Karachi WSF 2006: Commentary by a participant

Karachi, Pakistan

The Forum brought together ordinary citizens to listen to speakers and issues that are the traditional domain of the five star hotels of elite cities. The remarkably tolerant and tangible nature of debate could have been a great learning opportunity for our noisy and irrelevant politicians.
The city of Karachi can be truly proud for hosting the World Social Forum

2006. To bring together 15-20,000 people including a few thousand

foreigners, arranging their boarding, lodging and logistics, and

organizing some four hundred events in a span of five days is no mean

achievement. The Forum brought together ordinary citizens to listen to

speakers and issues that are the traditional domain of the five star

hotels of elite cities. The remarkably tolerant and tangible nature of

debate could have been a great learning opportunity for our noisy and

irrelevant politicians. While one could make no prediction about running

into a new world order sometimes soon, the need to do so could not have been

better highlighted by this Forum.

The organizers must be complimented for the thought and effort that went

behind holding of this mega event. It is not easy to organize World Forums

on such a large scale in a country where the presence of foreigners and

the gathering of people beyond the magical figure of four is seen with some

level of suspicion. It was therefore natural to make some organizational

errors. It is best that we discuss and learn from them, so as to do a

still better job next time.

The participants' first need on such events is that of information.

Information relating to timings, events, venues, topics, speakers etc.

As a participant, one felt the information need was very inadequately

catered for. Newspapers, brochures, closed circuit TVs, display boards and

prominently dressed volunteers could have been used to fill this gap. In

many cases, I found volunteers themselves asking the participants on the

location or nature of the next programme.

The Registration process could have been quicker, and completed in one go.

We had to register on one day and then line up again next day to collect the

bags and the programme. The number of counters could have been easily

increased. It was also strange that a participant had to line up in a queue

to fill a form and then line up again in another queue to collect the card.

This un-called-for extra step could have been easily avoided.

The programme brochure which appeared a day behind schedule was much too

user unfriendly to be of any help to any one. One could see almost every

one who had a copy of this brochure, still asking others on when and where

an event was to take place. No one could read the map on the last page as

the font size was too small. I actually saw some participants using

magnifying glasses to determine the correct enclosure numbers.

There were simply no waste baskets or drums kept any where in the entire WSF

complex. Imagine 20,000 persons throwing empty mineral water bottles,

cigarette cases, paper plates, tea cups, plastic bags, left over food

items, extra paper leaflets and other packing materials for five consecutive

days with no arrangement for collection or cleaning the place. By the

evening of the third day, we were walking over crumpled plastic bottles, and

heaps of torn papers, bags, plates and packets, in sharp contradiction

to the fiery speeches to prevent environmental degradation.

There were not enough large scale prominently displayed boards, arrows, or

signs to indicate venues and directions. In some cases (like E2001), one

had to go behind the venue to discover its number. In many cases the louder

loudspeaker from amongst the two adjoining tented locations would completely

drown out the one that operated at lesser decibels. Most programs

started far behind schedule, and there was no way to figure out those which

had been completely dropped for one reason or another. There was no way to

inform participants of the on-going or last minute changes. Making

loudspeaker announcements for the beginning of various events was not such

a good idea, as it disrupted the already on-going programmes.

The main stadium had adequate space and the right décor to match the mood of

the occasion. The entrances to the stadium were however unmarked and

unsafe. Besides climbing steps made of loose bricks, one also had to pass

over an open gutter and heaps of left over plastic bags before entering

the stadium. The ropes holding the 'shamianas' were protruding well onto

the already narrow walkways. For thousands of people to walk from one end

to another avoiding, jumping, bending or stumbling across these protruding

ropes was neither convenient nor safe.

We need to thank all those who made this event happen. No mistakes would be

made if one chose to do nothing. Yes indeed "a new world is possible" -

provided we are willing to make a start by first cleaning our own street.

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