Water for Pakistan

January 25, 2019 HUMAN RIGHTS , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , Pakistan

Reuters photo

 

By

Zeeshan A. Shah

 

 

Over 200 million Pakistani people face running out of water within the next 10 years. More dams and reservoirs have been committed by the current government with a severe calamity crisis management initiative being led by the Government, Judiciary and Civil Society. Elsewhere in the country, the corruption watchdogs have uncovered a bizarre corruption triangle linking the provincial government, the elite and the land mafias as part of the biggest water-theft in the history of the nation. There have been many media trials in the past, leading to convictions despite not being able to deliver a major political and judicial breakthrough.

 

With the government due to announce a major anti-corruption policy breakthrough in the coming days, this year end may well be known as the “Year of the Reckoning” for the corruption mafia, a list that includes two former Prime Ministers, one former President and many other government officials, bureaucrats and others. One such trial that would change the future of the country is the trial of the Water Mafia.

 

No criminals can thrive in a system without the support of powerful people and their financial empires, themselves a result of the existence of criminals and thugs being backed up by hidden but affluent members of the civil society. Today, we also know that millions of gallons of pure drinking water that was supposed to be for the people of the metropolis was being stolen and diverted to farmhouses belonging to the elite, in the province of Sindh.

 

We also know the implications of supplying impure and sub standard water for the people of Pakistan. The Indus Delta, the sixth largest in the world is on the verge of death for Pakistan for the last many years. According to the 1991 water accord, it was decided to ensure that downstream water supply to regions in Sindh would be mandatory until a survey was conducted to ensure the exact amount of supply required for the benefit of the people of the province, with the highest amount of malnutrition and hunger in the affected areas between Kotri and the Arabian Sea, impacting over 2.6 million people.

 

A minimum of 10 MAF of water is the minimum required quantity, failure of which has led to a major shortage of water within the Indus Delta basin, resulting in rising sea water inundating 2.7 million acres of fertile land. On the flipside, the entire effect of this crisis has catapulted into major cities like Karachi, where the average daily requirement of water is 835 MGD (million gallons per day), where only 10% of the city s water supply is through tankers. Another important factor that impedes equitable water distribution in Karachi is that over 35% of the water supply is stolen through different forms of organized crime – through illegal hydrants, home suction devices or through mafia control in highly populated areas, where water is sold at an illegal prize as a commercial commodity. All this time, no water reaches the consumers through pipelines in most parts of the city – the 7th largest in the world.

 

In some areas like Orangi, people still walk all the way to main water tanks and fill their cans manually, like in the olden days where travel for water used to take miles of walking by foot, managing to ensure the households get a daily supply of pure drinkable water. The pipelines that have been laid out are either substandard quality or too rusted and broken, as the government responsible for ensuring water quality was too busy profiteering or making negligible contributions purely for political mileage. Moreover, people have to pay the water bills on time and KWSB has to make sincere efforts to ensure their internal corruption is removed and their debt woes of almost 52 billion are resolved. Officially, there is no water there for years.

 

Sewage has started to penetrate the water lines, contaminating the water supply and resulting in excessive risk of hazardous chemicals and disease in the water. Our classist society is quire unaware of the fact that bottled water is only affordable by the privilege class. The middle class also buys bottled water, maybe not of the highest quality, as a lot of companies are marketing promises of pure water at a price.

 

Ground water is brackish and not fit for consumption while over 15% of the water coming into the city is used for washing cars, sadly because there are no ways to ensure this water reaches minimum drinking levels or useable levels for home use and other utilities. People living in apartments are paying approximately 3,000 rupees per month for water supply maintenance, while still using bottled water for drinking, where the average cost of drinking water on a monthly basis is around 4,000 rupees a month for an average family of four to five people. So the combined cost of water per household today would be around 7,000 for starters. Others living in houses would pay far more, up by another forty percent.

 

Another important factor that has been ignored so far by the government is the issue of dams. It is true that rivers need to flow but the fact remains that rivers do not increase their flow by themselves. Dams have to be built. The last such activity was carried out 38 years ago when the Tarbela dam was commissioned. As a result Sindh got an additional 7.0 million acre feet of water and was able to cultivate an additional 27 lakh acres of cropland. Looking more closely, we must also agree that the commitment made under the Water Accord of 1991 was subject to construction of more dams.

 

Would one province agree to a drastic reduction in its own share in order to increase the share of water to another province? Is there a water policy officially in place? Are we reaching a critical level water crisis?

 

A policy must be implemented to revisit the clauses of the agreement while governments need to ensure all others considerations, as discussed earlier as well. Water is a booming business, a commercial enterprise that is reeking of profits right now. But to simply make money over water means the highest form of capitalistic gain for the well powered, not for the average family who simply cannot afford to pay for high priced bottled water.

 

Civic sense must prevail where the people of Pakistan must be given a clear right to safe and drinking water, in addition to progress reports on dams currently under construction or already in completion being made public information. The people are suffering with high prices, high inflation, higher food insecurity and we as a country are still not out of the woods yet. Sooner or later, the issue of dams will surface and we do not want a water emergency in a country which is desperately dependant on water for survival, and not just for the farmers and not just for agriculture and power distribution alone.

 

Awaiting the government’s upcoming economic policy, this issue must be brought to extreme light by the water and power ministry, as a critical situation to be immediately addressed by parliament. Before it becomes another war to fight for the already war torn country, this is one war that we simply cannot afford to lose on any front.

 

 

 

 

Zeeshan A. Shah

The writer is a Director at CNNA Pakistan – a leading advocacy institute and is an expert on International Relations and Education Policy.

With over 150 publications in major local and global social media & newspapers, he has been instrumental in producing over 5000 radio broadcasts aired globally.

A thought leader, environmental journalist, media broadcaster and a change maker with an acute focus on development affairs & education for Pakistan.

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