Is Karachi prepared for the first monsoon spell?

July 11, 2018

Is Karachi prepared for the first monsoon spell?

The residents of Karachi have for the longest time been inflicted with a water crisis and gradually it is becoming a water starved city, on the brink of running out. With escalating temperatures and heatwaves hitting at shorter intervals and for longer periods of time, rain seems to be the only respite and Karachiites are praying desperately for it. But the irony is that, when it finally rains it brings with it, a plethora of disasters for a metropolis that is simply not prepped for it. With rain comes a host of issues like drainage problems, gridlocks, road accidents, water contamination, electrical outages, collapsing buildings, urban flooding and one of the most common, electrocution. The city of an expected population of more than 16 million people, according to the World Population Review 2016, has been massively ignored and neglected. With no one owning the city and taking responsibility for its upkeep, the city’s infrastructure is impaired and not primed for the rainy season.

This leads to the untimely demise of many people every year, but it seems that the recurring tragedies have made the authorities seemingly immune to the lurking dangers that might strike once again. 23rd June 2007 is one of the gloomiest days in Karachi’s history, when the city witnessed one of the worst aftermaths of rain, with more than 230 people losing their lives and well over 200 injured. This wasn’t the only time when the city lost so many of its citizens, from a cause that could have been easily averted. Karachi’s history is scattered with such traumatizing episodes.

After the very first shower if you switch on the news, you will hear about several motorcyclists slipping, overflowing drain water flowing into houses or incidents of electrocution. Some 164 people have been killed, 167 others injured and 440 houses destroyed in separated rain-related incidents in the monsoon season in June 2017 across Pakistan according to official statements by the Pakistani disaster management authorities. From other sources, it is learnt that last year in August alone, 30 people died due to electrocution or roof collapse triggered by the monsoon rains in Karachi with at least one death caused by an uprooted billboard. A majority of deaths in Pakistan during the rains are in fact preventable yet the issue is taken far too lightly with all related parties shoving off the responsibility to the other. The main reason that leads to incidents of electrocution are the Kundas (illegal electrical connections). People should be made aware, how these faulty connections are digging a disaster for themselves. Additionally, since illegal electrical connections are now declared a crime, the police should enforce it by raiding areas where it is used and shutting them off, before the rains. In a recent interview, on a local TV channel Arshad Vohra, Deputy Mayor, Karachi said “If not all, 90% electrocution cases occur due to Kundas.” Similarly, a lot of the fatalities in road accidents can be prevented if proper precaution is taken, vehicles are in good condition and drivers are licensed. According to reports, 80 percent of Pakistanis don’t even follow basic safety measures like fastening of seat belts, or wearing helmets.

According to news report aired on June 30, 2018 by local TV channel Mayor Wasim Akhtar visited Karachi’s main drains to ensure their functioning and was disappointed by the Water Board for failing to fulfill its responsibility of cleaning the drains. He also said, “The Sindh Building Control Authority is responsible for the illegal construction of buildings on the drains and factories that dump their solid waste in the drains will be sealed.” Due to the blocking of drains, the rain water doesn’t have an exit point, flooding streets and houses and becoming a major hazard for the citizens.

Sarim Burney, philanthropist, highlighted at a monsoon forum that it is not any single institution’s job to prevent the loss of lives in the monsoon season and that there are many stakeholders who need to take action. The stagnant water accumulated on the roads and the overflowing drains fall in the jurisdiction of KWSB. Even though the monsoon season is already here, with multiple forecasts of rain by the Pakistan Meteorological Department and mild showers, most of the storm water drains that number to over 500, have still not been cleared of garbage. This falls within the purview of the town management, largely under KMC ambit.

Hasn’t Karachi suffered enough? And why isn’t the history and the repeated incidents enough for the authorities to stop pointing fingers and spur into action? The government, Municipality, Karachi Metropolitan Authority, Cantonment Board, Karachi Electric, Police, Traffic Police, Pakistan Disaster Management Authority, and Karachi Water and Sewage Board should join hands to prepare the city for rains that could hit any day. It is the joint responsibility off all stakeholders and entities to check their systems, repair and manage a smooth running of their respective operations, in order to prevent any incidents and the loss of precious lives.

The time to educate the masses and to take preventive measures is now, before any calamity is caused. The media should also pitch in and take responsibility of running intensive awareness campaigns, to inform people about how to prevent from hazards caused by rain and the measures that should be taken, if they are faced with such a situation. At an individual level it should be made sure that all electrical fixtures, devices, circuit breakers, fuses, outlet plugs, generators, UPS and connections in residences and commercial areas are functioning properly and prepared to handle rain. Additionally, it should also be checked that all drains and manholes are covered, hoardings are firmly fixed, street lamps are installed properly, and sewage system is functioning properly. Paying special attention to traffic rules is also eminent, as many accidents take place on the roads due to wet roads and other hazards. Motorcyclists should maintain a safe speed while driving and never drive without helmets.

The city is also in need of a help-line, which can quickly dispatch trained personnel who are equipped to deal with all rain related issues, throughout the day. A force that can prevent, manage and resolve issues for the public. National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) or Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) has the capacity and resources for this initiative. Before the first downpour hits Karachi and washes away the cloak that is hiding its rundown infrastructure, inefficient planning and negligent authorities, it is imminent that we consolidate our efforts. The government, stakeholders and the community should stand together and repair all discrepancies, so that the rain remains a blessing and relief for the Karachiites and not the bringer of destruction and devastation.