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September 6, 2020

Who saves Karachi?

Opinion

September 6, 2020

Karachi has been turned into a coalmine. Every day a new nexus between politics and crime comes in, digs in a new hole, takes away its share of coal and invests it in Dubai. Lo and behold, Karachi has no saviour. It wasn't always like this. In 1879, Thomas Edison invented the electric bulb – and in 1913, Karachi’s Mayor Seth Harchandrai, brought electricity to Karachi (the Karachi Electric Supply Company was formed in 1913). Mayor Harchandrai then started a major beautification project – new ‘roads, new residential areas, new parks and new recreational areas’.

A hundred years ago, Karachi became a ‘city of lights’. Karachi is now a coalmine. Here are Karachi’s ‘Big 5’ problems: Storm water drainage system; water distribution; solid waste; public transport and governance (that includes the nexus between crime and politics).

Drainage: For the record, there are – or used to be – 552 storm water drains to take water into Lyari and Malir Rivers and then into the sea. Karachi’s storm water drains are either blocked by garbage or have been encroached upon. Imagine, 400-meter-wide storm water drains are now a mere 4 meters wide.

Water distribution: Karachi requires some 1,200 million gallons of water a day (MGD). The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) supplies 665 MGD of which 232 MGD is lost during transmission. So Karachi gets 433 MGD. In 2008, DHA spent $115 million on an old-model Cogen desalination plant. The plant has been dysfunctional since its inauguration. I know that a number of foreign entities have proposed the setting up of desalination plants-nothing has come out of those proposals.

Solid waste: Karachi produces around 20,000 tons of solid waste. All three treatment plants are dysfunctional. Yes, industrial waste is being dumped into the sea untreated. Then there’s medical waste – no collection, no disposal, no recycling.

Public transport: At least 40 percent of Karachi’s population relies on public transport. Currently, 45 residents compete for one bus seat.

Karachi now has three kinds of flaws: planning flaws, development flaws and management flaws. Karachi now lacks three kinds of resources: human resources, technical resources and financial resources. Yes, climate change and the rapid population increase are also factors. But, there are five other factors: elite looting, bottomless greed, criminal neglect, the 18th Amendment and gross misgovernance.

The State of Pakistan needs five things to put Karachi right: political will; urban governance expertise; institutional capacity; coordination among a whole host of agencies; and $10 billion. In March 2019, PM Imran Khan announced a Rs162 billion package for Karachi. On August 30, 2020, PM Imran Khan “vowed to solve Karachi’s problems”. On August 31, PM Imran Khan ordered “the Karachi Transformation Plan to be finalised in one week”. Four questions. One: has the prime minister hired urban governance expertise? Two: do we have the institutional capacity to put Karachi right? Three: do we have $10 billion? Four: has the prime minister put an end to the nexus between politics and crime?

Here are the eight solutions: One: put an end to the nexus between politics and crime. Two: bring in professional urban governance expertise. Three: restructure KWSB. Four: bring in recycling. Five: professional water governance (distribution and wastewater). Six: desalination. Seven: circular rail. Eight: devolution of power to an empowered city government.

Alas, Karachi will not be put right because it is not in the financial interest of the decision-makers to put Karachi right. A desalination plant, for instance, will render the ‘water-mafia’ out of work. An anti-encroachment drive is in no one’s interest. Devolution of power is not in the PPP’s interest. Karachi will, therefore, remain a case study: How a city degenerates from a ‘city of lights’ to a ‘coalmine’, an ‘orphan city’, an abandoned city with no saviour in sight.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @saleemfarrukh