Last week, a sprawling slum on the banks of the Lyari River and under the Teen Hatti Bridge was a plateau of fire. He was one of three full-scale casualties in a blitz of flames across Karachi. Estimates from Nazimabad firefighters indicate that more than 100 cabins have gone up in smoke. But the state of this community presents a more gruesome picture. In an area of around 360 barracks – a figure from the region’s adviser, Chaman – not one is unharmed.
The first rows of 50 white cotton tents stamped by the Sindh government embroider an apocalyptic image. Distributed by the city administrator of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Murtaza Wahab, they stand among the charred remains to set the stage for another hell.
Frightened residents remember waking up to the flames on Saturday. Cloudy smoke choked the air and their throats, as the fire roared through rows of rows of fabric, plastic, and plywood huts like contagion. Each inhabitant is more desperate than the other to show that all they had is now lost. Burnt fabrics, broken bracelets and medicine bottles, black bricks, oil lamps, petals, memories of goats, chickens and savings are the dark outlines of the fateful morning and firestorm of last year.
“We threw infants and children like dead animals to save them, but the goats and poultry could not be saved. It was as dark as the night. We couldn’t see the children or the road, ”recalls Shankar, a flower merchant.
“What should we do with charity like clothes and ration bags when wood is so expensive and most of us don’t even have a blanket on our head,” says Ajay, a decorator at angry scene.
Left out to defy the onslaught of the sun and winter dew, their children are listless. “They have a cough and a fever. We can’t go to a doctor or give them hot food. Our work has stopped. Here, the women make garlands and gajras, and the men go to fish and flower markets or work as laborers, ”says Purkhi, a mother of four.
When asked if any offices for medical aid, food and documentation have been set up for them, the vice president of the PPP unit in the region, Amanullah, has a grim view. “Someone should have died. When everyone survives, there is no help. Last year there was help, money and offices. They come here to vote. But most of us lost our national identity cards in the fire. Deputy Commissioner Sana Tariq and Murtaza Wahab brought 50 tents, 200 blankets and 50 ration bags. Now we have to fend for ourselves. ”
A portly 80-year-old Pathan on a crutch makes anxious attempts to squeeze through the crowd and Amanullah pulls him in. “I was the only one who was burned,” says Rasool Bux. Wrapped in bandages, he leans his face. Despite his scorched cheek, neck, hair, head and arms, Bux is not counted.
“I’m old with a bad leg, so the fire got me. These boys carried me and took me to the hospital. Why don’t they give us safe, concrete houses here? ”
The UN-Habitat 2003 report, known as the most authoritative book on the state of the slums in the world, states that “the extent to which fires pose a threat to the poorest demographic groups in society is insufficiently documented and poorly understood, especially in Asia, which is home to the largest number of slum dwellers in the world.
However, the situation of informal settlements and their vagaries cast an intense shadow of doubt in Karachi. A survey of the figures collected from fire stations in the metropolis last year revealed that 2,000 fires were reported, including 246 in January and 260 in February. Five of the 2,000 cases were identified as “third degree fires”.
Read more: Karachi on fire
The claims of a central fire station officer, Inayatullah, corroborate these dismal numbers. “These incidents increase during the dry winter months,” he says.
The slum is represented by the Muttahida Qaumi -Pakistan Movement (MQM-P) in the Sindh Assembly, but the city’s indigenous secular party is faceless in the face of this calamity.
MQM-P lawmaker Mangla Sharma said: “The government of Sindh wants to create an urban forest along the Lyari River. Therefore, the cause of the fire is unknown. It was a public statement by Nasir Shah of the PPP. Unlike in the past, we do not have the funds to provide aid and want to lobby in the assembly. ”
Clearly, a threat of eviction for the marginalized and most vulnerable part of society is far from a solution. An awareness campaign, fireproof tents, sanitation, compensation, access to firefighters and designated escape routes are unlikely to undermine the coffers of PPP or MQM-P, while a sprinkler system is a noble ideal. The two political formations can also envisage a profitable inspiration in the regional district. In 2019, Dhaka fought the blaze with an early warning system from South Africa. Lumkani, a detection mechanism, is currently in use in the city’s slums, ensuring rapid community action.
In a landscape of cremated homes and livelihoods, traces such as Shankar’s lone parrot in a cage, Ganga’s diya, Rasool Bux’s scars, will serve as markers of salvaged survival and dissent for both sides, in particular the MQM-P. The people of Karachi have learned to collect absences. For this reason, a dole poll is not his preferred remedy for abandonment.
The writer is journalist and author
Twitter: Reema Abbasi
Posted in Dawn, le 29 November 2021