Karachi WSF 2006: Commentary by a participant
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.