Drain cleaning remains unfinished

KARACHI:

Karachi, the country's economic hub, is on edge as the monsoon season approaches. The city faces crippling floods that, tragically, are becoming all too common. The forecast of heavier-than-usual rains starting this month underscores once again the city's ongoing struggle with inadequate drainage infrastructure.

Despite warnings from the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) and previous experience of severe flooding, preparations to clear the city's clogged sewers appear to be far from complete. The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), which is responsible for maintaining the sewerage system, had requested Rs 800 million for this important task. However, the provincial government has allocated only Rs 410 million, just days before the onset of the monsoon.

Zulfiqar Abro, senior director of municipal services, revealed that while the KMC had demanded Rs 800 million, only half of it had been provided. A contractor is to be given a work order by July 6 to start cleaning 541 drains across the city, just days before the predicted downpour.

Under the leadership of Karachi Mayor Murtaza Wahab, the KMC started cleaning work on May 15 using its own resources. From June 1, work began on major arterial drains including Kalri, Orangi, Mahmoodabad, City, Soldier Bazaar and Frere drains. Other drains identified by the local administrations are also being cleaned using KMC resources.

Despite these efforts, challenges persist. Atif Ali Khan, chairman of North Nazimabad Town, lamented the inadequate provision of machinery provided by KMC. “Only one excavator and two dumpers are not enough for the monumental task.” He pointed to recurring problems such as reaccumulation of debris in cleaned drains and incomplete integration of stormwater disposal systems in areas such as Arafat Town, Kausar Niazi Colony, Batha Town and Noorani Mohalla.

Commenting on the situation, city planner Muhammad Toheed stressed the need for at least four annual cleaning campaigns and called for public participation and awareness. Toheed urged authorities to stop dumping garbage near drains, expand the existing network to avoid blockages, and separate sewer lines from storm drains, stressing the need for separate sewage systems. For decades, experts have criticized Karachi's poorly planned infrastructure, which is made worse by the accumulation of garbage. Sources said the delay in the cleaning job, originally scheduled for May, has left the KMC struggling with limited resources and the city vulnerable to possible floods.

On the other hand, Chief Meteorologist Sardar Sarfraz warned about the above-average rainfall this month as the monsoon season continues till September 30. Karachi's history of extreme rainfall, including record-breaking 230 mm in a single day on August 27, 2020, is just one more reason to raise alarm bells. Amid these challenges, Advocate Saifuddin, an opposition leader in the KMC, accused Mayor Wahab of neglecting drain cleaning and attributed possible flooding in the city to resource constraints. Although experts consider this an underestimate, a report by the KMC identifies 19 critical locations prone to severe flooding during monsoon, including Tower, PIDC, II Chundrigar Road, Shaheen Complex and Shahrah-e-Faisal. Other vulnerable areas include Nagan Chowrangi, Banaras Chowrangi, KDA Chowrangi, Yousuf Goth and Surjani Town.

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