A total of 13 people, including seven children and three women, lost their lives in the tragic Gulistan-i-Jauhar landslide. The landslide that occurred at 2 am buried three shanties located on a plot in Block 1 of Gulistan-e-Jauhar area when most of the residents were asleep. This incident is a cruel reminder of the plight of the underprivileged, living in slums in urban areas in hopes of a better life. It is a continuation of events witnessed this year where slums have been abolished in Islamabad and Karachi, leaving thousands homeless and leaving them with no tangible options to turn to.

An investigation conducted by a private news channel into the landslide revealed that the calamity may have been a result of ‘China-cutting’, a term coined for illegal expansion and encroachment of land. This is highly surprising for a place like Karachi where some of the largest slums in South Asia exist.

The process of expanding the hilly area to make it suitable for construction involves digging into the hills at the base, leading to the ultimate collapse, and a consequent landslide. Following the developments, Commissioner Karachi, Shoaib Siddiqui has announced a ban on any further construction plans in hilly areas of the city. To make the suffering of the victims’ families worse the rescue operation suffered a long delay, as the heavy machinery from the concerned departments arrived at least two and half hours after the incident and the removing of the rubble itself took five hours. This speaks volumes of the preparedness of our disaster response authorities. We are simply not prepared to deal with emergency situations in an effective way and it is something the Sindh government must prioritize.

Just a week ago the Supreme Court has directed the federation and provinces to submit a concrete plan for providing shelter for homeless people in response to a petition filed by the Awami Workers Party against the demolition of the Sector I-11 katchi abadi (slum) by the Capital Development Authority (CDA). The court observed and it is high time that they did so that something tangible was done for public welfare.

Providing shelter is a fundamental responsibility of the state, which has so far been ignored and overlooked blatantly by the successive governments over the years. This ignorance has resulted in people making homes wherever they find space, which results in tragic and avoidable deaths like the ones caused by this landslide.