Monday, September 28, 2020

Special Feature: Karachi, a metropolis betrayed

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The country watched in horror as Karachi the country’s largest city was awash with water – over 40 people dead from the worst floods Karachi has faced in a century. Definitely, the worst since 1931 – when records started. People lost everything they had worked for all their lives, cars, motorcycles, and much more floated down streets that had become man-made canals.

Children swam through the muddy water as men and women waded through knee-deep, more-often deeper waters, to go about their daily business. Thousands remained trapped in their homes as businesses already in doldrums after corona came to a standstill. NDMA was brought in to help rescue people.

Further misery ensued as fallen electricity power lines caused widespread electrical outages and to maintain safety KESC closed down electricity to large swathes of people. It did not help that the courts had earlier passed comments blaming the KESC CEO every time someone died from electrocution and asked him to come in personally to explain why KESC should not be held responsible.

Facing a deluge of criticism, Sindh government officials defended themselves by tweeting pictures of rainwater running through Florida and other western countries to show they are not the only ones hit. However, despite holding reins of power for decades, the PPP has to take the blame for poor infrastructure planning, not spending money on upgrading sewerage and waste systems, allowing encroachments on nullahs and allowing residential schemes to be built on low water lying areas without taking the necessary precautions.

It was in this environment that PM Imran Khan held meetings with the provincial government and came out with the Rs1.1 trillion Karachi transformation plan. A historical plan that if implemented with sincerity and purposefulness, can truly play a catalyst role in Karachi’s turnaround.

In this special feature on Karachi’s litany of woes, Hasaan Khawar, a public policy expert looks at the how the recent flooding has only brought to the forefront the low quality of life experienced by long-suffering dwellers of the city and explains how misaligned incentives of political parties have brought the city to its knees and unless rapid action is taken to lift Karachi out of its current situation the PM’s dream of vertical cities will vanish as economic activity moves out of the financial capital.

Former Mayor Waseem Akhtar, who is one of the movers and shakers in the city – albeit not as much as he would like – explains to Najma Minhas, editor GVS, that the PM’s plan is a good gesture and something he had been asking for the past four years. However, he is convinced that the real long-term transformation of Karachi can only come about if the third tier of government – local government – is strengthened and receives financial support directly.

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