September 8, 2020
In my recent blog (https://dinshawavari.com/2020/08/29/water-water-everywhere-but-not-a-drop-to-drink-the-rime-of-the-ancient-mariner-by-samuel-taylor-coleridge/), I was only concentrating on recycling rainwater for Karachi. However, the inadequacy of the Karachi’s infrastructure to deal with … RAIN … has created havoc to our City.
Recently I heard Arif Hasan, planner, architect & activist (http://arifhasan.org/about-arif-hasan), on a Samaa News interview (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCb6OIWWsoo). The interview is an eyeopener and very insightful as Mr Hasan traces the roots of the problem, the history of our formal drainage systems, Karachi’s unchecked sprawl from the 1950s and especially 1970s leading to the drainage & sewer breakdown, we face currently. In identifying these problems, Mr Hasan implicitly provides the solutions too.
There are two courses of action required –
- I have already addressed rain water harvesting & recycling;
- Alongside this, the city’s RAIN WATER and SEWAGE DRAINAGE systems have to be urgently addressed on a professional basis.
Basically, Karachi needs to “get back to the drawing board” by using independent, non-partisan town planners and architects (like Arif Hasan himself). We have ONE YEAR lead time to fix the city- or at least be able to complete some of the main areas of the City – before the next rains hit us.
There are thousands of little drains – nullahs – (some naturally formed) which should feed into 64 large Nullahs which lead into Malir & Landhi Rivers, which in turn flow into the sea.
PROBLEM: When even one of these nullahs are blocked or stopped, it prohibits rainwater to flow into the sea- and instead, it floods the City. This is the root problem.
SOLUTION: So, firstly, the Entrance & Exit points of all Nullahs should remain undisturbed from encroachments, unplanned structures and debris.
PROBLEM: Next, when roads are being built, their drainage is also part of the scope. However, Arif Hasan points out that when the drains are made, they don’t lead anywhere – they end where the road ends … GO FIGURE! So, when the [so-called] drains fill up with rain – from the road itself – the overflow goes back onto the roads again … and … the “ROADS GET CONVERTED INTO NULLAHS”!
SOLUTION: So, the second action is that road drains must connect to the established nullahs, so there’s a formal route for the water to naturally flow into the sea (more on formal drains below).
PROBLEM: In the 1950s, Katchi Abadis (informal housing settlements) sprang up unchecked. There was no planning for their sewage drains, so the katchi abadis drained their sewage into Karachi’s nullahs…a practice which continues to this day. In the 1970s, when the formal housing schemes and neighborhoods were created, they continued the same practice of draining their sewage into rain water drains because no sewage drains or trunk sewers were planned … again, a practice that continues to this very day!
SOLUTION(s): So, thirdly, TRUNK SEWERS leading into FORMAL SEWER DRAINAGE SYSTEMS (& NOT into the rainwater drains) has to be planned & executed.
When this is done, all current formal Storm water drains must be cleaned off all the sewage sludge; all sewage outlets leading into such rain water drains removed and capped; and new storm water drains built to accommodate the City’s sprawl (it is massive task and a daunting one, at that). Storm water drains must ONLY be used for rain water drainage.
Each of these systems has to be physically separate and independent from each other – no one system should be able to lead into another system in case of a breakdown; each of these systems has to have its own failsafe mechanisms in place; have their own access points for repairs, replacements & maintenance in place; and have their dedicated teams ready to fix and clean them.
PROBLEM: The World Bank funded & completed a successful Sewage treatment plant in the 1990s. However, it never started operations. Why … because there were no trunk sewer systems designed or created to capture rainwater which would have flowed into the treatment plants; likewise, nothing was designed to capture the sewage (which instead was dumped into the rain water drains) to drain into such treatments plants either.
SOLUTION(s): Fourth- once these new Trunk Sewers and formal Sewage system captures all types of drains (be it rainwater or sewage), they should ONLY flow into Sewage treatment plants (plants…PLURAL); and then they should flow into new nullahs connecting to Malir & Lyari rivers.
Malir & Lyari rivers themselves need to be dredged and maintained to accept this drainage.
A recycling solution also lies in utilizing waste from treatment plants (after being treated) for watering the City’s green belts instead of letting it flow into the sea.
PROBLEM: Samaa interestingly also points out (https://www.samaa.tv/news/2020/08/karachi-rain-water-weather-flooding-monsoon-update-storage-shortage-drought/) that Karachi’s “concrete jungle” doesn’t have the capacity to absorb any of the rainwater so as to shore up valuable ground water. “The advantage would have been that the water table would have been replenished”.
SOLUTION(s): So, we need to create large swaths of “green areas”;
We have to breakdown this concrete jungle and rebuild public areas with gardens and trees;
Town planning has to be formalized, professionalized and held accountable;
Katchi abadis may very well have to be relocated (like the successful Lyari/Orangi resettlement project) into new, formal neighborhoods- this can be successfully & mutually negotiated by giving these resettlers title to their new properties, instead of the usurious “pagri” and rental system most of these katchi abadi dwellers have to content with currently;
Lastly, roads and current infrastructure will also have be replanned, replaced or even relocated to accommodate these new services.
So, what is the STARTING POINT of all these actions?
A long term City & infrastructure Plan has to be created, agreed by all political stakeholders and implemented & monitored professionally. This Plan will continuously need amendments and updating, which cannot be done without a non-partisan, political approach to addressing Karachi’s problems professionally by the Chief Minister, Government AND Opposition parties working together, instead of the politics of destruction – the destruction to the City of Karachi!