Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah recently remarked that Karachi is now a changed city. He said this while addressing the participants of the second Commissioner’s Marathon held on the 12th of January. The chief minister was specifically referring to the security situation and how it has improved over the past few years and that the opening ceremony of the upcoming Pakistan Super League being hosted by Karachi is a sign of the city’s rise out of turbulent times.
While the return of international cricket, and that of the PSL to Karachi, is something to laud and appreciate, it is by no means the only metric to gauge the condition of the city. Yes, Karachi has improved in one aspect, which is security, but it still lacks behind in the many other departments.
It is a fact that political turmoil and violence in the past couple of years has largely been subdued, but that does not mean Karachi has become an ideal city. In many ways no city in the world can be perfect, but to brand Karachi as “changed” cannot be any farther from the truth given the vast array of life-altering problems that don’t just exist but are widespread here.
Cricketing events that have started taking place in the city happen in such controlled circumstances that it’s easy to portray everything is fine. But the sad reality is completely opposite. The problems in Karachi that existed before the political turmoil of the past decade, still exist, and the improving security situation has had no bearing on them.
Here, The Big Picture looks at some of the problems in this city that need to be addressed and urgently so. These problems won’t solve themselves and someone needs to take responsibility of this metropolis that accounts for 25 percent of the country’s GDP; be it the local government, the provincial, or the federal government.
The ever-rising population and the lack of cleanliness programs and awareness would always mean that Karachi will remain at the risk of a health crisis. Couple that with the dearth of public hospitals and insufficient facilities in those hospitals, it results in the majority of the city’s residents being unable to get proper healthcare.
Recently, dengue mosquitoes have made Sindh and especially Karachi their epicenter from where they prey on unsuspecting people of the city. According to media reports, 90 percent of the 16,543 dengue cases reported in Sindh last year, were reported in Karachi. And that is despite the cooler than usual weather this year.
In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Index 2019, Karachi was ranked the fifth least liveable in the world, scoring 45.8 out of 100 in healthcare. The government needs to step up its game and try and control the causes of diseases in the city, as well as upgrading the health infrastructure to cope with the massive population.
Solid waste management
Karachi sees around 15,000 tons of solid waste being dumped daily, be it in designated landfills or in makeshift dumps that have sprung up all over the city, many of which are in residential areas. In October last year, Sindh Solid Waste Management Board Managing Director Asif Ikram said that Karachi has a backlog of around 1.6 million tonnes of garbage lying on its streets, which has accumulated over the years.
A month-long ‘Clean My Karachi’ campaign last year lifted over 900,000 tonnes of garbage in the city, but the solid waste problem is a recurring one. Lifting the garbage once would surely decrease the amount of waste previously accumulated, but if a proper system in not put in place, the core problem would continue to exist in the long run.
The Sindh government has recently partnered with the World Bank to launch a $200 million Solid Waste Emergency and Efficiency Project (SWEEP) to remove waste from streets and drainage channels in Karachi. Let us hope this program is implemented soon and the people of the metropolis get to see clean streets and cleaner grounds instead of seeing heaps of garbage in the areas that they live in.
Another thing that the citizens of Karachi have too much of is sewerage water seeping on to the roads and streets all around the mega city. And exponentially more so when it gets blessed by rain.
Rainy days, which are few and far between, make life more miserable than enjoyable for the people. Rainwater combines with overflowing gutters to restrict movement in the smaller, more congested areas of the city, and sometimes even in the more affluent localities.
Another aspect of a weak drainage or sewerage system is that the unhygienic water stays stagnant in one of the many large sewerage canals of the city, and in which the people keep adding more garbage on top of it. It is hard to quantify, but these canals of stagnant water must result in numerous bacteria being released into the air, which in turn causes people to get sick.
Availability of drinking water
Among all the problems that the city of Karachi faces, the non-availability of clean drinking problem is probably the most inhumane. Water is a basic right of life and should be in the state’s foremost priorities. But evidently that is not the case in Karachi.
For those who can afford it, tankers in the city can provide clean water. But those that do not have the buying power have no choice but to use and drinking contaminated water.
According to the Pakistan National Conservation Strategy report, over 40 percent of disease outbreaks in Karachi can be attributed to unsafe drinking water. Experts quoted in media reports say that around 30,000 people die in the city due to the consumption of contaminated water, most of them children.
The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board said in a report that the daily need of water for Karachi is over 1100 million gallons per day. And the supply is short by around 50 percent, standing at 638 million gallons per day. The local and the provincial and the federal need to take this into account and make clean drinking water available to the masses, and not just the limited few who are able to afford it in the form of tankers.
Central transport system
The city of over 16 million people does not have a central transport infrastructure managed by the government. It can be argued that Karachi had much better transport structure two or three decades ago, but it failed to keep up with the rapidly rising population. Successive governments of the city and the province were either unable or uninterested in updating the transport network and before the eyes of its millions of residents, the whole infrastructure became obsolete.
Recently though, a couple of road transport projects have been under development in the city, but even those do not have a completion date yet. The Green Line project was originally supposed to begin operations by the end of 2017 but constant delays on the part of both the provincial and the federal government have seen it pushed to 2020, and maybe even further.
Sindh’s Transport and Mass Transit Minister Awais Qadir Shah recently made remarks that the project has no chance of being completed before 2021, while Sindh’s Governor Imran Ismail announced that the project would be completed by February 7, 2020. It is easy to trade blows and divert blame to one another, but the fact is that the residents of the city are the ones most affected by the slow progress, and in the end, can only hope for things to get better.