Twenty-six year old Dhai Menghwar, mother of four and resident of a remote village in drought-hit Thar, was in labour.The only midwife in her village was unable to help her deliver the baby, as it was a complicated case.
Her worried husband Aedaan Menghwar wished to take her to the nearest public sector district hospital in Mithi, some 16 kilometresaway. He sent someone to get a jeep to transport his wife to Mithi because no ambulance service is available in the area. But since her condition was worsening fast, he did not wait for the vehicle, and started the journey on a camel.
Dhai could not take the camel ride for too long. She passed away only four kilometres out of her village.
Inaccessibility to hospitals, due to bad road network, is not unique to Menghwar’s village. Most of Sindh is disconnected with urban centres because of the poor road infrastructure.
According to Sindh Works & Services Department, the Sindh government despite spending 15 percent of its total annual budget on construction and repair of roads, some 60 percent of the province is without roads.
At the time of Independence in 1947, Sindh inherited only about 1,039 kilometres of blacktopped roads, including 664km-long National Highway running from Karachi to Reti that borders Punjab.But despite spending a chunk of the annual budget on roads, the Sindh government has been able to construct only 47,000km in the last 67years. According to one World Bank formula based on the total area of the land for per square kilometre, Sindh needs 94,000km of road network.
S.M. Khalid Hudda, deputy director Sindh Works & Services Department, the official custodian of roads, told TNS that the total area of Sindh is around 140,000 square kilometres and as per international standards, the province needs 140,000km-long road infrastructure. But, the department has estimated around 70,000 kilometres as basic requirement of the road infrastructure in the province in the initial stage.
Since the existing roads are in shambles, most of the budget is spent on repair and restoration rather than on construction of new roads.
Talking to TNS, Sindh Minister for Works & Services Department, Mir Hazaar Khan Bijarani, admitted that in the past the construction of roads was of substandard quality but now the PPP-led government is trying to construct roads on modern requirements. “We use only 15 percent of the Sindh’s total annual budget of Rs 686 billion on roads, which is not sufficient. And, yes, we spend more money on repairs,” he confirms.
The PPP-led Sindh government has spent about Rs 750 billion on roads in last seven years. It has received almost the same amount in foreign aid and loans from Asian Development Bank (ADB), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Chinese government etc. Yet, more than half of Sindh is without roads and the few existing roads are in a deplorable condition.
Pakistan Muslim League (Functional) MPA Sindh Nusrat Seher Abbasi says, “Although the Sindh government has spent billions on roads, not a single district can be said to be a model district in terms of road network”. She alleges that when Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah is unable to bribe the PPP workers with public sector jobs; he gives them road construction contracts. She also alleges that in many cases, the Sindh government issues tenders for a road construction to many contractors and only one constructs it, others get money.
“Go and see Larkana, the home district of Bhuttos, where the Sindh government has recently allotted Rs 40 billion for Larkana Development Package, but the city’s condition has worsened,” she adds.
Bijarani refutes these allegations and says that the allotment of road construction is granted purely on merit. “The PPP opponents are unnecessarily blaming the government. The government is working on the betterment of Sindh’s road infrastructure,” he adds.
The country’s longest highway, some 671km, National Highway (N-5), which runs from Karachi to Torkham, is busiest when passing through Sindh. This section of the highway for some reason has always been under-construction. The ongoing construction work and no road signs and detours disturb the transport going upcountry. And accidents happen too.
On November 11, a Karachi bound bus, carrying passengers from Swat Valley, smashed into a truck near Khairpur district on National Highway that killed 58 people, including 18 children. After registering an FIR at B-Section police station of the Khairpur city against NHA for negligence, police authorities, for the first time ever started investigating NHA authorities for poor road condition and lack of warning signs.
The issue of road security is as concerning. Highway robberies and kidnapping for ransom is common, especially in districts of northern Sindh. On November 7, NHA project director Ghulam Shabbir Shaikh was kidnapped along with his driver, Abdul Hakeem, on National Highway in Daulatpur town while they were travelling to Sukkur from Hyderabad. They were later recovered.
Some 76 people have been kidnapped for ransom in the last eight months in northern Sindh.
In the absence of proper public transport service, private companies run most of the bus services from Karachi to the north of the country. Umer Biland, manager of a private transport company, says due to bad conditions of the National Highway, accidents and delays are common, and “because the buses have to reduce speed on this bumpy highway, they become easy targets for robbers”.
The floods in 2010 damaged many roads on the right side of River Indus in southern Sindh. Kaiser Bengali, the former advisor to chief minister Sindh on planning and development, is reported to have said that during the floods of 2010, around 1,834km roads, 4,447km farm-to-market roads, 1,780 kutcha roads and 160 bridges and culverts were damaged.
For the reconstruction of these damaged roads, the provincial government initiated Flood Emergency Reconstruction Project (FERP) in 2011 at the cost of Rs12,569 million in collaboration with Asian Development Bank (ADP) and Government of Pakistan. Under this project, it was planned to reconstruct only 800km of provincial roads and bridges damaged during the floods of 2010. Works & Services Department has so far spent Rs12,500 million to construct only 941km and has spent Rs554 million on repair of 1,900km. The remaining roads are not fully restored or reconstructed.
Also, the farm-to-market roads across Sindh are either non-existent or in deplorable shape. Sanghar, one of the most important cotton-producing district of the province, is almost disconnected from the rest of the province. Four years ago, to connect Sanghar with Nawabshah (now Benazirabad), the Sindh government planned a two-year scheme to construct 61 kilometres at the cost of Rs. 2100 million. It was to be partly funded by the Exim Bank of China. But work has not started on this project as yet.
Nawaz Kunbhar, Sanghar-based writer, says all roads connecting villages and towns with the district headquarter are destroyed — “Sanghar-Khipro, Sanghar-Mirpurkhas and Sanghar-Nawabshah roads are completely destroyed. It is hard to commute on these roads.”
Sindh is divided into different geographical locations and each has special road requirements. For instance, Thar desert comprising Tharparkar and parts of Umerkot, Achhro Thar (or White Desert) in Sanghar district’s Khipro area, Nara desert in Khairpur, Kachho in Dadu, Kohistan in Jamshoro and the coastal belt spread from Karachi to Thatta and Badin. Except for the parts of Thar desert or Umerkot and coastal highway, these areas have either no roads or roads are in poor condition.