KWSB not only at fault, says expert
Karachi’s people are furious that the city flooded with just two days of monsoon rains and they blame the water and sewage board—but the real culprit is actually the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board and other government agencies such as the cantonments. Roughly 113mm of rain fell on Monday and Tuesday and photograph after photograph of the city provided evidence that garbage was to blame. It has choked the storm water drains and sewers, paralyzing the system that is supposed to take water away from the roads. “The main roads are garbage dumping stations,” says Jawed Shamim, who used to be the Karachi Water and Sewage Board’s chief engineer and was closely engaged with its internal reform. Garbage is chucked into nullahs as well. So important pathways such as the 28km Gujjar Nullah has also flooded because it is backed up by garbage. The job of collecting garbage across the city and taking it to a landfill belongs to the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board that had contracted this work out in areas to private Chinese firms. But these arrangements have not worked successfully. Just in January, Dawn reported that Changyie Kangjie Sanitation Company would collect waste in districts South and East districts, while Hangzhou Jinjiang Company would manage garbage in districts Malir and West. Most of the focus is on the KMC getting the storm water drains cleaned ahead of the monsoon rains and indeed that must happen regularly. But the real question is why so much garbage has accumulated across the city in the first place. The city produces 12,000 tons of garbage a day. The Sindh Solid Waste Management Board was formed in 2014, stripping the KMC of this responsibility. But it is not just the solid waste management board that has to collect garbage, this has to be done by the Karachi, Malir and Lyari development authorities, the cantonment boards, the Karachi Port Trust and Bin Qasim, the airport, SITE, New Karachi Industrial Area, Korangi Industrial Area, Pakistan Railways, Steel Mill and Steel Town. A man crosses a narrow flooded street during heavy monsoon rains in Karachi on July 30, 2019. AFP “Solid waste and drains should be with the same [government] agency,” argues Shamim. The two are so connected that they should not be managed separately by the KWSB and SSWMB. When asked what he would do if he had the responsibility for managing this current crisis, Shamim said that he would get the system cleaned right from the disposal point all the way upstream. The city’s nullahs and sewers should not become dustbins. Karachi has what we call a separate system in which the storm water drains and the sewers are separate. Peshawar, for example, which gets much more frequent rain has a combined storm water and sewage system, explains Shamim. Over the years we have encroached on our storm water drains as well, so that their width has been reduced, restricting their ability to carry more floodwater into the sea. “In Karachi you have house connections [to sewers] at every 20 feet,” he explains. That is because in many places we have small plots of 80 to 120 square yards. (You also have manholes at every 50 feet.) That means a lot of connections to household toilets and a lot of joints and clamps in the sewage pipes. In Karachi water comes in intermittent supply, as in, not regular flows. When clean water stops flowing in a pipe, a ‘pocket’ of air is left (or to put it technically, negative pressure develops). Sewage water that has leaked from another nearby pipe tends to then get sucked into the clean water pipe that is ‘empty’ at some point, to put it crudely. The result? Your clean water has bacteria in it. In the monsoon rains, and indeed afterwards, when the entire system is under pressure, the risk of cross-contamination from sewers is high. This is also why people get sick, in additional to the fact that dirty water has flooded their streets and stands for days because it has nowhere to drain off.