Planning a disaster

Last December, writing in The Friday Times, I made the following observation:

As I rode home from the airport in a taxi, I passed under the erstwhile Schon circle on the new underpass and scanned it for signs of a drainage system. Unable to immediately spot one, I asked the driver where the water would go if it rained. He just laughed, and I wasn’t sure whether it was at me or the question.

The answer to my question is now a part of Karachi’s folklore. Today Dawn published a damning indictment of everyone involved in the debacle that is the KPT underpass, especially our politicians, and issued a warning that the other four underpasses that are under construction suffer from similar defects.

Will anything be done? Yesterday I went to the protest organised by Shehri at the KPT underpass. Barely 20 people showed up and the police and media presence easily outnumbered the well-behaved protesters. The inimitable Cowasjee was there in his shorts and sun hat, serenely sitting under a makeshift canopy. He’s the only octogenarian I know who high fives when we meet; happily for this city he’s as sharp as ever. But time is running out. As the Dawn investigation reveals, things don’t just seem like they’ve gotten worse, they actually have.

29 Comments so far

  1. kidal (unregistered) on August 4th, 2006 @ 8:59 pm

    Its not all doom and gloom Cy. The problem with Cowasjee and people like him is that negativity has become part of their very mindset. All they do is criticize and issue “damning indictments” of everyone and everything.

    There is a lot of good in this city and these people. And contrary to what you, Shehri, Cowasjee and most major media outlets would have us believe, things haven’t gotten worse. If you took off your “negativity glasses”, you too may be able to see it.

  2. SWA (unregistered) on August 4th, 2006 @ 9:34 pm

    I think some amount of negativity and valid criticism is essential to the proper functioning of a democracy. If we dont criticize and correct people in the government for doing stupid things, who is going to do it? That would be tantamount to giving absolute power to the governing bodies and would be totally against democracy!

    We are stakeholders in the government because they are governing US after all. So if we dont raise our voices against something that seems to be going wrong and try to get it corrected, we would be deserving of the inefficiency and corruption that currently plagues all levels of our country.

    In the case of the underpass, lots of people raised their voices when it was being constructed because they saw that it wasnt planned properly. The government didnt listen to them and made an underpass that doesnt work. Now we need to make sure we drive this point home and make sure that the city gets no more of these inefficient construction practices! All new infrastructure that is being built must learn a lesson from this and make sure that it is professionally designed to international standards!

  3. verysmart (unregistered) on August 4th, 2006 @ 9:35 pm

    The very problem of a all such societies is, that in order to stay alive in media, all they need is something to hang on to. Being negative is their only existance.

    They the blow air in any horn that produce the music of doom.

    Cy, if you give up your Pro-Activist Life style, you probably be able to enjoy a bit more. I never saw you reporting any positive aspect of Karachi’s development ever. Its such a shame when theres quite positive vibes out there.

  4. Umer Zaman (unregistered) on August 4th, 2006 @ 9:42 pm

    BE YOURSELF, is all that you can do.. =D
    it okay guys.. everyone has the freedom of speech, atleast here and CY sure gave us his thoughts about the issue..
    yea its messed up
    and im sure the other under passes would be equally messed up
    but i guess the rain is over and its functioning again and we’ll move on to the next topic in next week
    so Cheeers my friends !! Cheeerss !!

  5. Da-Man (unregistered) on August 4th, 2006 @ 10:01 pm

    I remember Cowasjee criticising the plan of the underpass before it was made. The present debacle proves that his criticism was well founded. Instead of blaming him for being too critical, why not blame the incompetent authorities for their lack of vision? Certainly there are lots of great aspects to Karachi, sadly planning and infrastructure is not one of them.

  6. Cy (unregistered) on August 4th, 2006 @ 11:26 pm

    Kidal, Verysmart: Thanks for the advice to be more sanguine. Both of you obviously know next to nothing about what the ‘critics’ and ‘attention seekers’ are doing to fight the rot in this city, but ignorance is definitely our favourite sin, so comment away.

    I do have a suggestion for you two (and others, too): make up a list of all the ‘development projects’ that Karachi has been blessed with in the past few years and then proceed to check them against commonly accepted standards. If anyone does a half-serious job, I’ll post the results here.

  7. verysmart (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 12:07 am

    NEXT to NOTHING… wow. Seems like you are an expert, arent u

    Let me tell you what do I know, I know that the pseudo-intellectual approach is nothing but the mere method of trying and obtaining importance for those who are seemingly dying to get some.

    Heres the task for you. Dig up the history of all the cities you drool over and try to find out that how many years have shaped them the way they are today. The smallest number of years that you may end up finding out is soemwhere around 100.

    for instance, who would have had thought of Lyari River bypass 10 years ago? Who would have thought of A Clean water river flowing right in the middle of Karachi 10 years ago, now they are about to turn to realities.

    Standards are an issue, yes I understand, but Standards are not achieved in a day or a couple of years, achieving standards requires a certain methodology that takes years of productivity. It requires attitude shaped from the birth.

    I have worked with Hong Kong authorities for expanding their underground telecom infrastructure, I know more metro infrastructure standards than you, Cawasjee and 20 other protesters all summed up.

    I then worked with Karachi city government back in Naimatullah days to design a similar infrastructure for them. I noticed that they just beginning to realize the issues, let alone answering them will take a while. Like they wanted to get a Satellite map for 60cm resolution of the city, but were unwilling to spend Rs.220,000 for it, I offered them a free of cost Parcelling service through university students but asked them to use their premises, which they also refused.

    And when I read about this present city government, I feel that they have advanced from that stage, they have planned some pretty concrete solutions. The karachi master plan is a relevant example, the CDGK bouth a 60cm resolution satellite map and already parcelled (vectored/digitzed) all the utility services on it! I am amazed to look at that.

    Cawasjee was asking for a cloverleaf design for the under/overpass he foresee, which was not possible due to the soil condition of that area, and it was rightfully abandoned.

    Standards will only be achieved if we get a few things slightly below standards and learn from them. Cyril, engineering a city is a far more complex issue than writing articles against it or aranging rallies consisting of THE RICH AND THE BORED!

  8. Cy (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 12:39 am

    Verysmart: I enjoy verbal sparring as much as the next guy, but it’s also a waste of both of our time when you launch off without reading what I have written.

    I didn’t question your impressive credentials; I questioned your knowledge of what the ‘critics’ and ‘attention seekers’ (by your implication) are doing for this city. You even added pseudo-intellectual in your last post for good measure.

    And a river with clean water through the heart of this city? I’ll believe it when I see it (which, according to you, is very soon). And were you also referring to the Lyari expressway? I assume Arif Hassan is qualified enough to engage you on this topic (

  9. verysmart (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 1:06 am

    Dear Cy,
    Lyari Expressway was engineered as inspiration by The Chicago River Expressway.

    Just like Karachi, Chicago is also planned in Grids, and they have bundles of Industrial areas and Markets and Corporate high streets existing right beside the residential areas.

    If you look at the design of Lyari River Expressway, it not only to favour traffic from Port to National or Super highway but also it was interchanges all over the city, which means if you want to commute to Gulshan Iqbal from Nazimabad, you can use the Lyari Expressway and avoid the main roads alltogether.

    So after it will be operational, “everywhere in 20 minutes in karachi” can be said exactly as they say about Chicago.

    As far as the Humanitarian disaster that Mr. Hasan was pointing to in his article, I see thousands of families getting to live in decent appartments in HawkesBay area, evicting the swamps, which they illegally encroched, which resulted in not only stealing the water from the water supply lines but also chocking the sewerage lines whose failure will eventually seen somewhere else in the city in terms of over flowing gutters, specially when it rains.

    The Law and Order threat which these elements pose to the neighbourhood and the entire city was another headache, as they had no permenant addresses to be tracked down to.

    I really dont want to engage in any battle of words, and do feel sorry if I have hurt your feelings in any way. But please and try to be a bit positive.

  10. momers (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 3:01 am

    In reference to Verysmart’s comments.

    I understand it takes time and effort for solutions to become indigenous and adapted to local conditions. Yes every city takes their sweet time to find their footings.

    But in today’s world, in the 21st century, is it necessary that we learn from scratch and reinvent the wheel? With all the information and technology available to us and with the monetary resources available to the governments, does it make sense that such disasters get committed in the first place?

    It’s only when such minor projects, like this measly underpass, fail that one realizes the competence of the builders and engineers that built the Emipre State to take one example. Designed on paper mind you without any computing horse powers available to those people which we take for granted today.

    An underpass and its drainage, (failing for whatever external reasons espoused by the authorities) is not rocket science sir, and I’m sure we can count more rockets that have succeded than there are underpasses in Karachi or Lahore, combined, for that matter.

    What use are grand plans and schemes of things when you have to take a step back every time two steps forward are taken?

  11. verysmart (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 4:15 am

    Momers, I indicated to that perticular reason, Designing a city and its infrastructure does require some serious computing power, a few programs related to this industry are available but at are quite immature at this stage.

    I commented about the previous city governement’s inability and unwilligness to use the Satellite image and digitizing it, which is very much addressed by the present government.

    For instance to understand the whole situation lets take this issue of the under(water)pass;

    Now when a multi-dimensional satellite map have been acquired, processed and digitized, there are a few computer programs which can accomodate a designed project and overlay it on the existing parameters, now this model is run on quite heavy (in terms of processing power and graphics too) machines which takes into account soem of these measures (it depends what module of the software you have bought, like the traffic module will engineer the traffic, the fluid module may gives you result about the flow of water and etc.) now after modelling the entire situation for several hours it gives you the results, in this case, how much water will be accumulated in the underpass if x-milimeters of rain water pours in directly and from the nearby sites.

    Now a satellite image has been acquired this year and is used for planning purposes, I hope they will be able to solve most of the issues. However the fancy software modelling might take sometime to become a reality.

    None of us are true experts of any kind of Municiple sciences, and without understanding the ground realities of the tasks that our engineers and designers have to perform, we shall not embark on a pessimistic voyage.

    Dont refer to buildings which are termed classical because of the very fact that they are flawles and timeless. These examples are pretty scarce, and are considered as a best case examples. Usually things do go wrong and re-designed and re-engineered any where in the world.

    As far as our rocket program is concerned, I guess we already have acquired the computing ability which is required to design a flawless rocket. Its sad, but required, since we do live in a very naughty neighborhood!

  12. verysmart (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 4:59 am

    I have got a pretty great idea, no sarcasm and no joking, i am serious man.

    I guess you know Mr. Cawasjee personally, you can convey this to him.

    To my knowledge he is the owner of the very first Asian company, the shipping company that was established in 1830s by his great great grans. which suggest that he is a reasonably rich guy (probably).

    Now he seems very enthusiastic about the city and development. Can you convince him to start an institution which educates the officers of city governments and students in courses regarding civic facilities and their designing, can be named as THE CAWASJEE INSTITUTE FOR EXCELLENCE IN MUNICIPLE MANAGEMENT.

    Probably he can lure his other rich friends to invest money aswell.

    I think this will be a much more constructive service to the city than protesting to no-ones attention.

    Wht do u say mate

  13. Cy (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 5:10 am

    Verysmart: Send him an e-mail at

    But, and also on a serious note, read the Dawn article in this thread. The problem is clear: the KPT underpass didn’t flood because the technical know-how was lacking; it flooded because the technical objections were overruled.

  14. verysmart (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 5:38 am

    thanx for the email address.
    Ah yes i do realize the underpass issue, but you see the whole system of city Governments is pretty new, and most of the time all the public institute do not end up working together, or in the same interest.

    Like KPT has its own budgets, timelines, priorities and targets, which at times do conflict with the CDGK or DHA or CDA.

    As the system will continue to grow, these problems will be addressed. I am pretty happy to read in today’s paper that City Nazim is given the status of the top auhtority of the city as the settlement for the MQM resignation saga.

    I compare all this with the very democratic governments of Nawaz and Benazir, when we were really at no one’s mercy. Atleast today we can see the Town Nazims running around trying to fix things, may failing initially but trying atleast.

    I am positive, because I am sure that this is the democracy that we need, democracy is a bottom-up process and its finally functioning that way. Now you see Muttaihida and Mullah group engaged in battle of words regarding who can do a better service to the city. I think the only victors emerging from this battle will be us, the people.

    these are kind of things, which make me say.. Musharraf Zindabad.

  15. SWA (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 6:52 am

    Verysmart, you are carrying out a very admirable and knowledgeable debate here. I would like to invite you to join me and a lot of other Pakistani well-wishers on the Pakistan subsection of the forums. Hopefully, your input will be very much appreciated there as well.

  16. verysamrt (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 7:19 am

    I am regular visitor of SSC Pakistan (Mehfil Pakistan), and I absolutely admire the task that you guys are carrying out on that board.

    I am settling back in Karachi for good, in september this year.

    Absolutely Honoured, I would love to join the team.

  17. verysmart (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 7:40 am

    by the way, this looks relevant to the post.

  18. anon_khi (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 10:30 am

    I am 100% with Cy in this discussion. We Karichites are sick and tired of promises, promises and promises. Actions are never louder then words in Karachi.

    Other then the mess in flooded Bathisland, underpass swimming pool, look at 75% plus road that were carpeted. They are all showing cracks and have developed potholes. Is this progress. If all this means headed in the right direction, then God help us. Sometimes we need to put on our realistic glasses on, just like Cy did, and stop looking through the rosy glasses.

    Wake up and smell the city burning.

  19. mansoor (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 10:33 am

    verysmart: your nick does absolute justice to you! i enjoyed reading this whole discussion from top to bottom.

    The one point which i just loved in your discussion was the fact that democracy is a bottom up process, and the battle between MQM and the mullahs can only serve us, the people. Although there are cases when the opposite has been true, i’ve seen much more work being done now than anytime in the past.

    Devolution of power, empowerment at the grassroots level, being buzzwords of the industry, are very well being shaped into reality by this government. Long live Musharraf :)

  20. anon_khi (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 10:34 am

    If you do not acknowledge there is a problem, then you will never move forward.

    Accepting the fact that one messed up, does not make then unpatriotic or critical. It makes then a realistic. Makes them someone who is willing to move ahead in the right direction rather then taking one step forward and three steps forward.

    I am sorry Verysmart, but this city does not need people like you who can do no good to it. You do not even know what the problem is, so how can you be part of the solution.

  21. bathisland (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 11:37 am

    Very well said anon_khi.

    By the way I am sure you meant one step forward and three steps backwards.

  22. MB (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 1:23 pm

    To all of them who are saying “negative” about cowasjee and his being rich etc I hope/believe and advice them to read his columns in DAWN on Sundays. And if they are saying all this without reading them then I have sympathy with them.
    I am neither a friend nor a relative to him. I am just a humble reader reading his columns and others for so many years now and obviously comparing them with the ground realities. I think he is one of few “rich” guys who have a heart for poor in this city. And he sure proves it with words and actions. He is one those few “beech ki deewar’s” against the BIG tanks in his ranks. Chief Justice of SC being the other one.

    By reading his columns you will clearly see he does appreciate things when needed. He has many times appreciated the current City Nazim, specially for he being active, or at least showing that he is active but my dear brother (VERYSMART, KIDAL etc) when there is darkness all around you cannot be positive by force and say there is light at my back when I look ahead and it goes when I see there and comes at my back again. The truth is, unfortunately there are so much corruption/despair around, specially amount the middle class and poor ( coz the upper ones do get their task done by hook or crook) even if the officials do something (assuming they are sincere) you do a serious scrutiny. And once the current city Nazim etc pass the test for few times only then people like Cowasjee will come to believe their sincerity. But for the time being, being in civil service for so many years now, Cowasjee knows the guys at top positions, and their intentions very well then we do.

    But amid all this “negativity” around I sure like your following comment & completely agree to it:

    “I compare all this with the very democratic governments of Nawaz and Benazir, when we were really at no one’s mercy. Atleast today we can see the Town Nazims running around trying to fix things may fail initially but trying atleast. ”

    At least we can hope to have a hope. But you need to pay attention to ANON_KHI’s words as well and he is very right in what he said:
    “Sometimes we need to put on our realistic glasses on, just like Cy did, and stop looking through the rosy glasses. Wake up and smell the city burning. ”
    And this whole discussion was about one area of the city which, for all reasons we know enjoys many facilities which other areas of KHI only can dream of for time being. If you start talking about them, only then you can understand why there is so much “negativity” there.

  23. Da-Man (unregistered) on August 5th, 2006 @ 9:46 pm

    Cowasjee et al suggested a clover leaf instead of an underpass. It was shot down because of soil conditions? If a clover leaf cannot be constructed because of soil conditions, surely an underpass is even more risky. Where is the logic?

    If there was a clover leaf instead of the underpass, don’t you think this whole problem could have been avoided? Now we need electric pumps (electricity is the first to go during a rain storm) to pump out the water from the underpass, and put it where?

    Cowasjee may belong to old money, but he has done a lot more than all the other old monied people of Karachi. He has stood up for the citizens of Karachi all his life. He deserves full credit.

  24. verysmart (unregistered) on August 6th, 2006 @ 1:13 am

    I am not a Civil Engineer, and do not specialize in Structural Integrity Engineering, and your comments suggest that you donot understand anything about it either.

    An over pass has more unstable structure than an underpass, and requires a lot more reinforcements. This is why the data about ground conditions and rock information is more accutely gathered when it comes to designing an overpass.

    The cloverleaf bridge is certainly a lot more heavier design than a normal dual-lane overpass. since it is termed as an A-grade seperation, and multiple stories of overpass are required.

    The Underpass on the other hand sits to disperse nearly the similar weight on ground as previsouly the road was offering, you can yourself verify that the KPT underpass has only three sets of pillar structures supporting the Kheyaban-e-Jami on top of it.

    The drainage system used in the KPT underpass is a pretty standard system used anywhere in the world (all under and over passes have drainage systems). The failure occured when the additional water flowed into it from adjacent roads, failing to drop in t the nallahs which have concrete encrochments built on them.

  25. Da-Man (unregistered) on August 6th, 2006 @ 3:10 am

    On the one hand you claim not to be a civil engineer, and on the other hand you claim with authority that I don’t know what I am talking about. Which is it?

    Do you see that tall buildings built all around the KPT underpass. How is that possible if the soil conditions cannot support a clover leaf?

    Lets have an intelligent conversation, instead of attacking everyone who does not agree with you. BTW Twenty of you cannot match one twentieth of Cowasjee.

    Bottom line is the KPT underpass has proven to be a disaster, it has wasted taxpayers money just like the stupid Worlds Tallest Fountain built by KPT using the worlds biggest kunda. God knows how much more taxpayers money they will waste.

  26. verysmart (unregistered) on August 6th, 2006 @ 4:43 am

    DA-MAN from Mars.

    The Soil condition was not declared by me, it was part of a an open report, and was widely published in all the major newspapers nearly 2 years ago.

    It doesnt matter how tall buildings are being built, the FTC flyover site had been surveyed thrice in the past 5 years for that perticular flyover, and each time the engineers recieved dogged reports, so the design has been revised twice and finally they decided to experiment by putting the same weight on the actual location of the major pillars and recording the effects, which made them revise the design for the third time.

    The problem is not the over all soil of the area, its the type of rock that is under the exact location of the construction.

    However it shall be noted that the same location is host to FTC building aswell. (which is taller than nearly all the buildings built at Schon circle)

    Kindly seek some parental guidance on the topic, I am sure its a bit difficult for your age to understand these things… go play your video games!

  27. mansoor (unregistered) on August 6th, 2006 @ 1:22 pm

    LoL! this discussion is taking a funny turn.

    VerySmart: i’m on your side in this disucussion… just to let u know.. ur not alone ;)

  28. verysmart (unregistered) on August 6th, 2006 @ 4:55 pm

    U have been a wonderful ally… grateful dude!

  29. Da-Man (unregistered) on August 6th, 2006 @ 8:40 pm


    Maybe you were the one who unloaded the “suriya” on the construction site so you are taking it personally. At least there were no more snide remarks about Cowasjee in your final post.

    Since you feel so strongly about defending the obviously flawed design of the underpass, I think your time would be better spent if you take a bucket and a long bamboo that you could drag behind your cycle to take care of the problem. Granted it might be quite a long ride from your abode in Lalukhet.

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