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September 1, 2018

Water crisis


September 1, 2018

The water shortages in Karachi that have sparked protests across the city are primarily caused by problems in supply and distribution. Of the 1200 million gallons of water that Karachi requires every day, it is receiving only one-third of that amount. From that, much of the water is diverted to illegal hydrants and the tanker mafia, leaving 40 percent of the city without any water for the last two weeks. Both the federal and the provincial government have taken note of the crisis but their solutions will not make any immediate difference and are unlikely to solve the problem in the long term either. The Sindh cabinet, in its first meeting on August 20, approved the construction of a desalination plant in Karachi while Sindh Governor Imran Ismail said he had spoken to Prime Minister Imran Khan and received assurances that the city would be given enough water. The PTI’s presidential candidate Arif Alvi has also said that desalination is the only solution to the city’s water crisis.

Relying on desalination is not going to come close to fixing the problem. First, desalinated water is not potable and can only be used for industrial and municipal purposes. So, even if the state is successful in setting up a desalination plant, it will not increase the supply of drinkable water. Desalination plants require massive amounts of power and Karachi is unable to produce enough power to meet its current needs. There is already a desalination plant in Karachi that was approved by the DHA to provide water for its residents. The technological knowhow required to run the plant proved to be beyond the capabilities of the authorities and the plant has been non-operational for years. There is no reason to believe that the federal or provincial government will be any more efficient.

Relying on the centre to provide sufficient water is also unlikely to work. Karachi is far from the only city suffering from water shortages and the province is only embroiled in a dispute with the federal government over the provision of water. The city first needs to show that is capable of cracking down on the tanker mafia and that it has the political will to equitably distribute water rather than depriving poorer areas. Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has been told that 2,109 water filtration plants in Karachi are non-functional. He has now given the authorities one month to fix this problem. Concentrating on improving our existing infrastructure should be a priority for the government. Pakistan is a water-insecure country that needs to practise conservation and efficient use. Should we not do so, the problem will only become worse.

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