There are many colonial-era heritage buildings in Karachi and most of them are in a neglected state. Many aesthetically beautiful structures have disappeared altogether and multi-storey ugly monsters have sprung up in their place. Shafqat House, a three-storey building located in the Civil Lines area of Karachi just a few hundred metres away from the Sindh Assembly, is one such building crying out for the attention of the authorities and city residents for preservation. The attractive building houses around 40 apartments and three dozen shops. Now it is almost empty. Only one family lives on the first floor while a tailoring shop functions on the second. The building’s occupants described the third floor as ‘no-go’ zone for reasons they are not familiar with. The building is denuded of most its doors, windows and balcony fencing. The back portion of the building is being used as a cattle market for the past two years. It is difficult to say whether the authorities are ignorant of the existence of cattle market or they are simply feigning.
As is the case with old buildings there are speculations that the owners, if there are any, plan to demolish the building and construct a plaza in its place. A Sindh archaeology department official confirmed that a few years ago an attempt was made to demolish the building, but this could not be done because it is a protected heritage site. He says the government provides free consultation on architecture on such buildings. Yasmeen Lari, renowned architect, blames lack of ownership for the neglect of heritage sites on the authorities, saying finances were not much of an issue in protecting such sites. In the West historical buildings, homes of scientists and writers and of other such personages are preserved with utmost care, and places are mentioned as located in the vicinity of heritage sites. Ironically, in most developing countries heritage sites and buildings are mentioned as located close to cinema halls and other suchlike places.
Engulfed in a gory civil war for a decade and half, between 1975 and 1990, and having seen bombings and bloodshed since then, the citizens of Beirut may not have experienced anything as big as what happened early Tuesday evening. A massive explosion rocked the Port of Beirut, killing at least 100 people and injuring thousands of others. Look at how gigantic the explosion in in the Lebanese capital was: it was heard 150 miles away on the island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean; it was so powerful that it made the ground tremble, and some residents thought an earthquake had struck; massive damage was caused in several neighbourhood of the capital; and according to Governor Marwan Abboud, Beirut is a “devastated city… half of it destroyed”.
While an investigation is under way to find the exact trigger for the explosion, officials are blaming highly explosive materials stored in a warehouse for six years. Prime Minister Hassan Diab spoke of a ‘dangerous warehouse’ which had been there since 2014, but said he would not pre-empt the investigation. President Michel Aoun tweeted it was ‘unacceptable’ that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate was stored so unsafely. The President declared a three-day mourning period, and pledged 100 billion lira, equivalent to $66 million, as emergency fund. Also not yet known is whether the explosion was just an accident or triggered intentionally. With an influx of refugees from neighboring Syria and the reigning coronavirus pandemic already turning out to be a big drain on an already depleting economy, there may not have been a more sensitive time for Lebanon to experience an explosion that is going to cost the country as much as $5 billion, according to the Beirut governor.
Like our Ojhri Camp explosion of April 1988 that triggered bombardment in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the Beirut explosion will live on in bitter memories.