Towards a Drainage System for Karachi

As predicted in various newspaper articles, research monographs by Karachi academics and professionals and NGO researchers and activists, the monsoons have devastated the city. They will devastate the city again, irrespective of how much money is invested on the rehabilitation of the city’s infrastructure, unless three important realities are understood and addressed. These realities are discussed below.

One, Karachi’s infrastructure is not mapped or documented and nor is the scale and directions of its growth. Without proper documentation effective planning is simply not possible, even if funds are available. The city’s infrastructure has been laid piecemeal over time by the KMC, KPT, KWSB, various cantonment boards and cooperative housing societies. Ad-hoc changes and additions on a large scale have been made to it which have never been mapped. In addition, infrastructure has also been developed by community organisations; MNA, MPA and councillor funds; and NGO projects. What is required to address this serious problem is the setting up of an autonomous mapping unit under the City Government. The mapping unit should collect all available documentation, digitize it, identify gaps in it and remove them through a process of surveys and their documentation. Updating of these maps should be a continuous affair. The establishment of such a unit would be a great gift to the planners, professional and academic institutions, NGOs and communities of Karachi, and above all, to the UCs and towns of the city whose elected representative and technical persons would have easy access to information regarding their areas. The establishment of such a unit would make planning possible.

The other reality is that Karachi’s sewage disposes into its natural drainage system. It has to be understood that this is not by default but has been planned as such. Official policy seeks to change this. However, this change can only happen if we dig up thousands of kilometres of sewage lines and replace them or by establishing hundreds of pumping stations. Neither of these two options is feasible in financial or physical terms and as such sewage will continue to flow to the sea through the nalas of Karachi. Over time, these nalas have clogged up with silt, garbage and encroachments. In many places they are higher than the sewage lines and because of this, and because of their reduced capacity, there is back wash and flooding with the minimum of rains.

What is required is the desilting of the nalas, securing their width, their conversion into box trunks and the setting up of small treatment plants where they meet the sea or the creeks of Karachi. Where this process has been adopted (no treatment plants have been set up so far) such as for the Manzoor Colony Nala, Welfare Colony Nala and three nalas in Orangi, there has been no flooding. Many cities have developed their sewage and drainage systems in this manner and the Orangi Pilot Project-Research and Training Institute has detailed documentation of how this can be done for Karachi along with the documentation of social and physical infrastructure in three hundred Karachi katchi abadis.

The third reality is that there are no drains along the curbs of even major roads in Karachi. Rain water flows through the roads to the nearest nala. This is how it is going to remain for the foreseeable future. Because of this roads are washed away and areas where there are depressions in them get filled up with water. It is therefore necessary for us to design our roads to take the pressure of flowing water adversely effecting traffic flow. Also, we should identify all depressions and mark them. These areas should be filled up where possible or they should be linked to the nearest disposal system that is available. The process of creating drains along the curbs is a long and expensive one and may take over many years to complete.

Documentations, plans and policy decisions are essential for development but do not bring about development. For policy to be realistic, ground realities have to be taken into consideration and to implement policy and plans, effective institutions are required.  Policy decisions regarding Karachi’s development plans and projects have been grandiose and not related to the realities on the ground or the priority needs of its citizens, the vast majority of whom belong to the lower income groups and are not car owners. Policy has been based entirely on the megalomania of politicians and the fantasy of their planners. Nor does Karachi have effective institutions to implement plans and projects. According to press reports and various government documents, Rs 460 million were spent on the Karachi Development Plan 2000 and Rs 340 million have been spent on mass transit studies. Neither have yielded any results and an UNDP-sponsored evaluation of the former had identified serious shortcomings and predicted that it would never be implemented because of them. On the implementation and management side the KWSB has borrowed heavily from the ADB for development work. At present it owes the ADB more than Rs 42 billion. It has very little show for this huge debt except sewage treatment plants that function at a fraction of their capacity while Karachi’s sewage continues to flow into the sea.

The creation of effective planning and implementation institutions requires professionalism which cannot be acquired by state organisations because of their low salary structure. It is therefore necessary to explore other avenues such as hiring professionals on contract. Also, professionalism cannot be created in planning, management and implementation institutions if they are subject to the whims and political considerations of the elected representatives or, as often in our case, undemocratically appointed ministers and governors. Many of Karachi’s institutions, who had considerable expertise and knowledge, have been destroyed over time through a process of nepotism and decisions based on political expediency. Rules and regulations need to be revised and procedures put in place to make it impossible to violate them.

The Karachi Nazim, who has inherited a physically ravaged city with demoralized and ineffective management institutions, is now looking for money to set things right. It is hoped that he will take the ground realities of the city into consideration when taking policy decisions, and for doing this he will initiate a process of public consultation with those individuals and institutions who have been working on the infrastructure related issues of Karachi.

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    Posted August 26, 2017 at 1:36 pm | PermalinkReply

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