City & Rains

A joke going around in the corporate circles is that “in the course of archaeological excavation at I.I. Chundrigar Road it was discovered that there was a rain water drainage under the road some 150 years ago. This shows that the people living here were civilized and had a fair idea of town planning.” The jokes about the KPT swimming pool are now old and need not be repeated.

 

The city Nazim says that his team has done an excellent job of clearing water from most of the area for which media has failed to compliment the city government; and instead it is focusing on Bath Island, I. I Chundrigar Road and should we say “Clifton Island.” He promised to clean this area soon, rains permitting.

 

Let’s take the case of I. I. Chundrigar Road, the Wall Street of Pakistan. This is not the first time that the financial and business center of Pakistan became flooded with rainwater. The Karachiites know it well that after every major rainfall this road looks like a canal. Each time there is uproar and then with the thinning out of the monsoon clouds, both the commuters and the city administration’s commitment to tackle this issue withers.

 

The Nazim is upset with the media about focusing on the problem area. My issue with fellow journalists is that nobody addresses the city problems as a campaign, so that each story is followed till the problem is resolved. Even the local evening newspapers which are suppose to be addressing the city issues prefer to focus on national and at time international issues. The city desks are quite weak in following up the city’s basic problems and crime stories. Most of the politicians and NGOs have also a lot to talk about national and international issues. For example after the recent rains the political parties did not pay much attention to the real problems instead all tried to score points on each other by issuing press statements. The same is the case of leading NGOs. All joined the chorus to criticize; nobody extended a helping hand to the local government. There are some citizen voices like Shehri on the building control issues, but none when it comes to doing something for the city on ground.

 

Karachi gets a heavy monsoon after every three to four years. This is enough time to provide drainage facility for rainwater and we all know this is not rocket science. Even 5000 years back the residents of Mohen-jo-Daro knew how to do it. But in these high-tech times when there are undersea tunnels in the world, KPT messed up in making a simple underpass. They didn’t have to go far, even Lahore has better planned underpasses.

 

Another problem with this city is that its land management of facilities is fragmented. The city has many lords: City government, DHA, Cantonment Board, KPT and the Sindh government. In times of crisis it’s easy for each party to pass the buck. The citizens are usually confused whose territory starts where and ends where. Some time back at a Business Plus programme on the city I asked the Deputy Nazim, Nasreen Jalil and other participants, would they jointly struggle to get the city under one local government? The reply was positive. But there is no progress to address this basic anomaly.

 

There is no doubt that ever since the city government system has been established by this government some work has started on building flyovers and underpasses to ease the city’s traffic jams. The work was started by the previous Nazim and is being taken further by the present MQM young Nazim.

 

All this work is needed, but the trouble is while every local or provincial government gives emphasis to new high profile projects, the existing infrastructure and services are neglected. Many years back the then bold and vocal State Bank Chief Economist pointed it out to me that the country’s capital assets are crumbling because of neglect. How true he was. Even today there is no dearth of announcement about the new projects, but no accountability about poor maintenance of the existing roads, rail links, hospitals, schools and service. I think all governments in Pakistan have failed in the management of the basics issues that are related to the common man’s day-to-day life – garbage management and gutter management. Can we expect better governance of other more complex issues and problems? Either the citizens would have do take over garbage and gutter management or forget it. In any case already many Karachiites have to arrange for their own security, own water supply, own electricity, own health care, and own schooling for the children. Marx had predicted that the state would wither away once a true communist society would be established, comrades we are there even without the commies!!

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