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Karachi suburbs still struggling with floods

A flooded road in Karachi's upmarket Defence Housing Authority. Adnan Sipra/IRIN

Saadia Amir looks in exasperation at a roughly dug trench in Karachi that cuts a swathe through the roads in her up-market, seaside residential area to the sea just a few hundred yards away.

"In normal circumstances, it would take me just two minutes to drive through these by-lanes and reach my child's school," the young mother said. "Now, I have to go around several blocks and spend almost half an hour driving to get to a point just a couple of minutes away because the city administration hasn't been able to devise a drainage system that'll drain the water out of our neighbourhood," Saadia said.

Just over two months ago, almost hurricane-force winds created havoc in Karachi - Pakistan's southern port city, commercial hub and largest city - killing about 200 people, injuring thousands and displacing tens of thousands.

Then, in mid-August, more than 152mm of rain in less than 24 hours flooded many areas of the city and killed 35 people. Most walked into flooded, open drains or onto naked power lines and others were crushed by falling hoardings or roofs that caved in.

A week later, another thunderstorm flooded already inundated main thoroughfares and underpasses, forcing authorities to declare a state of emergency with no power in most of the city.

Encroachments partly to blame

Karachi Mayor Mustafa Kamal told reporters immediately after the latest thunderstorm that one of the reasons for the flooding was the high number of encroachments built on the city's storm-water drains. The city administration maintains that any attempt to clear these encroachments has been met with stiff resistance from residents.

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 Livelihoods at stake as flood-affected areas struggle to recover
The hardest hit areas of Karachi were the upmarket Defence Housing Authority (DHA) and Clifton, where authorities resorted to war-time tactics by digging improvised ditches designed to take accumulated water to the sea.

"But these did not function properly. Whenever the tide was high, the sea did not allow this rainwater to pass through and, instead, pushed it back in," Aziz Suhrwardy, general secretary of the Defence Authority Coordination Committee (DACC), told IRIN. The DACC is a residents' association that liaises with the military bodies that govern such army housing projects across the country.

Proper storm-water drains needed

"The permanent solution would be to have proper storm-water drains. What they did this time was a temporary measure. The answer lies in some deep thinking and proper planning so that the problems identified this year can be rectified permanently for the future," Suhrwardy said.

Photo: Adnan Sipra/IRIN
A burqa-clad woman negotiates her way across a temporary drain taking rain water into the sea
Across the DHA area, municipal sanitation workers are still using water pumps to try and pump rainwater out of flooded residential streets. Makeshift ditches, carrying all kinds of refuse along with greenish rainwater, now cut across previously immaculately laid-out roads.

"The strange thing is that the rest of Karachi fared relatively better than the Defence area," Asad Qizalbash, the general secretary of the Defence Society Residents Association (DSRA), another citizen's group, told IRIN. While the residents of DHA pay higher taxes than any other community in the country, Qizalbash said, many of their roads are still under water and when they are drained, the water is simply disposed in any empty plot.

"The roads that are now not underwater are practically destroyed. The authorities, to whom we have complained and appealed for help, should understand that they can't hope to avoid these problems in the future without building rainwater drains," Qizalbash added.

Land reclamation changing ecology

A late August report published in Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English newspaper, said that Karachi received more than 271mm of rain in August alone and blamed land reclamation from the sea as one of the contributing factors to the changing ecology of the Karachi coastline.

Photo: Adnan Sipra/IRIN
Children play in tepid, greenish water in a park right next to the sea, unmindful of the dangers present within
"Karachi has three main drainage outfalls that carry the city's sewage or rainwater into the sea. They serve 14 towns and all of them have been choked or narrowed over the years to make room for ill-conceived projects… or to reclaim land," the report said, adding that clearing encroachments and stopping any further land reclamation would have to become priorities if the problems faced this year were to be avoided in the future.

"This accumulated rainwater is going to breed plenty of diseases, not least of which is malaria because of the mosquitoes," Dr Murtaza Khan, who runs a clinic in the Defense area, told IRIN.

"But, if this permeates into the water table, we could be looking at even more illnesses. Cholera could be the least of it," he added.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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