Why Karachi Drowned?

Have you ever thought about the waste that you produce? What happened to the last packet of chips you opened; the residue of tea, your last nail clippings, the waste produced by meat industry. You never want to see it, again right? But what if I tell you that the people of the biggest city of Pakistan were exposed to revisit such things again due to flash floods in August 2020. Do you know why Karachi drowned? It’s hard to believe but certainly more than one culprit is there to be exposed.

While most of the life forms were affected by Covid-19; the most pressing issue Pakistan faced this year is urban flooding majorly fueled by lack of proper sanitation in all metropolitan of the country. Open drains are the biggest and evident source of pollution in densely populated areas of Pakistan. Drains carrying domestic wastewater flow into nearby freshwater bodies resulting in water pollution. Similarly, livestock and agriculture waste are also added to the streams. Open drains are the continuous source of water contamination, proliferation of pathogenic and deadly diseases including epidemics of Dengue, Malaria, Diarrhoea, Typhoid and Cholera; contamination of food chains; decrease in soil productivity and recharge of ground water with the contaminated water. The report on Impact of Clean Drinking and Sanitation on Water Borne Diseases in Pakistan (2018) by SDPI shows that urban zones show high prevalence of Diarrhea among children resulting in 31% among children with non-improved sanitation facilities. The continuous foul-smell, which is already a source of nuisance to the residents in the near-by areas, becomes unbearable during rainy season. All these issues can be prevented by improving the status of sanitation in the city.  According to the report on Stunting in Pakistan (2017), unhealthy environmental conditions are leading to stunted growth in children (1.9 million). The magnitude of losses due to recent flooding are unaccountable! We may find references for financial losses but who will account the biggest threat to the health of the nation.

Urban Floods in KarachiRain water on roads of Karachi

Although heavy rainfall was witnessed throughout the country;  Karachi, the biggest city of Pakistan drowned due to mismanagement leading to a 100+ casualties. Coagulation of open drains, non-existence of sewage system, and ailing waste management system was the leading cause of urban flooding in Karachi. The worsened situation demanded installation of machines to drain water from many of those places.  Nearly all the connecting roads were submerged in water for days! Surprisingly, slums and genteel residents were equally affected which is a big question mark on the face of administration.

Many reports have been prepared to address the issue of open drains in urban and peri-urban areas of Pakistan have proposed to deal with the illegal encroachments around the drains however, the most important aspect here is waste management. Unfortunately, functional waste collection system is not present in any part of Sindh; unlike Punjab who outsourced and updated their Waste Management System, domestic dumping of solid waste and its poor management lead to coagulation of drains. Worst conditions are witnessed each year after Eid-Ul-Adha.

The government of Pakistan needs to take strong and adequate actions to tackle this issue. Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) provided a vague outline regarding access to sanitation as basic human right. National Sanitation Policy was designed under MDG’s however that draft has not been updated in the last decade. Therefore, the most important step for the current government is to formulate an updated and bottom’s up approach policy under Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) as SDG 6.2 address access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for everyone.

The most crucial challenge for the current government is to allocate sufficient budgets for improving access to sanitation in the cities. This quality can be improved by regular monitoring of the pollutant’s concentration in the sources. The best way to address this issue is to educate masses to develop perception of the public. Also, there is need of introduction of formal and informal sanitation programs to address the open drains and their consequences. Together we can ensure the quality of life of our future generations.