SHORTAGE OF WATER 

The worsening water shortage has the potential to erupt in severe law and order problems

By SYED M. ASLAM
May 26 - Jun 01, 2003

Karachi is a big dark, humid and dry city. The power utility company generates darkness and humidity while the public agency responsible for supplying water is delivering tapped gas. Not for nothing there is an abundance of bored sleep-starved faces, smelly bodies but also parches lips. In short the public utility companies have totally failed the city.

The situation, bad as is, will get only worse unless heavens pour beneficent rains with the drying up of the Hub dam a mere three weeks away. Water level at the Hub dam to which a number of thickly populated areas of the city are linked is fast receding to touch the dead level of 276.26. Hub dam is drying up fast to supply water to Karachi and nearly Lasbela for just three more weeks. Areas of Karachi hooked to Hub dam are getting around 15-17 million gallons of water a day from the Hub over a rationing routine of three consecutive days of supply with a two-day gap.

The stoppage of water supply from Hub three weeks from now would aggravate an already bad water supply situation to the city from the only source, the Indus system. The drying up of Hub would mean that such thickly populated areas of the city as North Karachi, Surjani, Orangi, Baldia, Shershah and SITE would be entirely dependent on the Indus source which is already reeling from a weekly water-holiday since October last year. The water saved from the weekly water-holiday in the areas fed by the Indus source was aimed to supply the water thus saved to supplement water supply in areas fed by Hub. The closure of water supply from Hub would mean less water for every single locality and may also result in increased water rationing such as pushing the water holidays and quantity pumped into the trunks.

The worsening water shortage has the potential to erupt in severe law and order problems if the ongoing angry demonstrations are any indications. Across the city the water-starved masses are increasingly resorting to demonstrations at the offices of the water board and many untowardly incidents have already taken place. In a number of cases the officials had to flee to avoid physically harm from angry mobs though many of them had not been lucky.

Such demonstrations have become a norm in one or the other area of the city on any given day and sometimes there are many in the various localities of the city. Pictures of women, children and men holding empty cans and utensils are splashed over the pages of the newspapers. So what do toughs do when the going gets tough? In the case of the water board the toughs take vacations as is evident from many high officials who went on leave due to their inability to face the daily protests from the water-starved people.

But the acute water shortage also has a financial besides the human face highlighted above. Somebody is minting money from this grave human misery as not only the masses but also the industry is now forced to pay much higher prices to buy water from the tankers. With the taps going even drier the business will be even brisker in the weeks to come.

The tanker water service managed by the paramilitary rangers is run on purely commercial lines instead of a alternative service to water pipes going dry. The worst victim of the commercialization are the marginalized who are forced to absorb the additional water bill. In many cases the poor are paying more for water than the affluent and powerful segments of the society who have the resources and means to look through the game the water masters are playing.

The rates of tanker-delivered water for industrial use were increased by 50 per cent from Rs 600 to Rs 900 for the small tanker and from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 for the big tanker tanker in the middle of last year. Similarly, rates for tanker-delivered water for household use have also gone up from Rs 150 to Rs 180 for the small tanker and from Rs 250 to Rs 350 for the big one. You can yourself calculate the cost of water for people and industry dependent on tanker water either partially or entirely as is the case in many localities across the city.

While the poorer segment of the society is made to pay the heavy price for tanker water which costs much more dearly than the tap water they were supposed to get in the first place, the affluents and powerfuls refuse to pay for delivery of water through tankers. For instance, foreign consulates and missions and residences of their staff and workers get their water from tankers in the city everyday. However, unlike the margalized they refuse to pay the costs of tanker-delivered water because they say, and rightly so, that it is nothing more than an alternative service for the tap water which is just not delivered. The poors, of course, can not fancy to offer such arguments and even if they do it is seemingly falling on ears extremely hard of hearing. The real victim of the exploitation are the marginalized and disfranchised section of the society.

Not only an already acute shortage of water is feared to get even worse but the quality of tap as well as tanker water poses a valid health concerns, an issue overshadowed by the shortage itself. As the water at the Hub dam nears the dead level the need to ensure that its fit for human consumption is a must to avoid any health catastrophy. As is, the proximity of sewerage lines with water lines is already resulting in flow of extremely unhealthy water in many localities still receiving water from the tap.