Ticking time bombs: the problem of illegal and dangerous structures in Karachi

Ticking time bombs: the problem of illegal and dangerous structures in Karachi

Ticking time bombs: the problem of illegal and dangerous structures in Karachi

The Shershah scrap market blast brings to light the problem of illegal and dangerous structures in Karachi.

At the spot where an explosion in the Shershah scrap market occurred on Dec 18, causing at least 18 deaths, spectators silently watch the rescue work under way a few days after the tragedy.

The explosion, which occurred in a bank building built on top of a drain, has once again brought to light the menace of illegal constructions and flouting of civic codes that has created countless ticking time bombs across this metropolis, as the authorities concerned have sat by as idle spectators for decades.

The fact is that Karachi has become a jungle of unplanned vertical structures and buildings built on encroached land, amenity plots and drains. The result is a number of deadly building collapses and other such incidents that have taken a high toll in the megacity.


According to the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), there are four major drains in the city including Gujjar, Orangi, Sukkan and Thaddo nullahs that carry the city’s sewage. The sewage arrives into these nullahs from 18 smaller drains and several other minor branches that span across the city.

This is not the first time a blast has occurred in structures built on top of drains. Some years ago, a blast happened in Karachi’s electronics market, in a mobile market established on a nullah. Meanwhile, several installations have already been established on nullahs such as Aurangzeb Market on M.A. Jinnah Road and KMC Aziz Uddin Gaddi School established on the nullah behind Sindh Secretariat. The list of such structures is actually quite a long one.

Kashif Ali, who lives in the New Karachi area, told Bol News that New Karachi’s Godhra Timber Market stretches for four kilometres including Nullah stop, Five Number Market, Laal Market, Kali Market and Sindhi Hotel, Allahwalla etc. All these are established on nullahs, according to him.

“Thousands of people are working here,” he pointed out.

He added that there are some other encroachments on drains such as New Karachi Yousuf Goth, different parts of Surjani Town, Pehlwan Goth at Gulistan-e-Jauhar, surroundings of PIA Society etc.

“I wonder how they get utilities on encroached land”, Kashif observed.


“We as the residents of the city that are struggling for better planning and environment in Karachi are deeply concerned by the encroachments on nullahs,” he lamented.

Amber Alibhai of Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment, an NGO working in the civic sector, termed the encroachments on nullahs as a “serious environmental hazard.”

“We are living on heaps of garbage and sewage is being dumped into the sea without being treated,” she added. “Instead of doing something about this, we just bury our heads in the sand.”

Established landmarks and buildings such as Shaheen Complex, Tughlaq House, Sindh Secretariat and Urdu Bazaar are all established on nullahs, she claimed.

“There are 20,000 housing units established over the different nullahs. How can we possibly remove all these encroachments?”

Government response


Recently, the government carried out a drive against encroachments along the Gujjar and Orangi nullahs and demolished several houses that “incited violence” as the government is helpless to compensate these unfortunate people, stated Ms Alibhai.

“The government must clear all encroachments on nullahs including those that are considered government offices and high-rise buildings. Otherwise, we may see another [tragedy] in future,” she warned.

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