By Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio
KARACHI, Pakistan, Oct 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In
late August, a month’s worth of rain fell on Pakistan’s southern
port city of Karachi in two days, leaving residents wading
through waist-deep water, amid stalled vehicles and the bodies
of dead animals floating through the streets.
An estimated 40 people died, and power, phones and water
supplies were disrupted for days, in a disaster believed to have
caused 300 billion Pakistan rupees ($2.8 billion) in damage.
Now Karachi city and Sindh province authorities are creating
the city’s first flood management plan, in an effort to ensure
such a disaster doesn’t happen again.
At the centre of the plan is an effort to clear the city’s
huge storm water drainage system, which has gradually become
blocked with trash and seen outlets to the sea constricted by
illegal construction along drainage channels.
“Reckless development activities around the city’s storm
water drains and sewer system are now literally choking the
city’s natural drainage systems, the impact of which is more
pronounced urban flooding, as witnessed in the city in
August,” said Noman Ahmed, an urban planner and chairman of
the architecture and planning department at the NED University
of Engineering and Technology in Karachi.
Until recently, Karachi’s drainage arteries, which snake
through the city’s 18 town areas, have worked more or less
effectively to carry both rainwater and wastewater from homes,
businesses and industries through the city and to flush the
effluent – most of it untreated – out to sea.
But the fast-growing metropolis now produces 12,000 tonnes
of garbage each day, with that expected to grow to 16,000 tonnes
by 2020, according to the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board.
Of that, “only 10 percent of the trash is collected, leaving
the remaining to end up in the city’s drainage and sewerage
systems for want of adequate funds,” said A.D. Sanjani, the
board’s managing director.
He said collecting and disposing of all the waste at
landfills would cost about $276,000 a day – money the city does
not have to spend.
The result of that shortfall became evident after 100 mm (4
inches) of monsoon rain fell on Karachi on Aug. 30 and 31,
leaving almost 70 percent of the city – Pakistan’s economic hub
– with waist-deep flooding.
Businesses in central Karachi shut for three days, and many
in low-lying areas were out of operations for weeks.
Officials at the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry
estimate that that the disaster caused $2.8 billion in damages
to sodden industrial areas, corporate offices, business centres,
homes and public transports networks, and inundated over 20,000
shops in a variety of markets.
Karachi produces close to half of Pakistan's national income
and tax revenue, said M. Ashraf Janjua, a former deputy
government of the State Bank of Pakistan.
Abdul Rashid, director of the Pakistan Meteorological
Department’s office in Karachi, said the late August rainfall
wasn’t so heavy it should have caused such widespread flooding.
The city survived two heavier monsoon rainfall spells – of
200mm in 1977 and 166mm in 1979 - without serious inundation, he
said. This year’s disaster, he said, was a manmade problem.
In its summer monsoon outlook for this year, released in
June, his agency warned of likely erratic monsoon rains that
could trigger floods. But city authorities failed to clear
clogged drainage networks in time, the scientist said.
“Had city authorities cleansed the drainage system, the
accumulation of rainwater could have avoided turning into
massive urban flooding, the worst disaster in almost the last
three decades,” Rashid said.
PLAN TO CUT RISKS
Karachi Metropolitan Corporation Mayor Washim Akhtar said
the flooding has woken up the provincial government to the
city’s growing flood risk and to the need to put in place a plan
to stave off such disasters in the future.
That plan is now being developed by metropolitan and
provincial officials, with backing from non-governmental
organisations, he said.
“With the help of the plan now being framed, we can at least
mitigate the impacts of such extreme events on people, their
livelihoods, public infrastructure, utilities and the transport
system of the city, so that the economic wheel keeps rolling on
unhampered,” he said.
In August, about two weeks before the flood, Prime Minister
Shahid Khaqan Abbasi announced 25 billion Pakistani rupees ($237
million) for a Karachi development package designed in part to
overhaul the city’s ailing public infrastructure, including its
drainage and sewer systems.
The effort aims to make the city more resilient to extreme
weather events, particularly flooding, cyclones and the impacts
of sea level rise.
Any effective plan to deal with flood risk must include
restrictions on construction on or near drains and an expansion
of trash pickup in the city, said Zahid Farooq, joint director
of the Urban Resource Centre, a a Karachi-based non-governmental
organisation that promotes resilient urban planning.
According to the Sindh Katchi Abadi Authority that manages
Karachi’s slum areas, the city has nearly 5,640 slum areas, most
of them built along the city’s stormwater drains.
“Any official plan that tackles these issues and leads to
durable waste management programmes aimed at clearing these
stormwater drains of the years of waste dumped into them and
encroachments around them will de facto help boost the city’s
urban flood resilience,” Farooq said.
(Reporting by Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio; editing by Laurie
Goering :; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
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