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Desperate Christians face homelessness in Pakistan

Thousands of Karachi residents face losing their homes without being compensated with land or cash

Desperate Christians face homelessness in Pakistan

Gujjar nullah in Karachi. More than 4,000 concrete structures have to be demolished on both sides of the drain, according to the Urban Resource Centre. (Photo supplied) 

Mandha Bibi is on the brink of losing her home of 50 years, a tiny one-room house she shares with her daughter on the bank of a drain in Karachi.

“We are hearing that cranes will be arriving any time soon to demolish 70 percent of my house. They have already destroyed hundreds of other houses along the drain,” Bibi told UCA News.

The 80-year-old Christian widow and her daughter live in the 50-foot house built by her late husband five decades ago.

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Ironically, she is a pensioner of Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), the public body which has been carrying out a so-called anti-encroachment drive.

Bibi says daughter Shazia serves the community by teaching local children and the two survive on her pension.

“All we are left with is this house comprising one room, a kitchen and a toilet. Where will we go if it gets demolished? The government hasn’t given a single penny to compensate our loss despite promises,” she said.

Bibi is one of the 600 Christian families who are going to be displaced by the anti-encroachment drive at Gujjar nullah (drain).

The decision to remove encroachments and clean up the pollution and sludge from three city water drains was taken in August last year in the aftermath of severe urban flooding caused by record rainfall.

The task was handed over to Frontier Workers Organization, a military engineering and construction organization.

There are over 4,000 concrete structures which have to be demolished on both sides of Gujjar nullah, according to the Urban Resource Centre.

The survey conducted by the district administration and KMC found that there are 3,100 people affected along Gujjar nullah as their houses have to be at least "30 percent demolished."  

At Mehmoodabad nullah, there are 239 structures which will be affected, out of which 58 were at least 30 percent demolished.

KMC has 38 nullahs and they are all being cleaned under the World Bank project SWEEP.

Sunila Anwar, a social mobilizer of Caritas Karachi, lamented the total lack of empathy on the part of the Sindh provincial government. 

“Thousands of Christians, Muslims and Hindus residing along the drain have been rendered homeless without being compensated in the form of land or cash. They have nowhere to go,” she told UCA News. 

“Most of the affected families have been living here for five to six decades. When the Lyari Express project was launched, those affected were given land and cash well in advance. We are not against the project at all. Our protest is with the manner it is being done.” 

According to Mansha Noor, executive director of Caritas Pakistan Karachi, monthly rainfall was normally 68 millimeters in Karachi but last year 587 millimeters was recorded in August alone. Since no system existed to clear the rainwater, residents suffered a huge urban flood.

“Many houses were destroyed, streets resembled rivers, cars and motorcycles floating, and people swimming. The true hurt and damage was visible after the water receded,” he said.

Caritas Pakistan Karachi reached suffering people and distributed food, temporary shelters and even some medical facilities in collaboration with other organizations.

"But we cannot ignore the causes, including the accumulation of waste along the storm drains that run through the city and even the illegal construction of houses which prevented rainwater from draining," Noor added.

Zahid Farooq, joint director of the Urban Resource Center, told UCA News that Karachi has many development projects such as the Circular Railway, regional public transit system and the restoration of drains. 

“Yes, we accept that they are for the betterment of the people and for the future of our city, but before the government started demolishing houses, small businesses and shops, people had been promised that no houses would be demolished until alternative shelter was provided," he said.

“None of the residents know when and where they will be given alternative housing. The affected people are sitting on their demolished house’ debris. Even we have not seen the environmental impact assessment that concerns how much money will be given as compensation to displaced people.”

Farooq said the government should share its plan because it is connected with people's livelihoods, earnings, education, social and religious status.

“We are ready to assist the government and help people who are having a difficult situation because of this,” he said.

Karachi Bachao Tehreek (Save Karachi Movement), a body representing social activists, has announced plans to hold a protest on March 6 against the ongoing demolition drive.

It called for the government to immediately halt the operation to demolish houses and conduct a survey as per the “one person, one house" policy of the World Bank. All schools, churches and mosques likely to be affected should be documented.

The group demanded that government pay 1 million rupees (US$6,325) per displaced family and 500,000 rupees for the mental trauma they had to endure.

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