Karachi: The backbone of Pakistan

If Karachi sinks in the flooding, all of Pakistan will bleed economically. The current wave of heavy downpour is considered a curse on Karachi—a city of more than 20 million people with a gigantic industrial sector, vibrant economic, trade and business activity, a sea port that is responsible for all maritime security arrangements, sea trade and traffic and a source for ample seabed resources. Rain flooding is a natural calamity; poor infrastructure and misgovernance are man-made. In the case of Karachi, if a city is housing people more than its real capacity, when the city is expanded with informal real estate business which has been one of the thriving businesses for many migrant and indigenous communities, when the municipal and development authorities such as Karachi Municipal Corporation and Karachi Development Authority were victim of ‘ghost employees’, political corruptions and forced appointments by local influential stakeholders; the city essentially meets the fate of flooded rain water. Monsoon in Karachi has always been troublesome because it disrupts life and economic activity in the city for weeks. For many other places, the stagnant water and oozing gutters bring unhygienic conditions, diseases and various infections. In Karachi, overflowing rills and diseases are secondary issues; the foremost problem is unannounced and endless electricity breakdowns which impact industrial efficiency and production. Nothing can be run in industries without electricity. It’s an essential element to run industry in Karachi and the production, supply, exports are totally dependent on the same industrial efficacy and performance.
Karachi is referred as Pakistan’s economic backbone because of few reasons. A backbone serves as a major pillar to support the human body’s weight and make the physical structure balanced with flexibility. It is a central point for the nerve structure from neuropathic domains to mental and psychological reflexes; our internal and external physical movement depends on the strength of our spinal cord and backbone. When the backbone is weak or broken, the entire human body is in shambles and human beings are bedridden for months to heal. In most cases, the backbone never heals completely because of the devastating injury. Take the same case with Karachi as an economic backbone and commercial capital of Pakistan. It is the headquarter of all major financial and trade enterprises including head offices of major national and international banks such as the State Bank of Pakistan, Standard Chartered, Habib Bank, Faysal Bank etc. Karachi Stock Exchange is not only oldest and largest stock exchange, but was declared as one of the top Asian stock markets and 5th best performing stock index internationally by Bloomberg Report 2016. It has major international and national airlines offices, multinational corporations such as Emirates, Qatar Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Lever Brothers, Phillips, Procter and Gamble etc. A city which generates 65 percent of national tax revenue; contributes 25 percent to the country’s total GDP (whatever Sindh produces, Karachi’s share is up to 95 percent), has major automobiles manufacturing companies like Suzuki and Toyota, fisheries and shipyard, petroleum companies, the biggest textile industry, and caters two of the biggest industrial areas of Pakistan; Mangopeer and SITE. Karachi signifies and equalises its role in Pakistan as that of the backbone in a human body. If injured, the economy of Pakistan will be injured badly too. All this economic strength continues despite the eras of sporadic violence and conflict for the past 7 decades. If a city holds a central place in a country’s economy in spite of all the violent and risky security dynamics, political corruption, ethnic fault lines and sectarian/religious differences; imagine what wonders it can create in comparatively peaceful times.
Karachi saw its heaviest downpour, recorded 345 millimetres which broke the earlier record of 298 millimetres, killed many people and displaced thousands from their homes, damaged infrastructure and crops of almost $10 billion as per Asian Development Bank estimates. The GDP of Karachi alone is $449 million per day. With a month of showers, disrupted economic activity, power breakdowns and business shutdowns; imagine how much Karachi has lost which ultimately impacts the overall economy of Pakistan within a month?
The backbone is injured not only through the natural calamity of rain floods but also because of weakening physical infrastructure and poor governance. Karachi consists of expanded squatter settlements with 50 percent of the total population and where the city’s municipal authorities may not function well. The city’s administration is not efficient enough to function in the formal and planned areas also. With increasing population and industrialisation, Karachi needs sustainable ‘smart’ physical infrastructure with maximum facilities of the draining and sewerage system.
Ensuring uninterrupted electricity supply is another domain. Karachi is the third biggest city in the world and it has no modern public transport system like metro or subway trains. Rain floods are not just because of seasonal rains, it is an undesirable consequence of heavy industrialisation and climatic degradation also. Karachi needs to implement the Singapore model of smart urban development where industry sustains, tourism and economic activity burgeons and greenery is intact because of suitable and efficient physical infrastructure and good governance. Our injured economic backbone deserves urgent treatment to have a better and prosperous Pakistan.

The writer is Assistant Professor-Peace and Conflict Studies, at the National Defence University, Islamabad. She tweets @mariasaif.

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