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A Gunrun Project


Topic Topics Environment Urbanization

Amar Guriro, a Karachi-based environmental journalist, and a WaterAid Fellow, has named Machar Colony “The town of miracles.” As we walk through piles of rubbish surrounding children using the streets as a playground, he explains that surviving here is only possible by the appearance of small miracles.

Machar Colony is built on land reclaimed from the sea. Where mangroves once grew, migrant workers settled down slowly and filled the swamp with literally any materials they found. Over the years it became the city’s second largest slum, home to approximately 700,000 people from many nationalities including Afghans, Bangladeshis, Biharis and Burmese.

The slum, still considered an illegal settlement, is not marked on most maps as inhabited. The settlers had no assistance in creating a water pipe or sewage draining system, or support for any kind of basic infrastructure. The government does not provide basic facilities such as gas and electricity; and slum dwellers do not have access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

A major sewage drain passes through the colony carrying raw sewage and toxic waste straight to the sea. As no one collects the household waste the locals dump the garbage directly into the open canal. With time the thick layer of garbage becomes a floating carpet that bears the weight of a man.

The people rely solely on themselves to survive amongst these harsh conditions no matter how complicated the task. To retrieve potable water, they drill holes into a large water pipe that runs along the main road. After connecting to the main hub a small web of plastic pipes are laid over the floating garbage running the stolen water through a system of small pumps and pipes where it is syphoned into small underground tanks situated throughout the settlement. At this stage dealers divert the water through another series of pumps and pipes to provide to individuals who can afford this service.

To dispose of the garbage, people have no other choice but to set it on fire. Not surprisingly, as water pipes melt, the sewage water mixes with the potable. By drinking the often contaminated water the majority of children almost constantly suffer from viral infections, respiratory disorders and waterborne diseases. According to residents, three months prior to my visit, at least four children died after falling into the sewage water drain.

A man fills up his water tanks with water he purchased from a local dealer who stores potable water in an illegal underground storage in Karachi's Machar Colony, Pakistan on November 3, 2009. Left with no other option, he spends a fifth of his monthly income buying water he knows is often not fit for human consumption and leads to infections that regularly plague his children.

A man fills up his water tanks with water he purchased from a local dealer who stores potable water in an illegal underground storage in Karachi’s Machar Colony, Pakistan on November 3, 2009. Left with no other option, he spends a fifth of his monthly income buying water he knows is often not fit for human consumption and leads to infections that regularly plague his children.

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