be tackled once this year’s monsoons are over, said Mr Alam. “Some of them have been cleaned by the town municipal administrations concerned but proper cleaning will be undertaken later,” he added, “since so far, only the seven major nullahs have been handed over to the CDGK’s municipal services department.” The EDO expects that the remaining drains will come under the control of his department shortly. Terming the de-silting of the major drains “a time-consuming and Herculean task”, Mr Alam told Dawn that his department is facing immense difficulties since heavy encroachments leave no space to use grab-cranes or dumpers.

Corroborating the EDO’s comments, a well-informed source in the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board who played a vital role in cleaning storm-water drains last year told Dawn that the extent of the encroachments can be gauged from the fact that 70 per cent of the 3.5-kilometre City Railway Colony nullah has been encroached upon.

The task of cleaning the city’s storm-water drains was assigned to the KWSB on June 17, 2006. Before last year’s monsoons started, the board had completed 60 per cent of the work by removing 4.5 million cubic feet of mud and silt from various drains. The task had involved a workforce of 350 men and the Rs50 million cost was shared equally by the government of Sindh, the city government and the KWSB. However, the city government had to spend in addition a large sum to clean the Glass Tower nullah following the collapse of Clifton’s drainage system and the subsequent flooding of Clifton, Bath Island and the KPT underpass.