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October 17, 2016

Managing a megacity


October 17, 2016

How does Karachi solve its civic problems? The megacity of over 22 million people has been unable to resolve the question of how to provide basic infrastructure and basic services to a majority of its population. With the water crisis in the city being at the top of the priorities, there has been little attempt to explain or solve the issue in a systematic manner. Some solutions and analysis was offered at a recent three-day conference titled ‘Managing Megacities’ in Karachi. The conference was able to bring out the complexity of the city’s water issues and promised much. One noted urban planner spoke about how each of Karachi’s three economic classes consumed a different type of water: branded, filtered or tap respectively. It is the infrastructure designed to provide water that has become a site of contestation between the water mafia, the city administration and the people. Moreover, the city continues to receive only 200 cusecs of water from River Indus. These factors combined with water theft are understood to be the key reasons for the water problems of the city. Water theft is an organised enterprise catering to special interests and profits. It is estimated that at least 35 percent of the city’s water is stolen. This is an alarming number. It is not a surprise that the KWSB, in charge of sewerage and water supply, remains over Rs30 billion in debt.

Only about seven percent of KWSB consumers are actually paying their bills. Despite the trouble on the side of consumers, there is a responsibility to provide clean drinking water that remains in the domain of the state. New filtering systems, reverse osmosis plants, ultraviolet filters or special hydrants are four possible ways to mitigate the crisis. There are political reasons for the problems. One is the absence of local government but the lack of will on the part of the provincial government is also plain to see. Surely, much more could have still been done by the current provincial government to resolve the city’s problems. With Karachi close to both a river and the sea, there is plenty of water available for supply purposes. The problem is one of will. The conference has shown a number of possible routes for the government to pursue. We will now need someone to take up the challenge.

Shakeel Iqbal


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