December 24th, 2020
On Wednesday the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released an in-depth fact-finding report on the devastating urban floods that occurred in Karachi this year.
The city was hit by unprecedented monsoon rains in the August of this year, leading to flash flooding in the city. The flooding not only destroyed private property and public infrastructure but also caused economic losses worth billions of Rupees because of business closures and devastation. In addition to the huge financial losses, the city lost 20 of its residents, who were killed by drownings, electrocutions, and even being buried alive under the rubble of collapsed buildings.
No legitimate ruling authority
The commission’s report can be divided into three broad categories i.e. the fundamental reasons behind the flooding, the extent of damage caused, and recommendations for mitigating such disasters in the future. While the report does not take into account the perspective of political stakeholders instead focusing more on the opinions of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), urban planners, academics, journalists, and lawyers, it does acknowledge that the root of Karachi’s problems, is in fact political.
The commission identifies an absence of a “legitimate authority” in Karachi as the core reason behind the city’s crisis of governance.
“Who has legitimate authority to ‘fix’ Karachi – with its peculiar political geography, where various jurisdictions—local, provincial, federal, and cantonment—stand at cross-purposes to each other?” questions the report. “Add to this, the weight of the Supreme Court intervening in development decisions for the city, and matters become even more complicated. There is a tussle between the desire to centralize authority at one end and to decentralize the administrative set up on the other.”
A broken city
According to the report, the urban flooding in Karachi cannot be divorced from the continuous problems afflicting the city year-round. When in August the city received 10 times its average rain the city’s existing afflictions were exacerbated to the point of crisis with six districts being declared “calamity hit” by the government.
Poor water management
The urban planners and architects interviewed for the report were of the view that blockages in nullahs (drains) caused by solid waste hindered the timely outflow of the rainwater out of the city. In addition to the solid waste management issue, the persistence and expansion of informal settlements in the pathways of the drains have also caused the nullahs to overflow.
Experts are of the opinion that in addition to better management of solid waste and anti-encroachment drives, the city’s administration also needs to focus on reworking the entire mechanism of water management in the city. Currently, a major chunk of the city does not even have storm water drains. Moreover, there is a haphazard inter-mixing of stormwater and sewage water drains which creates hurdles for water management. Per the report, the city’s sewage and storm water drainage systems need to be separated from each other.
A city prone to flooding
It is a scientific fact that Karachi’s topography makes it prone to intermittent flooding. The report identifies a complete lack of preparation and capacity in the administration to deal with such calamities, asking the city administration to pre-empt such disasters with proper workforce training.
The report calls on the ruling regime to chalk out a seamless governance mechanism for the city which includes effective and actionable input from all layers of Karachi’s citizenry.
“The anti-poor bias in policymaking, planning, and execution must end,” states the commission. According to HRCP, Karachi can be called a “broken city” which requires “revolutionary” changes in several systems to avoid future disasters but empowering the citizenry `to identify, bring to light and even implement solutions, is the only way forward.