September Issue 2006

By | News & Politics | People | Q & A | Published 13 years ago

“We don’t need underpasses or flyovers; we need a city management plan”

– Arif Hasan

Q: Why does Karachi continue to be unprepared for this type of rainfall given that it has experienced heavier rainfalls in the past (12 inches over 2-3 days), and given that the monsoons are a predictable seasonal event?

A: Why does it remain unprepared? It’s very simple. The institutions of city planning, management, monitoring — all of them — have become corrupt and ineffective over time. They have deteriorated.

Q: It sounds like apathy is a major issue among city officials: they just don’t care enough.

A: Let me put it a different way. First of all, let us take planning. For planning to be proper and good, you need informed decision-making from the politicians’ side. This can only take place if there is proper research and monitoring of the city and if there is a process of public consultations. We no longer have a research institution in place. And we have no public consultations except when the public makes so much noise that the state is forced to discuss the issue. This is a major problem.

Number two, you need a planning institution that prepares and plans on the basis of those informed decisions. We do not have such a planning institution for the city. If you do have such a planning institution, then it should be autonomous; it should be free from constant political interference: the victimisation of personnel and transfers of people, which damage its functioning, its accountability and its continuity. That is not the case.

Third, once the plan has been made, you need an implementing institution in whose work there is transparency, accountability, and a process of public supervision. There is no such arrangement in the present system.

Fourthly, you need a management plan. There is no management system here. The city government says, “We are ordered by so-and-so to do such-and-such in such-and-such time, but there is no one below us to carry it out.”

And lastly, you need coordination between all these four institutions. And I can tell you that such coordination does not exist. Now in this case, in such a scenario, you can not possibly plan, manage and maintain a city properly.

Let me also say that there was a Karachi Master Plan 1975-85. Work on that Master Plan began. It was more or less suspended in 1979. If that plan had been implemented, we would have been living in a different city, at the level of governance, at the level of maintenance and at the level of facilities available, i.e. infrastructure, mass transit, rail networks, transport systems, employment. It was a very good plan.

The Karachi Development Plan 2000 was a disaster. It never could have been implemented in any case because it completely ignored the fact that between 1978 and 1990, Karachi was being run by the informal sector, which had become ineffective due to institutional collapse, political apathy and the usurpation of public space and space for utilities by those who were in power.

Q: Was it the lack of all the above or something else specifically that resulted in the situation in Karachi after the rains?

A: The major reason that some areas have been so badly flooded is because water cannot get to the sea. This is because, firstly, the Gizri Creek, into which the Manzoor Colony Nala empties itself — that part of the Manzoor Colony nala, before it goes into the sea — has all been reclaimed and plots have been made on it by the Defence Housing Authority (DHA). So an area that was almost a kilometre wide has been reduced to 25 to 30 feet. Because of that, that area of Manzoor Colony and the catchments area of the nala have been flooded.

Then you have the Clifton Area, where the Nehr-i-Khayyam has been reduced from a width of about 125 feet to about 15 feet. It cannot take the flood waters. The reclaimed land was to be turned into plots as well because of the land hunger of the elite of this city.

Then you have three major drains, which carry the bulk of the water of the old town, that then empty themselves out into the backwaters of the Cheena Creek. A large area of the Cheena creek, comprising about 700 acres of mangroves, has been reclaimed for the Karachi Port Trust officer’s housing colony. This is a loss of a drainage basin to those major drains.

In addition to this, along the beach, you have the beach park that has come up. That has no drainage system whatsoever, and it prevents the flow of water from the area above it to the sea, which used to take place before easily. Not a drop of water used to accumulate there, as it has accumulated now.

These are the reasons for flooding of the areas near the sea. But there are other factors. Because of a lack of accountability, planning etc. that I had mentioned before, there are things like a 45-inch pipeline in the Clifton area that becomes a 9-inch line when it crosses the road towards the sea. Similarly, garbage has been thrown in many of these nalas, encroachments have taken place on them, such as the construction of a MNA Hostel, a car park and shops.

Usually in the newspapers you read that this situation owes to katchi abadis, but the fact is that the katchi abadis contribution to this tragedy is very small — almost negligible. The land hunger of Karachi’s elite and the planning agencies are mainly responsible [for this crisis].

Q: Rain water drainage is a given in urban centres. Why do even posh residential areas in Karachi fail to include provisions for drainage on their roads?

A: Drainage has never been planned for by the concerned authorities. In the old days, I think right up to the ’70s, drainage was planned for. After that, there were no plans for drainage or sewage. So today, about 80 per cent of Karachi’s sewage goes straight into the natural drainage system.

Q: Why don’t any of the housing boards, Cantonment or Defence, or the CDGK, consult engineers and plan for drainage?

A: For the reasons I have given you: no accountability, no transparency, no informed decision-making, ad hoc transfers of people, ad hoc appointments. It’s all short-term. When you have a country in which the political system does not function according to law, but is manipulated to give the results that the establishment wants, through coercion, through the buying and selling of loyalties, you cannot expect these institutions to function.

Q: You talked about the nalas being covered up. They seem to be covered up all over the city….

A: Yes, almost everywhere. Especially in the lower reaches because the lower reaches are the most important. And the lower reaches are where land values are high. There are 42 nalas. They need to be de-silted, cleaned and covered up properly.

Q: Some reports say the nalas have not been cleaned in 30 years.

A: This is quite right. They have not been.

Q: How often should they be cleaned?

A: They should be cleaned every year. But if they are covered and turned into boxed trunks, you wouldn’t need to clean them. You clean them because everyone throws garbage into them since there is no landfill site and no effective garbage disposal system.

The solid waste management problem cannot be tackled until and unless you take into consideration the needs and the requirements of the recycling industry, which is a very major enterprise in Karachi. Most past attempts have never taken this into consideration.

Q: If the informal recycling system that exists was integrated into our formal system and if we had a proper waste management system, would the nalas still need to be cleaned?

A: Yes, they would need to be cleaned because the sewage flows into them. The only option is to make the nalas permanent, cover them up, and have decentralised treatment plants where they meet the sea. That is the only thing you can do. And this is what the studies of the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) have pointed to. I think that there is now an understanding between the OPP and the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board on these issues, but it has taken a long time for this understanding to develop.

Q: Typically, rain water drains areseparate from sewerage lines?

A: It was decided in Karachi in the ’60s that that is what Karachi’s plan would be, but it has not been. So, the sewage and the rain water flows in the same nala.

You can plan a sewage and drainage system as a combined one or as a separate system. Both are potentially effective.

In the case of many Japanese cities, they have a situation that is very similar to Karachi. Their development took place without planning, which meant that the sewage went into the natural drainage system. What the Japanese have done is to turn that natural drainage system into big box culverts or boxed trunks. At the end of those trunks they have put up treatment plants, so the water and sewage can flow together.

The Japanese have been doing this successfully for years. And after they cover the nalas, they make beautiful tennis courts and playgrounds on top. This is what the Orangi Pilot Project has been suggesting and even planned for in Orangi and other parts of Karachi. This is a possibility, but it has to be properly designed.

Q: How do we prevent our roads from turning to gravel every time it rains?

A: The roads will only withstand this extent of rainfall if there is a drainage system. If the road is going to be used as a drain, then it should be designed as a road that is going to be used as a drain — which is possible.

For example, in the city of Indore in India, their whole drainage scheme considers the roads to be the drainage system that flows into the river. It works. But then you design the roads to take that rainfall. If you are going to design them as normal roads, then you should have a drainage system on either side that takes the water.

Q: Is it even feasible in Karachi to design roads to act as a drainage system for the city?

A: We have thought of this, but not done it. To function as proper drains, they should be designed as drains. When it rains and water flows through them, then the water should have a certain velocity, it should not stand anywhere, it should just flow to where you want it to flow. If you look at Tipu Sultan Road, it has a drain in the centre, but even then the water doesn’t get into the drain because the holes in the drain are higher than the road. So there are lots of little things to consider.

Q: Do you think that a management structure can be set up where the responsibility for drainage and sewerage lies with one governing body for the whole metropolitan area so that petty finger pointing between the city nazim, Clifton Cantonment Board and DHA officials can be eliminated?

A: Yes, it is possible, but I don’t think it is going to improve conditions, unless the institutions are improved. But it will certainly make one person responsible for all this. In the first Master Plan for Karachi, what had been suggested was the creation of a Karachi Division Physical Planning Agency. We envisaged it as an agency with teeth, and it would have been responsible for Karachi’s planning and monitoring and coordinating with all the other agencies.

A key problem with Karachi is that federal agencies have a major decision-making role in Karachi’s development because they own so much land here. And so, by and large, their decisions are taken in Islamabad.

Q: So does the solution to Karachi’s woes lie within the drawings of a proper Master Plan?

A: Not a Master Plan. Master Plan is a big word. Master Planning means going into the nitty gritty of it. First, let’s get a development plan. We need a plan that identifies and realistically sets the basic directions for planning. This requires three important things: data, consultations and an understanding of the current dynamics of growth and development, both formal and informal.

Q: In the aftermath of the monsoons, is there something lasting and effective that can be done to prevent a similar situation from arising next year?

A: Of course it can be done — and needs to be done. We don’t need any grand plans or grand ideas. We don’t need underpasses or flyovers, Shanghais, Dubais or any of this rubbish. What we need is a city management plan. How do you manage the assets that you have? How do you stop them from deteriorating and how can you build on them, rather than creating entirely new systems? This is what we really require.

Let me give you an example in the case of mass transit. You have a circular railway that links all the work areas of the city and can be easily extended into the residential suburbs without any difficulty. We’ve abandoned that and we want to build mass transit systems where one corridor is costing 668 million USD, is only 15 kilometres long and will serve only one per cent of the commuting public. Again, here we have all these grand ideas — an image of a city that should look like God knows what. We have to dispense with this. We have to manage what we have first. Then we have to understand the growth that is taking place and manage that growth as well. This is the priority of the city. All the rest is fiction, rubbish.