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Friday, July 29, 2016
- Imagine a river bursting its banks and flooding entire cities and towns. But when the river is made of malodorous garbage and is in Beirut, this is a stark and dramatic situation affecting the city’s 2.226 million people.
It all started in July 2015, when the Lebanese administration closed the major landfill of the city. Since then, trash is being piled all over the streets of Jdeideh in Beirut’s northern suburbs. This river of garbage grew steadily, as reported in recent days by a wide section of news media, including Al Jazeera, CNN and Reuters. Thousands of kilometers away in Pakistan, a very similar situation is reported by Dawn.
By Hajrah Mumtaz
This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan
IT may have been an unconventional form of protest, but it certainly echoes the frustration and helplessness many in Pakistan feel, especially if they happen to be cursed with an honest nature which in this jungle can often prove tobe ahindrance.
On Thursday, a man named Alamgir Khan filled a trolley with rotting garbage and was arrested (he was granted bail later) as he was attempting to dump it in front of the Chief Minister`s House in Karachi`s `red zone`. This was his last-resort idea to try and attract the attention of the head of the provincial government to the unsanitary condition that plagues the city: the malodorous piles of waste in every locality, the inability of most citizens to walk down a street without being assailed by stench. Try and see how you lil
Had he succeeded in placing his consignment of filth at the city administration`s doorstep, where the great and the good wouldn`t help but trip over it, would such an extreme step have made someone take notice? Unfortunately enough, I doubt it.
From some desk behind those high walls, a clean-up would have been decreed; and as those at the helm of affairs in administration zipped by in their cars with darkened windows, I don`t think they would have been paying attention.
After all, this was not Mr Khan`s first attempt to draw attention to the state of the city and its infrastructure. His earlier efforts under the #fixit banner gained a lot of publicity; he had taken the novel approach of stencilling an image of Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah next to piles of garbage and some of the innumerable open manholes and potholes in the city, with the demand that it should be fixed.
That caused enough of a stir in official circles for Mr Khan to allege police harassment, and the chief minister took enough notice to warn the relevant officials to `fix it`, but we`re still waiting for the news that the slug of officialdom has finally been stirred into any sort of action.
So what does a person have to do to get the state to tune in and actually perform some of its duties? Some traders in Karachi`s Saddar area must have been pondering over the same question earlier this month when they organised a `gutter fashion show` in the lanes inundated by sewage where their shops are located.
One of the shopkeepers told the media that it had been three months since the area had been flooded, and that `hundreds` of applications to the chief minister`s office and the Karachi Water and Sewage Board had netted no response. Now, their customers had dried up and their incomes were badly affected. Sothey placed a commode in the filth, and a picture of the chief minister next to it, and people sashayed barefoot down the `catwalk`.
There is truth to what the president of the Karachi Tajir Alliance Association of Bohri Bazaar told the media: that elected representatives `feel proud of going to the fashion shows of the elite class whereas slum residents do not have clothes to wear and are forced to live amid overflowing gutters. So I decided to arrange a fashion show featuring the misery of the common man`.
After this became news, shopkeepers in the area did say that a sanitation team visited and the area has become less flooded.
But elsewhere in the city, in other cities and towns, the problem of garbage and sewage accumulation remains. Does everybody have to resort to such humiliating inelegancies to get their administrations to do the worl< for which they were appointed? In terms of Karachi specifically, part of the problem is that state inattention, and the civic status quo, have solidified into a longterm bad habit. The city administrationdoesn`t care, and hasn`t done so for so long that many citizens have even stopped expecting it to care. If, once in a while, by some miracle, something that benefits citizens in terms of city infrastructure does occur, the generalfeeling is that of surprise.
Surely there must be a limit past which it would not be possible for people to tolerate their filthy environs. But that limit has come and gone, it is possible to argue. The trouble is the old one: those who are in positions to force a change either those in positions of administrations or those who form a powerful lobby by virtue of their positions in society aren`t really affected.
That only leaves the option exercised by residents of Skardu on Friday: tired of waiting for the administration to fix potholes in major roads, about 50 people picked up pickaxes and got to work themselves. Again, people told the media that they had repeatedly called upon the authorities to do the needful, but in vain. Which leaves the honest amongst us thinking, yet again, what do we pay taxes for? A placard held by one person there read: `The people will make roads, and will awaken the sleeping government.` But I wouldn`t hold my breath.
The writer is a member of staff. firstname.lastname@example.org