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Lack of sewerage harming KU infrastructure

November 24, 2012

KARACHI, Nov 24: Believe it or not, but Karachi University, the largest public sector university in the province and most prominent government-run educational institution in the city, has been without a proper drainage for more than 50 years.

The KU, according to sources, is not connected to the city’s drainage line, and the sewage daily generated by the thousands of campus users remains within its boundaries, causing an alarming rise in the groundwater level.

The absence of drainage for decades has now put the health of thousands of students and teachers in danger as all infrastructures on the campus, both old and new, on which the KU has spent billions of rupees in recent years, face fast degradation.

The constant seepage and leakages, according to sources, have also corroded the water supply lines, heightening concerns for mixing of sewage and water. The foundations and basements, especially of old departments, have been greatly damaged, sometimes causing short circuits and fire incidents.

“The problem has also led to the growth of wild plants all over the campus, serving as a breeding ground for all kinds of insects,” said a KU teacher.

The gravity of the situation, the sources said, was compounded by the fact that the KU now had no money to address the emerging crisis.

“It’s ironic that the university administration didn’t realise the importance of this problem when it was receiving huge funds during the previous government. Now its coffers are empty and there is no hope that the Higher Education Commission, facing financial constraints, would provide funds for it,” another teacher said.

The university was established in 1951 and the foundation of the present campus was laid in 1957.

The university was shifted to the present site in 1959. The campus, spread over 1,279 acres, has six faculties, 55 departments with multiple disciplines and 17 research institutes/centres.

More than 24,000 students are studying in the KU with about 1,000 faculty members and 2,500 non-teaching staff, many of whom living on the campus.

A visit to the campus showed that the sanitary conditions there were not only poor at the old departments, where the sewerage had almost collapsed, but also at the new departments. A case in point was the food science and technology department, inaugurated a few years back.

“As you can see, cracks have appeared all over the new building as it has been badly damaged in the absence of a sewerage as well as poor material used in its construction. There were two septic tanks, but they had been filled to capacity,” said Prof Dr Jahan Ara, chairperson of the department, adding that sewage accumulated behind the department had recently been cleared.

A large area in front of the university mosque was found inundated by sewage. The same was the condition behind a portion of the teaching staff residence, where choked gutters and blocked open drains were a common sight.

“Our homes are greatly affected by seepage. I have just been shifted to a new home, but you won’t believe it that if you see its condition, all its paint has peeled off and this is a common problem on the campus,” said Dr Faiyaz Vaid of the Karachi University Teachers Society.

The past administration, he said, paid no attention to this basic problem that had become graver over the years. “The present vice chancellor realises the problem’s significance, but, unfortunately, the KU is currently facing a severe financial crisis and an immediate solution to this problem seems difficult,” he said.

Sources said the university hired a private firm to design a drainage system in 2003. The project was awarded in 2005 and the firm submitted the PC-1 in 2009, according to which the cost to be incurred on setting up a drainage for the university would be Rs230 million.

The proposal was twice submitted to the HEC, but in vain. The drainage problem, the sources, had also become acute because the sewage recycling project being run by the university’s Institute of Environmental Studies had been abandoned.

When contacted, Adeel Ahmed Siddiqui, a senior university engineer, admitted that the university had no drainage and explained that ‘the generated sewage flowed under the university ground’.

“Most departments had septic tanks which now have lived their lives. We are facing problems of seepage, choked gutters and damaging water lines on a daily basis. A temporary solution is to drain the sewage out in the open ground. But how long this arrangement will work?” he remarked.

The KU, he said, was planning to link a portion of its sewerage to the city’s drainage line, which was expected to solve 50 per cent of the problem. “But even that would cost Rs50 million. So, acquiring of finances is a big hurdle,” he said.