Monday, 20 July 2009


I've never seen anything like the past 24 hours. The dying drainage system in Karachi is unable to cope with the monsoon rains that we're experiencing. Then of course, the power goes out, plunging the entire city into an existence that existed pre-electricity - the lights and the fans go out and you begin to feel the oppressive heat rise. Some cope with UPS temporary systems. Others run their own mini generators, but the majority of this city of 18 million live with darkness and wait it out hoping that their domestic water supply doesn't run out.

Last night we needed a taxi to get to the airport to pick up my brother. At 3am, the city was completely dark and knee high in water. There were people - mostly the homelesss who don't even qualify for a cramped room in the slums - sleeping out under makeshift canopies. I tried to navigate by virtue of a pen torch and kept close to the crumbling walls and steps of nearby buildings, but at one point I found myself having to wade through a flooded road when I lost footing after a wrong step. This water, which killed at least 30 people, is the mix of rain and sewerage that laps gently along what people in Karachi would probably called side-walks. Of course in the dark, you're completely unsure where the pot holes are and what other foul things are in the water. There's the stench, litter and rotting food, even before you get to the more grim things like vermin, snakes, effluence and disease. Should the electricity suddenly come on, then the fallen electric cables add to the death-traps. My skin was itching when I got home and I felt like I needed a full sterilisation. In the end there was no running transport and I barely slept because there was no way that I could get to the airport to pick up my brother. The contacts at the airport did not answer our calls and then the phone networks began to come down.

I don't know how the people of Karachi continue to live with this. This is a country with a chronic illiteracy rate and a health system that is running on empty. The basics, such as clean piped water are missing and yet billions have been spent by unstable governments on a nuclear bomb. My family here question every aspect of this country's governance - from the war on terror, corruption and failure to meet basic needs. Add to that a complete sense of paranoia about the country's legitimacy and purpose and the continuing border issues with Afghanistan and India. The conflicts in the Pashtoon and Baloch heartlands are the symptoms that stem from a sense of neglect and exclusion. Pakistan's short history is one of a catalogue of wide-scale corruption, political disasters and bouts of military dictatorships, loot and further loot. It currently ranks as 138 on the world peace index and there's a common belief that Pakistan relies on disasters and conflicts surrounding it so that aid continues to pour in.

During the day, when your eyes begin to adjust, despite having accepted it earlier, the reality that Karachi is one of the world's most filthiest places, really begins to dawn on you.

At least I have the option to fly out.

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