Karachi Diagnostic

PROJECTS supported by international loans have a poor history in Karachi. The process of setting up the project after negotiating the loan follows a familiar pattern. A posh project office is established, expensive cars and equipment are purchased for it, and even more expensive foreign and local consultants and government officials are hired to research, plan and implement the project, which usually has socio-economic, physical and institutional components.

The consultants appointed are always technically competent but often know very little about the complex ways in which Karachi functions. Their conventional research methodology and dependence on questionable statistics and foreign examples, fail to establish it. In the end only the infrastructure-related hardware component is implemented. When the loan period is over, the project office winds up, the cars are distributed among departments and individuals, government officials return to their parent departments and the consultants start searching for other lucrative contracts. Things return to normal and the project is forgotten. However, where communities have been involved, activists do emerge who often form organisations working for change.

Foreign-funded water and sanitation projects have not solved our water and sanitation problems; the katchi abadi regularisation programme has not led to regularisation; and extensive studies on shelter have given us no shelter. Meanwhile, the Left Bank and Right Bank Outfall Drains have resulted in massive environmental damage and dislocation of communities and have huge cost overruns.

However, international agencies alone cannot be blamed. Equally (if not more) to blame is Sindh’s political culture and its conflict with what the city requires; the absence of continuity in government policies and institutions and meaningful involvement of civil society and academia in the design and implementation process.

Consultants often know little about the complex ways in which Karachi functions.

Where there has been such involvement, costs have been reduced to a fraction leading to project sustainability, such as in the case of the ADB-funded Orangi sanitation project. In the case of the design proposal for the Korangi Waste Water Management Project, costs, with OPP involvement, were reduced to one-third of what was estimated. The high cost was mainly due to not recognising the existing undocumented infrastructure and integrating it into the project design. Such non-recognition of the existing situation is common to most projects.

It is with this background that there are serious concerns about the proposed Karachi project for which the Sindh government has negotiated a World Bank loan of $80 million.

A presentation ‘Karachi City Diagnostic: The Way Forward’ has been prepared by the Bank and presented to civil society organisations. The presentation states that project’s objective is to transform Karachi into a ‘world class city’. However, except for some new ideas and the development of useful statistics, it says very little that has not been said before. Also, it does not tell us what constitutes a world class city.

Now that we have taken the loan, it is in our best interest to use it for the well-being of our rapidly changing city. The development of Bus Rapid Transits and the Karachi Circular Railway will have important repercussions for land use, especially along M.A. Jinnah road and Saddar. As a result of the enactment of the High Density Board Act, there are already over hundred 20-to 50-storey buildings under construction.

Due to an absence of badly needed warehousing, new areas are informally opening up for this function and the inner city, which contains our endangered built heritage, is being further utilised for this purpose. Because of a decline in transport services, motorcycles are increasing phenomenally and require space for movement and parking. Mean­while, in the absence of social housing, homelessness is rapidly multiplying.

The solution to all these issues is linked to land use, transport and traffic management and the changing sociology of the city. In addition, inner city katchi abadis have densified informally to over 2,500 persons per hectare and with unprecedented migration under way this is bound to increase. Land reclamation from a sewage-polluted sea and insensitive real-estate development on the periphery have already seriously damaged the ecology of the Karachi region.

No project, especially a time-bound one, can deal comprehensively with these closely interrelated issues. The fear is that some of them will be addressed as location-specific window dressing sub-projects and, in the absence of effective governance institutions, they will be swallowed up by a sea of expanding chaos. The question is, can this loan and its processes be utilised for establishing a desperately needed sustainable planning and management agency for the city? If yes, then the loan will be well spent.

Originally published in the Daily Dawn, January 8th, 2017

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