Pakistan’s maximum city on its knees

In a video that went viral recently, a young man is seen sitting on his bike outside the Karachi Mayor’s office. The road is flooded with dirty water. “You know MF? They are all MF,” he says, referring to political leaders. He was hailed “a Karachi hero” on Twitter for expressing his anger towards the city’s rulers as Karachi was battling many odds. In the latest, heavy monsoon rains have left large parts of the city, the largest in Pakistan and the capital of Sindh, under water, killing at least a dozen people.

The Sindh province is ruled by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP, while the city’s local council is controlled by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. The MQM’s Wasim Akhtar is the city Mayor. In the 2018 elections, 13 out of 21 National Assembly seats of Karachi were won by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (, Imran Khan’s party.

Murtaza Wahab, a spokesperson and adviser to Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, said the PPP did everything possible to help the city. “We were out on the roads when the rains started. We helped clear the roads. We did all that we could.”

Under the Sindh Local Government Act, the responsibility of cleaning the drains lies with the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, Mr. Wahab told The Hindu. “When something bad happens, he [Karachi Mayor] says he doesn’t have any power and blames the Sindh government, but when something good happens, he is always there to take credit.”

The August floods are just one of the many problems Karachi, with a population of about 15 million, is battling. In the words of Mayor Akhtar, there are mountains of trash everywhere; dozens of people have lost their lives after being electrocuted; water is contaminated, the sewerage system is bad and the city’s public transport system is inadequate. “Karachi is a city of misfortune,” Mr. Akhtar told The Hindu.

Earlier this month, federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi launched the ‘Clean Karachi’ drive. Mr. Wahab of the PPP, however, is not impressed. The Minister came to the city without any plan, he said. “The seriousness of the can be seen from the fact that Prime Minister Imran Khan promised PKR 162 billion for Karachi, but ended up giving only PKR 12.5 billion out of which the fresh allocation for a project is only PKR 3.5 billion,” he added.

Mayor Akhtar said the city is being neglected by the Sindh government. “Karachi generates 95% revenue for the Sindh government, but the treatment it gets is abominable. I have declared it an ‘aafat zada shehr’ [crisis-stricken city],” Mr. Akhtar said. He added that all parties must rise above petty politics and find a solution to Karachi’s problems.

‘No help from Islamabad’

The Mayor pointed out that the PPP has been ruling the province for 10 years. “After the 18th Amendment, it was the PPP’s responsibility to take care of Karachi, but they are only interested in making money.” Mr. Akhtar has appealed to the President, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice and the Army chief to intervene and take Karachi seriously.

“Unfortunately, despite being in the federal government for one year and the fact that the Sindh Governor Imran Ismail and President Arif Alvi are from Karachi, the federal government has not done anything for the city.”

Architect and heritage consultant Marvi Mazhar believes there are two parts to this problem — the infrastructure and division of power in Karachi. “Verticality is still picking up but horizontality of the sprawled landscape of Karachi is now beyond management. It now has more than six city centres. When you say that you will have only one commissioner or one Mayor handling the city management, then there is always a blame game,” Ms. Mazhar said.

She believes Karachi needs to be divided into towns. “In these towns, one has to look into local management with proper division of powers. From the infrastructure to waste management to drains, all of these things should come under one mohalla or town.” Ms. Mazhar added that the other issue is because of this incredible loose-end development, Karachi’s master plan has never been implemented as it changes with every new government.

“Roads have been made at sites of solid waste disposal. We now have narrow nullahs. When you move towards modernity, you forget your core and lungs.”

Mehmal Sarfraz is a journalist based in Lahore.