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The Lyari River Project - Scoping Study Examines Environmental Implications


The Environmental Scoping Study reveals that the Lyari harbour area, which was meant to be a spillway to control the flow of flood water, is now choked by accumulated debris. Every month, 9,000 tonnes of debris enter this river, almost entirely uncleaned.

When we talk about River Lyari and the fact that we are interested in cleaning it, some facets need to be understood. These facets determine the nature of solutions that will be required or can prove to be most effective to achieve our intended purpose.

Firstly, the river though transient, is an important part of Karachi’s geography. It is a natural water channel that helps to drain surface runoff. As a seasonal river, it carries the collected water after the rains in the catchment area. Historically, this river used to be a clean water body where natural flora and fauna thrived. Post-independence, when refugees settled along its banks, the river’s ecology transformed, and it has since then become a channel for the discharge of industrial, city waste and sewage. So sadly, from a natural water body, Lyari has transformed into a sewage canal.

A place with houses and a river covered in residues

Secondly, since independence to this day, there has been no cohesive effort of cleaning the waters of this river. According to a study conducted by NED University, 500 million gallons of waste per day (MGD) flow from the river to the Arabian Sea. The study also revealed that there is a dangerous level of heavy metals, nickel and chromium, present in the Lyari river. Apart from this, other contaminants were also found in the river which is way beyond National Environmental Quality Standards. This is because the industrial companies along the river bed discharge their effluents into the river.  To further add to this problem, squatter communities along the banks of the river throw their trash in the river, and a large portion of the trash is polythene bags.

The principal tributaries that discharge surface runoff to the Lyari River are Mokhi nullah, which originates in the Taiser hills, Orangi nullah, which originates in the Orangi hills, and Gujar nullah, which originates in the Manghopir hills. These arteries remained choked due to a sizeable amount of trash and waste in the drains.

A tractor removing rubbish from the river with houses around

The choked arteries of Gujjar Nallahs

Via the Lyari outfall, 8,000 tons of solid waste is dumped into the harbour each day. Marine Pollution Control Department - MPCD is removing 2.5 Metric tonnes of solid waste from the harbor daily.

Plastic accounts for approximately 40% of the debris that is removed, of this plastic waste a large amount is attributed to polyethene bags. What is even more alarming is that the removal and efforts of the MPCD are good enough to resolve less than 3% of the problem and quantum. 

Keeping the Lyari river clean is not the job of one institution. A collective approach must be taken to this matter, and we must not just look at the removal of garbage and trash in the water through technology, but also at closing the tap at the community level, and building a sense of consciousness and civic sense towards Karachi’s natural geography and ecology. It is also important to look at the waste management sector which just due to the quantum of garbage in the city, can be profitable if capabilities for recycling, repair and repurposing are built for the better.

As part of The Ocean Cleanup and Coca‑Cola's global partnership to stem the tide of plastic waste by intercepting it in rivers around the world, they are looking to build a coalition that explores solutions to clean the Lyari harbor area.