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October 22, 2019

Potters ensure safe drinking water for villagers


October 22, 2019

HYDERABAD: Zahid Kumbhar, a skilled elderly potter, is preparing nadis (clay pots) for water filtration. He receives orders in bulk to make larger clay pots, which are used by rural families to purify drinking water.

Mostly these potters are preparing nadis, which can be used with the biosand filters to clean bacteria and germs without the use of chemical clarifiers.

The technology of biosand filter through clay pots has been adopted after realising lack of clean water in rural communities. Like developing countries, residents of villages in Sindh have also lost surface as well as underground water due to increasing contamination. Majority of the people seem reluctant to use water from these traditional sources without filtration.

Thus a small number of families buy clay pots for biosand filtration, which they consider is safe for their consumption. Zahid is originally from the Kumbhar muhalla Hyderabad city. His daily commute is 10-12 kilometres to join the workshop in the morning. He stays there till sunset.

There are three workshops at a large rented plot near brick kiln units in the vicinity of Tando Hyder town, Hyderabad district. These makeshift workshops engage more than a dozen skilled and supporting workers from the traditional Kumbhar community of Hyderabad to continue their ancestral occupation.

Almost all three workshops have the same orders; to prepare nadis for water filtration. They make holes in each pot as per design of the biosand filters. Some donor organisations and philanthropists distribute ready to use filters to the people after receiving orientations to learn the technology of the biosand filters. The families receive clay pots and material to construct their own filters along with guidance and supervision to have safe drinking water.

Though the potters have skills to make a variety of pots and utensils, they are not getting orders to make anything but the nadis. The workshops are littered with broken pieces of pottery, wet clay, and other raw material. Summer has ended, but the potters are still busy fulfilling their agreed orders. They are proud of their earthen water purifiers.

Zahid said now that winter is approaching, they expect to receive orders for flower pots that are in high demand in the urban markets, especially at the flower nurseries. He is optimistic about getting more orders.

About other items, he said they receive small orders for baby chairs, earthen jars and other utensils. Since the demand is neither high nor regular, these items are made on order and are not in stock at the workshop.

About the cost of nadis, he said they have five sizes. The wholesale prices range from Rs250 to Rs400, depending on size. The retailers can sell the same items at Rs400-Rs800. Wages for skilled workers are set at Rs800-Rs1,000/day, while helpers get Rs500-Rs700/day.

Each workshop pays Rs5,000 for each tractor trolley, which brings quality earth from a neighbouring area. They also pay a huge amount to receive freshwater and firewood for the kiln.

The potters have only two sites from where they buy quality earth for their work – one is near Tando Qaisar in Hyderabad district while the other is in Mirpurkhas district.

Despite receiving a higher number of orders and earning well throughout the year, Zahid seemed frustrated due to a lack of subsidy by the provincial government. For example, he said quality earth, freshwater and firewood were costly items they needed to invest in, but without an attractive return. “The prices of our products are not very high,” he lamented.

Zahid Kumbhar thinks that pottery as a profession may die within the next 20-25 years because of negligence by the government authorities. “Youngsters are not interested in continuing their ancestral occupation because these items are not in demand in the market. Thus, they fear the end of this traditional industry soon,” he added.

Zeeshan Kumbhar, another skilled potter said they work at risk in terms of weather ups and downs. He lost raw items during recent rains and his entire workforce stayed idle at home for two months. When they resumed work after rains they saw the damaged valuable earth and raw items. Sadly, there is no compensation for this traditional industry.

Muhammad Salim Kumbhar, a young potter working in the area for the past 16 years, said they shift workshops from one to another area due to increasing urbanisation. Whenever a landlord receives a good offer to sell a piece of land they work on, the potters have to vacate the plot for a housing scheme and shift their work elsewhere.

Hyderabad is the second largest city of Sindh, where like other traditional industries pottery was considered a leading trade. But due to low demand in the market the industry is facing ups and downs.

About the cost of raw material and their own labour, these workers believe that almost all of them learn this skill while playing with clay during childhood. When they take the reins to lead with their elderly parents, they adopt this occupation as a source of income.

These potters have their own workshops in their wide courtyards in the heart of Hyderabad, but recently, a restriction was put in them, barring them from baking their pots as it created pollution. Since then they have shifted their workshops outside the city. The artisans still rely on the traditional method of burning firewood to bake their wares.

Recalling the past, the elderly potters say that earlier women had major role to work in this field. The skilled women potters used to work slowly, mending five parts to make one nadi, the popular clay pot for storing water by larger families. Now the males mend three parts to make one piece, which mostly is used as per filtration by biosand for drinking water.