Karachi’s journey from ‘Paris of Asia’ to ‘Pakistan’s dirtiest city’

By Muhammad Abbas Khaskheli

Karachi’s journey from ‘Paris of Asia’ to ‘Pakistan’s dirtiest city’. Once upon a time, Karachi was considered as the cleanest city of Asia. It’s all main roads including famous Bandar Road were washed with water on daily basis. Amazingly, the city was called the Paris of Asia. In 1840, when British government took control of the city, its population used to be only 20,000, which was comprised on the people dwelling in Liyari and Manora areas only. Talpur dynasty also couldn’t pay heed the core issues of the city i.e. cleanliness and waste management during their tenure of governance. Britishers, pioneered new areas in the city for residential and commercial purposes and resultantly the population of the city had reached more or less 100,000 in year 1890. They too turned the blind eye to the cleanliness of the city hence the consequences appeared were very deplorable. Tons of garbage was being found in the streets, along roadsides and most importantly along the waterfront of the city.

In this way, at the end of the century the city was treated like an orphan and kept becoming filthiest day by day. In 1896, a cargo ship from Calcutta city anchored/reached at Karachi port which according to that time’s media might had brought plague affected rats because Calcutta was suffering seriously owing to plague disease during those days. Those rats found the garbage dumps of the city suitable place for their sustenance and started spreading the plague virus in the city.  

In no time, the plague virus had reached up to the every corner of the city and started affecting the people. Thousands of people were become infectious in plague. People in huge numbers were dying on daily basis during that ruthless episode of plague infection. Government had to import doctors from other areas in order to control the further spreading of the virus. Plague infected people were gathered at one place and almost whole the city was cordoned off. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the era of great writer Albert Camus otherwise he surely would have written a great novel on plague affected people of Karachi. In order to cover the reckless happening in the city and keeping the virus away from further spreading to other parts of the country, the British government made planning for a massive cleanliness drive throughout the city.

After Indo-Pak partition, till 1960 the same system of cleanliness remained functional in the city. As the capital shifted from Karachi to Islamabad, rise of Anti Ayub movement and the worst sociopolitical situation in the country badly affected the system of governance in Karachi.

Historically the year 1972 has been called the beginning of the second period when the city started facing serious cleanliness crises. Everywhere garbage dumps were being seen throughout the city. Stanley Wolpert in his book ‘Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan’ writes that he wrote a letter to that time’s Chief Minister of Sindh Mumtaz Ali Bhutto in which he requested CM Sindh to pay serious attention on the cleanliness of the city and he wishes to see Karachi as the Paris of Asia once again. Unfortunately his wish couldn’t be fulfilled and the system remained as it was going on. Then in 2002 during Musharraf’s regime, a lot of funds were issued to the city government for the cleanliness and beautification of the mega city but it couldn’t get same previous prodigiousness and prominence.

Present cleanliness crisis of Karachi can be called the third period of crisis in the history. MQM-P has been representing the city in both provincial and national assemblies for a long time. Moreover, the party is currently authoritative and holding the charge of the city government. Same way, PPP has been governing the province for consecutive more than 10 years but instead of making the city clean and livable both the parties have been found unrelated regarding the basic issues of Pakistan’s only metropolitan.

Some time ago, in a report it was stated that due to throwing away the garbage in the Arabian Sea continuously and having filthy harbor, the sea life along Karachi’s harbor is facing a great set back. While it was also stated in the same report that the pollution in the city is affecting the lives of Karachiites badly. Numerous diseases have been spread out all over the city. Media has been continuously highlighting the cleanliness crisis of the city but no one from the city, provincial or federal governments have heard such cries. It looks local government’s system regarding cleaning the city has gone fail completely to solve the issue.

Although after numerous complaints and media reports, some time ago the local city government contracted two Chinese companies regarding carrying out cleanliness drive in Karachi. Both the companies had sent their machinery and vehicles/dumpers to pick and dump the garbage dumps present on the road and in the streets of the city and in many areas they started the work too but when one looks at the seriousness of the issue, he/she calls the steps of the government ‘invisible’ because the situation is almost same as it has been for years. 

It’s time to understand that cleanliness is not the issue to be solved once instead it’s a continuous practice and it can be considered as the government’s as well as citizens’ prime responsibility to keep their city clean and attractive. Karachi is measured as the city of well educated and well mannered people but when we look at the cleanliness of the city it never gives the impression of the city which belongs to well educated and well mannered people.

Karachi surely needs a sustainable mechanism of cleanliness which can timely fix the issues. Karachiites also need to play their role and it should be their responsibility to clean houses as well as streets and Mohallas they live in. It’s a joint duty of both government and people otherwise government solely can never solve this mega issue of the mega city.

Karachi’s journey from ‘Paris of Asia’ to ‘Pakistan’s dirtiest city’ 

(The writer is freelance journalist and he can be reached at abbaskhaskheli110@gmail.com)