Seemingly harmless manholes scattered across streets and roads are swallowing children. This week, on 25thJune, ten year old Shahzeb Gul lost his life after falling into an uncovered manhole in Hyderabad. Last week, on 22ndJune, seven year old Danish met the same fate. It took two hours to pull out his body from the manhole in Hyderabad. Last year in July two minor girls were killed after falling into an open manhole in Maryam Town, Lahore. Kinza and Fatima were just two years old.
Numerous deaths by falling into open manholes have occurred across the country. In many cases residents of the area had made complaints to the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) prior to the incidents, but no action was taken. Be it federal or provincial, be it past or incumbent, all the governments who failed to take adequate measures are responsible for the deaths of these little children.
Many will point fingers at the grieving parents for failing to look out for their children. But victim blaming is never the answer. Ideally, children should not be playing in the streets where the ongoing vehicles and open manholes pose a risk. However, parents cannot always take the children to more suitable locations like the beach or a park. This is specially the case in low income households where both parents are working to survive.
Slums inhabited by the underprivileged tend to be densely populated; houses seem to push each other in order to maintain their very existence. Little children living in such spaces often gather to play as a community. They have little other sources of entertainment. Devoid of toys, books and expensive electronic devices, their games consist primarily of running, hiding, cricket and football on the narrow lanes and winding streets spotted with manholes. Thus these children and their parents cannot be held liable for the tragedies which befall them.
The government is negligent in leaving manholes open and should be held accountable for the deaths this has caused. There must be justice for the departed little souls. The children who continue to play must be safeguarded along with every other citizen, because adults have also been victims of these death holes. When PSL was being held in March, an elderly man, fondly known as ‘Chacha Cricket’, fell into a manhole outside the National Stadium and severely injured himself. In April this year, two adults died as a result of falling into a manhole in Bahawalpur.
How many more tragic deaths will it take for the government to stop being negligent? Covering open manholes may seem like a trivial task, but the failure to do so is having dire consequences. Someone must be held liable for the deaths which have resulted. The bureaucracy cannot continue to function like an untouchable juggernaut. Negligence cannot be forgiven. Individuals in charge at CDA and WASA who ignored complaints made by citizens should be discharged from duty at the very least.
Uncovered manholes causing deaths is not a new concern. The issue gained popularity back in 2016, when Alamgir Khan- currently serving as PTI’s MNA- first began covering open manholes in Karachi. Yet today, three years later, children and adults are still falling into open manholes and meeting tragic deaths. According to a survey conducted by WASA, 286 manholes still need to be covered in Rawalpindi alone. One can just imagine the numbers for major cities like Karachi and Lahore being twice this. But where did all the lids go?
Manhole lids are both easily removable and valuable- due to the heavy weight iron. One lid can be sold for thousands of rupees. As a result of this, they often get stolen by petty thieves looking to make a quick buck. In order to overcome this, WASA has started placing fiberglass covers over open manholes in Lahore. These covers have zero scarp value and thus are unlikely to be stolen. Two thousand such fiberglass lids were imported by WASA last year, but the project has yet to be implemented nationwide.
The governments- federal and provincial- must ensure all manholes across the country are covered up, or the blood of innocent children and adults will be upon their hands. Their failure to achieve such a simple task will also call into question both their capability as leaders and their dedication to serve the people. If the government can’t even perform such a simple task, will they be able to do anything else?