Karachi water shortage: Why KWSB is not the only one responsible

Published: May 29, 2015

44% of Pakistani people have no access to clean, usable water resources. PHOTO: AFP

Annually, 250 million people face water-related healthcare issues all over the world and amongst them, 20 million succumb to their illnesses. Pakistan ranks at number 80 among 122 nations in the index of provision of hygienic drinking water – which means 44% of Pakistani people have no access to clean, usable water resources.

This should make a lot of people lose their sleep at night, especially the powers that be – however, it doesn’t seem to be the case right now.

We have failed to provide a great proportion of our people with safe drinking water. And the people who do have that privilege have stopped getting their supply of clean water due to reservoir shortages. The recent shortage in Karachi is a case in point.

Karachiites have been facing a constant, and unnerving, shortage of water in many areas of the city, and a lot of people – those who can afford it, anyway – have resorted to employing the services of water tankers at their homes to get some respite. This has led to strengthening of the water-tanker mafia, which is ripping off thousands of rupees per visit from every household.

For me, the irony is that Karachi is just a few kilometres away from the Arabian Sea – yet its citizens are deprived of such a basic commodity. Why is that? Not because the water from the sea is unusable. It’s because our authorities and lawmakers are too inept and too careless to install even a single portable water facility in Karachi.

But the incompetence of our authorities has been at play for a very long time. Even before this crisis, the water that Karachiites used to get from the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) was too contaminated for drinking or washing. This is because most of the water pipelines have either outlived their lives or were not laid down following proper SOPs initially. Either way, most of the pipelines have leakages and are mostly placed side by side with the sewerage system – where chances of contamination are pretty high.

However, one cannot just blame KWSB for this conundrum. This situation is everyone’s responsibility. If we see how Karachi has been governed in the last decade, we will have some answers as to why the city is on the verge of an infrastructural collapse.

In recent years, especially after 2008, we have seen Karachi’s political economy get plunged into shambles and uncertainty; at the same time, there have been prominent development projects sprouting in Lahore and other parts of Pakistan. One wonders if there is a correlation between these incidents. Karachi has largely fallen prey to people whose major main is territorial power. They have not done anything to build Karachi for the better. This city’s stakeholders had enough time to pull out mega projects, create better infrastructure and create employment opportunities – yet their only focus has been on fixing roads, shutting down the city and asking for a quota in provincial and government jobs. But mega projects like mass train transit program, food security, local policing, mega healthcare facilities and the likes have not been the primary focus of this city’s policymakers.

Our political parties don’t have any institute or think-tanks which can work on social issues and plan future strategies. We don’t have even a single party in Pakistan which has been able to draft comprehensive internal policies – policies that aim towards the betterment of the common man, that aim towards development, that focus on creating a more hospitable city. Mostly, federal and local governments have been dictated by those who actually wear the pants in this country. And it has been most unfortunate.

Many say that the water shortage in Karachi has been because of the absence of local bodies. But this notion could not have been further from reality. The issue is not administrative in nature. It needs to be tackled as a national problem. Today it’s Karachi; tomorrow it will be half of Pakistan. And why is this? Because fresh-water levels, globally, have been going down and we are doing absolutely nothing to establish water reservoirs. This water shortage is getting worse day-by-day and even if our local government finds a way to curb it temporarily, we cannot depend on ad hoc systems that have no credibility and that can backfire anytime.

With new residential schemes cropping up in every major area of the city, this issue will further deteriorate and the water scarcity will become lethal. Karachi gets its major water supplies from the west and from District Malir, and right now, both these districts have massive residential projects being developed.

How will they manage water distribution after the development of these on-going new residential schemes? Karachi’s current water reservoirs rely entirely on rain water; therefore, it is not a surprise that they are getting barren and empty. Every year, we hear the same excuses from the authorities, that because of scarce rainfall, the reservoirs have run dry.

But my question is, this is the 21st century, should we still have such backward methods to save water resources? Why can’t be we build reservoirs that can desalinate the seas water and make it usable for the populous? Over the last 10 years, climate change has been highlighted as a prominent reality; why are we not accepting it and moving on from our archaic practises?

While certain clerics have taken upon themselves to dub this shortage as a wrath from God, because of Karachiites’ wrong-doings, I feel that as one of the most educated cities in the country, we need to look for other, more concrete causes for this shortage, instead of just blaming it on celestial powers.

Also, when there is so little infrastructure to sustain the need of water in the metropolitan, why are all these new residential projects being granted permission to get established? How can we supply water to new residential schemes when most of the old areas and kutchi abadies don’t have proper water supply?

In the last few months, the Sindh government and rangers successfully managed to destroy around 180 illegal hydrants and now only 20 or so legal hydrants are working in city. While this is a commendable feat, why has the government not thought of establishing legal, alternate hydrants so the gap in water supply that has been left because of the destruction of the 180 illegal hydrants can be bridged?

Karachi is dubbed as the epicentre of economic activities in Pakistan, yet its citizens are still deprived of this natural resource which forms the basis of life. There is an immediate need for mega water projects in Karachi, before the situation gets out of control and it turns into a civil conflict.

Zameer Ahmed Malik

Zameer Ahmed Malik

The author used to be in the political scene and is now a lecturer at a Law college and Correspondent at Capital TV. He tweets as @ZameerAMalik (twitter.com/ZameerAMalik)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • ZKhan

    If there is water Crises than install more Water Pumps and and filters as the City is very close to the sea..Instead of wasting time on writing lecture you should write an application to the water department…In my City of Kolkata it is 15 hour daily water supply as we are also Close to rivers..Recommend

  • Commemtator

    Sindh Govt is ready to provide free 3000 water-tanks to people of Karachi. But provincial Govt is not ready to eradicate the Tanker Mafia which is one of the important root causes of water shortage in Karachi.Recommend

  • Ali S

    Desalinated water is more expensive than petrol per litre in the rich Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia (where it’s the main source of water) and consumes gargantuan amounts of energy – while it’s an attractive idea on paper, the fact is it’s not affordable or feasible on a large scale for both the govt and the people consuming it in Pakistan where power outages are frequent and the worst-affected people are the poorest ones.

    Pakistan is abundant in natural water resources – glaciers, rivers and ground water. It would be enough for the population if it’s used resourcefully – the outdated leaky water supply system needs to be fixed immediately and treated wastewater should be reclaimed for crop irrigation (Israel does it very successfully) rather than being flushed as raw sewage into the sea (it would conserve water and also prevent pollution).

    Above all, a culture of water conservation needs to be promoted among the masses (especially the middle-class and affluent ones) – even in areas like Gulistan-e-Johar where most people rely on tankers people have no qualms wastefully washing their cars or watering their gardens everyday.Recommend

  • forced2

    Well, isn’t this just dandy ! Wasn’t it just last week that some major report indicated that Pakistan had taken significant strides to provide water to its people; in fact putting it ahead of India and a whole bunch of other countries ??
    So I am confused now….is there a crisis or isn’t there ?Recommend

  • Parvez

    The PPP has been in power along with the MQM in Karachi for a very long time. Instead of working towards improving things such as the water supply …….what they have done is worked on the principle of ‘……create a shortage and then make money from it ‘…….It’s disgraceful bad governance and nothing else.Recommend

  • forced2

    When it was suggested many years ago that water desalination facilities be commissioned to ease the water problems of Karachi, the Pathan mafias running the water distribution trucking system in the city, fearing for their livelihoods, threatened to demolish such facilities should they ever be built. Regardless of whether such desalination projects would actually be feasible for
    a country like Pakistan, it does give one an insight into the mentality and vested interests of the various groups which have had their respective share in transforming what was once a reasonably nice liveable place into a veritable hellhole.Recommend

  • Sane

    Water shortage is always there in Karachi, but now this is crisis. Reason: Make incompetent and corrupt officials to head KWSB, create problem to earn more money through Tanker Service. No other reason at all…….Recommend

  • harini

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  • yamini

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