It never rains but it pours

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Karachi and urban flooding

 

…quite contrary to our cultural triggers of action

– shame and honour –

we are not moving an inch on issues of Karachi

 

The city attends to every opportunity to prove itself one of the least liveable cities in the world. The liveability rankings put cities around the world on comparison. Comparing tends to become shaming sometimes. But quite contrary to our cultural triggers of action – shame and honour – we are not moving an inch on issues of Karachi. The government and the community show us every day how they are working against it. The recent flooding of the city, perhaps, doesn’t say it all. There is a lot more to it than meets the eye.

 

Over the years, it appears that the Sindh government has clearly conveyed this message that urban affairs management in the most urbanised province of the country is not their business. Rather, they are there to make things worse by ethicising it. Just to put the municipal basics in order, two critical institutions required to respond to the current rain water crisis are Sindh Solid Waste Management Board and Karachi Water and Sewerage Board. Despite carrying typically local functions, these organisations have been established as provincial bodies (arguably among other things) to keep control of these two important subjects under the provincial government always paranoid by the ethnic balance of power in the city.

 

And this also comes as a test to their claims of being the champions of devolution in the country – the 18th amendment. No doubt the credit goes to them on that but that’s the half work done. What happened when the same question of decentralisation in case of city governments came up? Think, what is left for the city councils if simple functions like water and sanitation are provincial concerns? On the other side of this ethnicisation of urban governance is the political party that has been in power for a long time and has negotiated with the PPP on almost every political and legal issue in Sindh to their advantage. But they failed miserably on account of formulation of a viable policy to empower the cities of Sindh in order to provide basic urban services to the people effectively. The same ‘people’ who, otherwise, appear in their nauseating speeches all the time, we all know.

 

In the entire scenario, collective failure of the community lies in the fact that they have not been able to make alliances, formal or informal, for the benefit of Karachi and demand what is right for the city through negotiations and non-violent actions. Unfortunately, the educated middle class with global urban ethos, which otherwise could have been the leaders in this cause, are totally absent. The big fat corporate houses that could take up the city as their joint CSR project are nowhere in the scene. If we look around, there are plenty of examples to follow both from purely the communitarian side and the community-profit perspective – from the great Edhi to the starters like #Fixit and out of Karachi, the business community of Sialkot that has built an international airport and now an airline.

 

In the absence of such alliances, one wonders as to what are electoral demands of the people in Karachi if they are not cantered around their day to day sufferings linked to the terribly dysfunctional urban infrastructure. Keeping in mind the ground realities of Karachi, can this or should this really be ‘Thaana-Kachehri, or ‘transfer-postings or ‘Shadi-Ghami’ type of political connection with their electoral candidates? Why every time we look for better explanations for this city and its people, we get the same old answer – Stockholm syndrome. Why is it so that only greedy individualism flourishes in the city allowing the rule bending real estate moguls to create islands of luxury in the midst of urban chaos? We understand but we really don’t.

 

Karachi’s case becomes more complicated when one looks at the demographic realities and the disparities embedded in the way this city is growing. It is too heavy for the legal canes and crutches it has. It needs a whole new set of laws and constitutional guarantees as the challenges in future will attain new forms – urban flooding is just one horrible episode. The nationalist forces pitted against each other in the city will have to find ways to adjust in the new legal framework (what so ever) that ensures more powers to the city and to its people. The political parties will have to understand that democracy is way more than an electoral exercise. It is a long, arduous and continuous process of public service and community development by men and women dedicated to this task and not the ones only engaged in dumb and dirty politics of building coalitions for corruption.