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Sunday, February 25, 2024  
14 Shaban 1445  

The suddenness of Karachi’s sewers

Subterranean surprises are becoming too much to bear
Geo reporter Afzal Nadeem Dogar’s photo of the hole in Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road near CM House published on Geo.tv July 22, 2022.
Geo reporter Afzal Nadeem Dogar’s photo of the hole in Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road near CM House published on Geo.tv July 22, 2022.

Dread suddenness in Karachi―in the shape of shocks that keep us in a permanent state of stress.

Consider these examples by degree: Heading to North Karachi, I will suddenly find myself frightened and lost in the thickets of an unfamiliar neighborhood because I unknowingly took the wrong exit off a sudden new flyover.

Passing through PECHS, I am momentarily disoriented because the brain registered what the corner of the eye barely caught: a sudden gaping space where something once stood, like the saddle in the gum where a tooth once sat. I realize that gaping hole is the plot of yet another Art Deco property that has been torn down to make way for middle-class apartments. Our vintage neighborhoods have come to resemble sinister gummy grins that form when tooth after tooth has been extracted or fallen out from decay or disease.

Suddenness in smarter cities is wielded as an instrument of marvel. I’ve turned a corner in Madrid, Seoul, London, Paris, Singapore, to come upon a sudden sight of breathtaking wonder, a giant bronze frog, a dancing fountain to delight children, a space cleverly sculpted for pedestrian pleasure. In Karachi you will turn a corner and encounter something that takes your breath away―a tree stump, a neoliberal prescription to feel fuzzy about Karachi, the ruins of a heritage building―but it feels more like that microsecond when your breathing is stoppered after a long hoarse scream.

I dwell on suddenness because I suspect it is what emerged from how this summer’s monsoon terror changed us under our skins.

A giant hole had appeared in front of CM House. The road had just suddenly caved in. From the distance the neat black cut-out circle looked like an optical illusion or an anti-mirage, a flattened 2D image in a 3D-scape

In July, I was driving to work via Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road that takes me to the Sheraton-PIDC signal. I started to feel dismay as the traffic was stuck mid-way in what is usually a fast-flowing artery. They were diverting us left onto Brunton Road at the State Life building. As my car crawled forward, I craned my neck right to see why the road had been closed: A giant hole had appeared in front of CM House. The road had just suddenly caved in. From the distance the neat black cut-out circle looked like an optical illusion or an anti-mirage, a flattened 2D image in a 3D-scape.

That image stayed with me as we battled the monsoon’s unexpected mood through August. What if I had been in that spot at the signal when the road collapsed? How can we tolerate a chunk of the road suddenly sinking? How can we ever drive again knowing we could be sucked into the bowels of the earth in a hot second? Terror is the paralysis of knowing that as we lurch from moment to moment in this life, we do so absolutely blind to what could happen next. Anything could suddenly happen in Karachi, just like that cloudburst at the beginning of August that left so many people helpless and stranded across the city.

I reckon, however, that the antidote to these anxieties is knowingness. And so, when the water drained, and I began the forgetting of the monsoon’s trauma, my fear gave way to anger. I would not countenance roads caving in. Why did this happen? How widespread was it? Was anything being done? My journalistic anger led me to the door of Ayoob Shaikh, who was until recently running Karachi’s water and sewerage board, and is known as one of the most knowledgeable of engineers the institution has ever had.

Ayoob Shaikh confirmed that indeed, it was a phenomenon and they had fixed 200 such craters since the rains (see list below).

“The major problem which we are facing, mainly in district South or the Old City area where the system is really old, is the corrosion of the concrete of the pipe,” he explained.

These sewage pipelines carry whatever is flushed from your toilet. This is sewerage that has biomass or sludge. When KW&SB engineers design our pipes, they see to it that the maximum flow of sewerage will be 80% of the diameter so the top of the pipe always stays empty. They don’t want the pipe to be full.

“The pipelines are designed for self-cleansing velocities,” he said. “So the sludge should normally not settle but keep moving through the pipe. It should head to the pumping station and eventually to the treatment site. But because our pumping stations aren’t working properly or malfunction, there is less flow in the pipes.”

The biomass thus starts settling in them. It then starts decaying, decomposing and degenerating, and gases are let off. The gases come in contact with the top of the pipeline, called the crown, which is a moist place. So the sulfur gas meets the moisture and turns into sulphuric acid, the Nitrous oxide gas from the sludge produces nitric acid. “These acids cling to the internal surface of the pipeline and really weaken it,” he added.

Additionally, when it rains, the (water’s) surcharge load on the road surface, or the earth cover on top of the pipeline, becomes saturated and heavy. This weight bears down on the already weak crown of the pipeline. That is when it caves in. “Once you see a collapse, we see it is good for the whole stretch of the sewer and it means it has outlived its lifetime,” Shaikh said. These pipes were supposed to last 35 years but they are collapsing before their time.

In Karachi’s Old City areas they used to have a way of dealing with the acid buildup, by the way. There were shafts for gas release. But as highrises developed people started removing the vent shafts because they said they smelled. Little did they know that they were destroying a defense system that kept their sewers in good shape.

In Karachi’s Old City areas they used to have a way of dealing with the acid buildup: vent shafts

Aftab Chandio, the chief engineer of sewerage, oversaw the work to replace the collapsed part outside CM House with 300 feet of a new 72-inch pipeline. “It was almost 25 feet deep,” he explained. “We worked 24 hours for four days.” It’s a 1960s system, he said, what do you expect?

I expect that the people in charge of this city will do what they can to prevent and preempt giant holes from opening up in the ground beneath our feet. Are we not already becoming progressively psychically scarred from the city-wide infrastructure destruction wrought by each monsoon deluge? I quote from Camille Paglia: “Civilized man conceals from himself the extent of his subordination to nature. The grandeur of culture, the consolation of religion absorb his attention and win his faith. But let nature shrug, and all is in ruin. Fire, flood, lightning… Civilized life requires a state of illusion.”

We have mostly been able to suspend our hearts and minds to continue to bear living in Karachi. We grew used to the terror of the target killing, a summer of sky-high homicide rates. That was supplanted by the terror of life-snatching Covid, as we dystopically stood at distances in front of biers at funerals we feared would herald our own. This year, the climate crisis visited upon us a terror of national proportions. I used to dread the suddenness of the demise of bad romances, the emotional autopsies and bitter unfinished goodbyes. How pitiful those tiny terrors of abandonment were. Today I fear the suddenness of sinking sewers.

This is the list of 148 sewer collapses that KW&SB fixed:

District Central Area Sewer diameter
Near Shafiq Morr, Sector 16-A, Gulshan-e-Waseem N. Nazimabad 18
near Comprehensive School, Block M N. Nazimabad 15
Near Babul Islam masjid, Aurangabad N. Nazimabad 15
Taj Baba Market, Khilafat Chowk, Paposh N. Nazimabad 15
Near Aga Khan Jamaat Khana, Block C N. Nazimabad 15
Near Diabetic Charitable Hospital, 5-E, Nazimabad N. Nazimabad 15
Near Church Christian Colony, Pahar Gunj Colony N. Nazimabad 12
Near Baboo Siraj Pakwan House 5-E Nazimabad N. Nazimabad 12
Behind Makki masjid 5-E Nazimabad N. Nazimabad 12
House No A-597 Block I North Nazimabad N. Nazimabad 15
Near Bashir Chowk, New Karachi New Karachi 36
in front of Noor-un-Nisa Eye Hospital Sector 5-B, New Karachi New Karachi 24
at Sindhi hotel towards D Morr, 7,000 road, New Karachi New Karachi 24
Rehmania masjid, Sector 11-G, New Karachi New Karachi 15
Block-91, near Lal Masjid, Sector 5-G New Karachi 15
in front of Bilal Colony police station, New Karachi New Karachi 18
Block 1, 2 Nizami Dawakhana, Sector 5-F, New Karachi New Karachi 18
in front of Block 108, Sector 5-D, New Karachi New Karachi 12
Block 117 Sector 5-D New Karachi New Karachi 12
In Sector 11C New Karachi New Karachi 12
in Sector 10 North Karachi New Karachi 24
at Umer bin Khattab Sector 8, North Karachi New Karachi 12
at Madina Colony stop, New Karachi New Karachi 24
in Sector 5G New Karachi New Karachi 18
in Sector 5E New Karachi New Karachi 24
in front of Nirala Sweets, C-1, Liaquatabad Liaquatabad 36
in front of Block 5, Rangers Gym Liaquatabad 18
in front of Nazimabad Electronic, Nazimabad police station Block 4 Liaquatabad 36
in front of Mehboob Star Lawn, Nazimabad Block 4 Liaquatabad 36
Masjid-e-Inaaf C-Area Liaquatabad 15
Oranagabad near PSO Pump, Nazimabad Block 1 Liaquatabad 15
near Muhammad Masjid, B-Area Liaquatabad 12
B-1 Area near Usman Decoration Liaquatabad 12
in front of House No 4A-4/9, Nazimabad Block 4 Liaquatabad 48
Nazimabad No 4 Liaquatabad 24
Karimabad Gulberg 24
Near Dream Heaven Marriage Hall Blocks 4& 6 Gulberg 24
Near C-4, Block 4 Gulberg 24
Near Block 4, 6, dividing road, Shahrah-e-Pakistan Gulberg 24
Near Bana Palace, Block 6 Gulberg 24
District East
near Aramish Bungalows Block 19 Gulistan-e-Johar 36
near Classic View Apts Block 19 Scheme 36 Gulistan-e-Johar 24
near Makkah masjid Block 3, Scheme 36 Gulistan-e-Johar 18
at C-162 to C-170 Block 14, Scheme 36 Gulistan-e-Johar 15
opposite Continental Bakery Block 1, Scheme 36 Gulistan-e-Johar 12
near Soneri Apts Block 13, Scheme 36 Gulistan-e-Johar 48
at Sindhbad Amusement Park, Block 13, Scheme 36 Gulistan-e-Johar 36
PIA Society Gate 1, Block 9 Gulistan-e-Johar 24
near Qwais Qurni Masjid Block 19, Scheme 36 Gulistan-e-Johar 36
at Abdullah Heights, Block 16, near UBL Gulistan-e-Johar 18
near Afnan Arcade Block 15, Scheme 36 Gulistan-e-Johar 18
at Bibi Amna Park Gulistan-e-Johar 15
at Decent Homes, Block 15, near Allied Bank Gulistan-e-Johar 12
Teen Hatti, PIB Colony Gulshan-e-Iqbal 30
Ghousia Colony, Jail Wall Gulshan-e-Iqbal 15
Adamjeenagar Block 12 Gulshan-e-Iqbal 24
Sumairi kitchen, Zubaida Hospital Gulshan-e-Iqbal 18
Ameer Khusro Road, Kamal Park Gulshan-e-Iqbal 18
Sibtain Imambargah, Block 1 Gulshan-e-Iqbal 18
Jamali House, Happy Home School, Block 13-D/1 Gulshan-e-Iqbal 18
Jhanda Chowk Block 13 Gulshan-e-Iqbal 15
Basera Chowk Block 2 Gulshan-e-Iqbal 12
Yousaf Burger Dhoraji Gulshan-e-Iqbal 18
Mehran Bakery, Block 13D-1 Gulshan-e-Iqbal 12
Noman Complex Block 13-D-3 Gulshan-e-Iqbal 18
Askari Park, old Sabzi Mandi, UC 20 Gulshan-e-Iqbal 24
Jail Chowrangi Gulshan-e-Iqbal 18
Football Ground Block 7 Gulshan-e-Iqbal 12
Urdu Science College Gulshan-e-Iqbal Gulshan-e-Iqbal 12
Gulshan-e-Ayesha Block 3 Gulshan-e-Iqbal 30
Jail chowrangi, under the ramp Gulshan-e-Iqbal 36
A/152 Block 3 Gulshan-e-Iqbal 12
PIB Colony Gulshan-e-Iqbal 36
Gulshan-e-Maymar Scheme 33 30
Paradise Bakery Road Scheme 33 54
Bengali Goth near Bengali Morr, UC 31 Scheme 33 24
near Javed Park UC 28, Scheme 33 Scheme 33 18
Near PCSIR Lab Scheme 33 Scheme 33 24
Khattak Hotel, Bilawal Shah Noorani, Suparco Road Scheme 33 24
Main Gate TP-II Mehmoodabad Jamshed Qtrs 42
at the back of Pump House Jamshed Qtrs 42
Sindhi Muslim Block A Jamshed Qtrs 18
Manzoor Colony UC 02 Jamshed Qtrs 24
Block 8 Sindhi Muslim Jamshed Qtrs 15
in front of Nasla Tower Jamshed Qtrs 36
Tipu Sultan Road Jamshed Qtrs 24
Gurumandir Jamshed Qtrs 15
District South
Oppsite CM House Clifton 72
Movenpick and PIDC Clifton 72
Artillery Maidan police station Clifton 36
at Gizri Clifton 36
Ch. Khaliquzzaman Road Clifton 36
Hotel Metropole Clifton 24
Clifton Block 2 Clifton 18
near Bilal Masjid Clifton Block 2 Clifton 15
Hijrat Colony Clifton 18
Baba-e-Urdu Road Clifton 24
Jinnah Bridge, Lucky Star Saddar 24
in front of Services Mess Saddar 15
District West
Sector 7B Gadap 18
Sector 7A Gadap 12
Sector 5D Gadap 12
Sector 4A Gadap 12
Sector 4B Gadap 12
Chandni Chowk Orangi 12
Data Clinic, Ghaziabad Road Orangi 15
Amjad Thalia, Gulshan-e-Zia Orangi 15
Orangi No 4 Orangi 12
Orangi No 4.5 Orangi 12
Galli No 4, Sector 11-E Orangi 8
District Keamari
at Madina Colony Timber Market Baldia 18
Iqbal Road, Baldia Baldia 18
Pak Car Wash, Sultanabad Keamari 18
Block 6, Musharraf Colony Keamari 24
Jinnah Road, Shershah Keamari 24
District Korangi
in front of plot No. 8&9 Sector 15, KIA Korangi 54
in front of furniture market Sector 35C, UC 29 Korangi 18
near National Savings Centre, 15000 Road, UC 18 Landhi 24
near Rehmania Mosque UC 16 Landhi 12
near Jamia Mosque, Usmania, UC 23 Landhi 12
near Jubilee snacks, 12000 Road Landhi 24
in front of Raza Chowk, UC 9 Block 4 Landhi 36
in front of Colony Gate flyover near The Educator, UC 10 Shah Faisal 18
near Muhammadi Masjid Block 5 Shah Faisal 15
in front of UC office Block 5 Shah Faisal 15
in front of Moinabad Wedding Hall, UC 01 Model Zone 24
at Khokhrapar Daak khana UC 4 Model Zone
at Shan-e-Mughlia near Amin Majsid UC 6, Model Colony Model Zone 24
at Telephone Exchange, Model Colony Model Zone 24
at Amin Masjid to UC 6, Gol Ground, Model Colony Model Zone 24
at KDA Morr to Shaheed Chowk Khokhrapar Model Zone 24
at KDA Morr Daak Khana Khokhrapar Model Zone 24
at Saudi Colony Madina Colony, Khokhrapar Model Zone 8
District Malir
at Jalbani Goth UC 12 Malir Town 36
at Sukhio Goth UC 12 Malir Town 36
at Bacho Bakery Khokhrapar No 4 Malir Town 18
Jalbani Goth, UC 12 Malir Town 36
near Got Hospital new Muzaffarabad UC 4, Majeed Colony Bin Qasim Town 18
at Bengali Para UC 1, Dawood Chowrangi Bin Qasim Town 15
near Ayesha Masjid, Zafar Town, UC 7, Quaidabad Bin Qasim Town 15
at Gulshan Society UC 7 Quaidabad Bin Qasim Town 24

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