Karachi Water Shortage: An unsolved problem

kaptaantimes-issue05-karachiwatercrisisPakistan is ranked 80 amongst 122 countries regarding the quality of drinking water. 44% of Pakistanis have no access to clean, usable water resources. The government has failed to provide our people with safe drinking water. Although Karachi is situated on the eastern coast of the Arabian Sea, its residents continue to face a severe shortage of water.

It’s the same old story of every summer; the citizens of Karachi had to face the torture of water shortage. It is sad to see that ever since Pakistan’s inception, the authorities have still not been able to form a single policy that ensures a consistent supply of water and have no strategy currently that can regulate the alarming water situation in our country; still in the modern era we rely on unpredictable rains and glaciers. Underground water is not suitable for consumption and we are left with only option of lakes. Karachi gets its major supply of water from Keenjhar Lake and Hub Dam located on Hub River. Keenjhar Lake supplies around 500 million gallons per day and Hub Dam has the capacity to provide less than 100 million gallons per day, but it has reached the ‘dead’ level. The demand for water in Karachi is increasing 1500 gallons per day. Due to technical errors, dams are unable to supply water to their full potential.

It’s not just the government that is responsible for water scarcity in Karachi but farmers and industrialists in Karachi’s Malir district are also responsible for water shortage in Karachi as they have propeller fitted pipes that are subject to water theft. A huge quantity of water is stolen and the authorities have completely failed to stop this practice. Karachi’s residents tend to file complaints against this illegal procurement of water via machines because they are deprived of their due rights and their taps run dry since in many areas the residents get water only once or twice a week, yet none of these complaints are taken seriously and no measures are taken to accommodate the citizens’ issues. Moreover, the water lines in Karachi are often cracked and the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) are busy repairing these lines all year round, therefore their energy is mostly focused on that. Almost 30 to 40% of water is wasted in leakages from busted pipes. The connection between the Karachi Water Board employees and the tanker mafia is another reason for water shortage in the city. KWSB doesn’t mend these leakages thoroughly because they have to accommodate the tanker of Karachi as well and the top level officers in Water Board are involved in this organized crime. At the end of the day, selfishness and corruption win over duty and responsibility.

Many citizens of Karachi have to call for water tankers at least once every week, for which they have to pay around Rs3000 per tanker. Karachi’s tanker mafia has grown to become extremely powerful. Various illegal water pumps have been destroyed in the city but not a single criminal involved in water theft has been arrested or detained by the rangers or the police because the top government officials and some of the top police officers are involved in this heinous crime. Continuous load shedding further helps the tanker mafia to expand their business. They get the water from KWSB’s main lines and sell it to residents at high price. The annual earning of the powerful tanker mafia is reported to be around Rs40 billion, while KWSB’s total budget for the year 2015-16 was around Rs32985.886 million. The provincial Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has questioned KWSB to give the details of its expenditure, but they failed to do so. The MD of KWSB has given illegal connection to a private beverage company in Karachi, hundreds of such cases were unearthed by the PAC, but no legal action was taken against the culprits. This is due to the fact that various government departments, including the Governor House, the CM house and members of the provincial and national assembly are among those who do not pay bills and support the tanker mafia.

There are different categories of water in Karachi. Meetha pani is the most common, which is received through pipelines installed by KWSB, from the market or sometimes from the hydrants installed in different areas. The second type is Khaara pani (brackish water) extracted from underground, but it is not appropriate for use as it is too saline. Yet most of the people in Karachi use it. Then there is mineral water that is readily sold in the market under branded packaging of different companies. A policy for water distribution should be formed for Karachi. There should be some kind of measure taken, specifically in agricultural and industrial areas, in order to stop water wastage. Meter bills should be introduced so anyone who uses more water than his need should pay the bill; this specifically applies to the elite class. The concerned authorities need to take quick and effective measures.
The irony is that Karachi is just a few kilometers away from the Arabian Sea, yet its citizens are deprived of such a basic commodity. It’s not because the water from the sea is unusable. It’s because the government is inefficient to solve the issue in Karachi. Even before this crisis, the water that people of Karachi was not pure. This is because most of the water pipelines are not in a good condition or not installed following proper measures. Most of the pipelines are placed side by side with the sewerage system where chances of contamination are extremely high. However, one cannot just blame KWSB for this conundrum. This situation is everyone’s responsibility. If we see how Karachi has been ruled in the last decade, we will have some answers as to why the city is on the edge of an infrastructural collapse. In recent years, especially after 2008, we have seen Karachi’s political economy get plunged into shambles and uncertainty. Karachi has largely fallen prey to people whose major interest is territorial power instead of solving the social issues of common man. 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 but 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 local governments.

Today it’s Karachi; tomorrow it will be half of Pakistan because fresh-water levels globally have been going down and our government is doing nothing to establish water reservoirs in the country. The water shortage is getting worse with every passing day and even if local government finds a way to solve it temporarily, the city cannot depend on the inefficient system. Every year same excuses are made by the authorities, that because of scarce rainfall, the reservoirs have run dry. We are living in the 21st century, our government still relies on such old methods to save water resources, the government hasn’t build any reservoirs that can desalinate the sea water and make it usable for people. Over the last 10 years, climate changes have been highlighted prominently but the government is still not ready to accept the fact.

Karachi is the hub of economic activities in Pakistan, but still citizens of Karachi are deprived of their basic need in most of the areas of Karachi. There is an immediate need for mega water projects in Karachi, before the situation gets out of control and creates major problems in the future.