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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