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June 10, 2007 Sunday Jamadi-ul-Awwal 24, 1428








Cowasjee



Karachi – numero uno



By Ardeshir Cowasjee


UNFORTUNATE it is that President General Pervez Musharraf has chosen to surround himself with Neanderthal men. His Gag-man (if he reads this) should know that there abound in Pakistan men who can get any gagged message or movie onto his PC one night and then onto a thousand other PC screens by dawn the following day. How unfortunate and luckless can the citizens of Pakistan be that they are so mocked by those put in positions of power.

Last week there came into my mail box a highly depressing message which concerns all of us who live in Karachi. Excerpts warrant reproduction, just in case they awaken our so-called ‘leaders’ into whose hands our government has been delivered, and our administrators who must follow, but who at least can be made aware of what is what and can voice their objections.

It came from Engineer Zulfikar Sarosh currently residing in Austin, Texas :

“I am a member of IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers), the largest professional body of electrical engineers. It was after reading an article in ‘Spectrum’, the flagship publication of IEEE that I decided to write to you.

“This month (June 2007) ‘Spectrum’ did a special report on mega-cities. Karachi was named twice in that report, both times in a negative light. Since you are one of the few people who take up the real issues (non-political) regarding Karachi, I decided to share this information with you.

“First of all, Karachi has the ‘honour’ of being the most polluted city in the world. In the words of ‘Spectrum’, ‘Air Pollution : Particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter (pm10) is the most dangerous to human health, because it can pass through the nose and throat and enter the lungs — leading to asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular problems, and premature death. Of the mega-cities, Karachi, Pakistan, had by far the worst pm10 problem in 1999, the last year for which complete data were available. New York City had the cleanest air.’

“If it is any consolation, Karachi was followed by Delhi, Cairo and Dhaka. But they were far behind Karachi. As you may note, this was the data from 1999. I am sure by now the situation must have grown far more serious. I beg you to please write about this issue. I have spent the best years of my life in Karachi and my parents and parents-in-law and most of my family live there, so I have a deep emotional attachment to the city. This is a very serious issue, as it concerns the health and indeed the very lives of Karachiites.

“The report is available on the internet : http://spectrum.ieee.org/ jun07/5148/3 To see the GDP for mega-cities check out : http://spectrum.ieee.org/jun07/5148 (Karachi is third from the bottom).

“One graph which showed the slum populations is not available online, but was in the print copy and showed Pakistan as having the fifth largest slum population, way behind China and India in numbers. But it also showed that 74 per pent of urban dwellers in Pakistan live in slums (as opposed to 56 per cent in India and 38 per cent in China).

“Another shameful fact appeared in The National Geographic magazine, where, writing about Dharvi, a slum in Mumbai, this is what the author said: ‘In Asia, Karachi's Orangi Township has surpassed Dharvi [as being the largest slum in Asia] ....

“So Karachi has two crowns to wear – one being the most polluted mega-city in the world and second the host of the largest slum in Asia.....bravo Karachi!

“Don’t forget to don a mask as you go out. You live in the most polluted city. And also don’t forget the bullet proof vest...I am sure it is also the most unsafe city as well.”Now, this being the current state of our city, and with the pm10 problem having surely magnified alarmingly over the space of eight years what can possibly be the justification for the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) to have given its clearance, on June 6, to the City District Government to construct the 25-kilometer long Karachi Elevated Expressway (KEE) which has been rejected by many experts (genuine this time) on the grounds that it is highly environmentally damaging? The sole justification one can think of is that it is another money-making machine, money being the magic that makes our government go round and which is always needed by its honourable members both here and, of course, far off in fair London town.

Karachi’s proposed ‘road-on-stilts’, running from Jinnah Bridge to Quaidabad, which I have previously discussed, has been given a go-ahead by SEPA on the basis of ‘do good, and avoid evil’. But does this city need, and can it sustain, an elevated expressway? Architects, engineers, planners and advocacy groups think not. Environmental, aesthetic, technical and procedural flaws that have been identified go against it.

A cardinal principle for reducing congestion on roads and mitigating adverse traffic impact is that new roads should only be built after all reasonable alternatives for minimising the use of single-occupancy vehicles, that is, cars, have been exhausted. Consequently, the first priority of the city government must be to implement an affordable, comprehensive, and environment-friendly mass transport system in Karachi which will radically reduce the proliferation of polluting, gas-guzzling, noisy, traffic-congesting vehicles that are coming out onto our roads in their hundreds each day, thanks to our banks and their need to make money out of upwardly mobile unwary citizens.

The second priority, which will benefit not only the expressway corridor but the entire city, would be to ensure traffic law compliance/discipline and the removal of road friction (illegal parking, encroachments, etc) on existing thoroughfares. These principles have also been the findings of this week’s stakeholder workshops organised in Karachi by the Asian Development Bank to examine its ‘Transport Sector Roadmap’ for the Karachi Mega City Sustainable Development Project.

The expressway has been dangerously designed without emergency lanes/shoulders. While the Malaysian Highway Authority mandates that “All expressways must have at least four lanes (two in each direction) segregated by a median divider. Both sides must have an emergency lane”, the contractors, IJM Berhad from Malaysia (who chose them and how?), propose to provide the citizens of Karachi less than the minimum facilities which are mandatory in their own country.

Since the city does not have an overall traffic/transport management plan, isolated projects like the expressway are merely a means of putting public money into private pockets. The questionable contract-award procedure, the lack of transparent details of the ‘annuity-basis’ BOT contract, the availability of a superior alternatives (rail for one) for inter-port and upcountry traffic, the increased noise and air pollution, and many other factors would make the project a non-starter in a civilised, clean and sane society.

The Director-General of SEPA, responding to questions put to him by architects, engineers and environmentalists at a public hearing in April informed them that the city government had formed a committee of ‘experts’ to evaluate all reservations and assured the doubters that problems would be addressed and resolved. Have they been?

The city government’s project director of the KEE is Canadian citizen Rauf Akhtar Farooqui, an OSD (officer on special duty), a great favourite of the Pir of London and his appointed Karachi City Nazim, young Mustafa Kamal who has a Malaysian connection. According to Project Director Farooqui, while discoursing on another ‘development’ project, there is no need for such “time-consuming exercises” as environmental impact assessments, when the aim is “rapid development.” This says it all.

Long may we live, healthily – breathing polluted air.

arfc@cyber.net.pk






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