Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Will The DHA's Storm Drains Even Work?

A few months ago the Defence Officer's Housing Authority (DHA) decided to dig up Phases 5 and 6 of Defence (a 'posh' area of Karachi located close to the sea) in order to install storm water drains. This move came after the DHA was heavily criticized for ignoring these drains which caused these areas to become submerged after last year’s rains.

Now that the DHA has undertaken this gargantuan task, it has come under renewed criticism for conducting the project in a slip shod manner. Storm water drains are usually found under footpaths but since the DHA never made any provisions for footpaths, they’ve had to lay these drains under roads thus rendering the entire road network of these areas a right a mess; it literally takes forever to get anywhere, and quite a few resident have had to park their cars a good distance away from their house and walk on gangplanks to enter. (Click here for a report on the dangers posed by the construction works - Courtesy: The News.)

The DHA may not be doing this the right away but at least they’re doing something, a few months of dug up roads is better than being submerged each year.

But recently I sat through a conversation, between three 70-year olds (2 engineers, 1 renewable energy expert) who questioned the very effectiveness of these drains. The three gentlemen have worked their entire lives on development for the Government so they do know a little about what they’re saying. They have the following concerns:

1. No Sound Foundation for the Concrete Drains

The drain is constructed by using pre-fabricated concrete blocks that weigh a great deal. The ground on which they are being laid is extremely soft and groundwater level is quite high. Thus, for the drains to remain level , the ground has to be prepared and a ‘foundation’ of rocks has to be laid. This has not been done. As a result the ground may sink in due to the weight of the concrete blocks and the added weight of the vehicles plying on top of the blocks.

2. Lack of Gradient

An effective drainage system makes use of one basic natural force – Gravity. The drains must therefore have a set declining angle that allows water to run downstream. These three gentlemen don’t appear to think that the DHA has done their homework and as a result, water will accumulate and stagnate in certain pockets. This problem is also linked to problem 1, if a section of the drain sinks, it disrupts the flow of the water and the water stagnates. One way of overcoming this problem may be to install huge suction pumps at the discharge site but there is no provision in the design for this.

3. Tidal / Storm Surge

Unlike the rest of Karachi’s storm water drains, which lead to backwaters or ‘rivers’, the DHA drains discharge on the Clifton Beach. (I have no idea of the impact this will have on the beach, I’m not putting my money on the impact being positive.) The Drain is therefore directly exposed to adverse sea conditions, which more often than not, are accompanied by heavy rains. Anyone living at Sea View, or having gone to Sea View during heavy rain, should have witnessed waves crashing onto the rock wall and at times spilling over on to the road. To be fair these events remain rare, but if and when they do occur they could cause the storm drains to fail and in extreme (very extreme) cases work in reverse.

I don’t really know what to make of these concerns. The three gentlemen do know what they're talking about which means we're in for some trouble down the road. At the same time I can't help but feel that they may have certain issues with the Pakistani government. It may just be the case that these guys may have become so jaded by their first hand experiences of witnessing the government screwing up development projects that they just cannot trust public bodies to do anything properly. And the DHA may well be one of the worst offenders when it comes to screwing up Public Works. I just hope that the DHA has learnt from its experiences and knows what it's doing.


Anecdotes of Government Screw-ups (as highlighted by these three guys)

  • In the early 90s, one of them worked for the Federal Government and presented a renewable energy policy for far flung villages of the country, beginning with sites at Sindh and Baluchistan. The policy stipulated that the energy requirement of these villages was extremely low and did not necessitate them being connected to the National Grid – he held that such a connection would be more expensive, would take a longer time and would waste a lot of energy. (Anyone seeking a demonstration of our wasteful National Grid should check this graphic out from an earlier post by NB) The initial stage, which saw the establishment of solar powered tube wells, received a go-ahead after UNICEF, EU and other International Donors stepped in to foot the bill. For its part, the Government of Pakistan was only asked to take care of minor technical problems and routine maintenance; complex maintenance issues would be tackled by the International Donors. A number of solar powered tube wells were set-up in Sindh and Baluchistan and dramatically improved the living conditions of the people living there. UNICEF officials conducted 6 month survey of these sites and found out that the Pakistani Government had completely failed to live up to its part of the bargain – many of the pumps were out of order for such ‘complex’ problems as loose nuts, damaged wiring, etc,. Despite numerous warnings, the Federal and Provincial governments failed to do anything and the project was terminated.
  • In the 1990s the Sindh Rural Water and Supply Development Board, with its office in Karachi had the use of the following vehicles: One Suzuki Potohar, One Suzuki Bolan (High Roof) and Two Honda CD 70s (Motorcycles). As the name suggest, the jurisdiction of this Board is Rural Sindh and the officials were expected to travel to Dadu, Tharparkar, etc. in the said vehicles. You can just guess how often they undertook those visits! UNICEF bought the Board a Land Cruiser and a Hilux, thus allowing officials to travel to these areas, which at the time they did. But since UNICEF pulled out the Board has had no money to maintain these vehicles, which are now rotting away; the Board is back to using a Suzuki High Roof (the Potohar was written off after it overturned in interior Sindh).


Ali said...

i wonder if we can afford to get a few japanese engineers in to sort this out. one of my good friends growing up was half japanese, half hungarian, and he unashamedly rates the japanese over all other 'qaums'. recently he told me how japan is going to sink in about 100 years (or was it 50), but "if there's anyone that could successfully build underwater cities, i wouldn't be surprised if it's the japanese. for starters, they've built those palm tree islands in the u.a.e."

Farooq said...

Get your mind out of the gutter.

Get it?? Hahahah. TOTALLY works in this context.

NB said...

Nice post Aks. You the man Jintao!

AaogQt said...

oh my lord, i haven't 'you the man jintao' since gdl exams!!!

"what's R v Pagett about?"
"the eggshell-skull rule"
"you the man jintao!"