Municipal services can play an important role in lifting the living standards of citizens
navailability of safe drinking water leads to diseases like diarrhoea, which is caused mainly by contaminated water, poor sanitation and hygiene and is still the second largest single cause of under-five child mortality worldwide, killing more children under five years of age than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
It is estimated that in Pakistan, 30 percent of all diseases and 40 percent of all deaths are due to poor water quality. The most affected people are children under the age of five. Polluted/ contaminated water is also one of the main causes of high infant mortality.
According to a UNICEF report, more than two-thirds of Pakistani households drink bacterially contaminated water. Every year, 53,000 Pakistani children die of diarrhoea as a result. Diseases like cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio are mostly linked to consuming polluted or contaminated water.
Only about 20 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water. The remaining 80 percent are forced to use unsafe drinking water due to the scarcity of safe and healthy water sources.
The primary source of contamination is sewerage mixing with depleted water supply system or sewerage discharge into the water bodies. Poor sanitation systems not only contaminate the water supply system but also pollute underground water.
The stench and flocks of mosquitos and flies from the stagnant water add fuel to the fire. But who is responsible for providing safe drinking water to the citizens?
Municipal services are what citizens expect from the government in return for the taxes they pay. In Pakistan, local governments are the democratic tier responsible for the provision of these services, including sanitation, water supply, street lights, urban roads and parks.
The state of local governments in Pakistan is not up to the mark. There are many reasons for this. First, the devolution of powers to local governments under Article 140-A of the constitution has not materialised in letter and spirit. Provincial governments control resources/ funds and the funds do not flow to the local governments. This results in governance issues at the grassroots level.
Local governments play a key role in the implementation of national economic development programmes. They pursue local economic development policies to strengthen economic growth. This growth helps the governments achieve their revenue targets.
In the Punjab, the target for own-source revenue for 2022-23 is Rs 500 billion. The taxes are meant to improve the municipal services. This will ultimately increase per capita income by generating more economic activity.
It has become difficult to govern the Punjab in the absence of functional local governments. This situation is particularly alarming on account of increasing urbanisation.
The municipal services are directly linked to economic benefits. They stimulate economic growth. Municipal services can play an important role in the per capita income improvement. Unfortunately, this has never been a government priority. Municipal service can be the reason for economic stability and prosperity of the citizens.
Our local governments have the responsibility to make sure that every citizen enjoys the basic municipal services. This is also a requirement of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Unfortunately, there is a huge gap in municipal service delivery in Pakistan in general and in the Punjab in particular.
It has become difficult to govern the Punjab in the absence of functional local governments. The situation is particularly alarming because Pakistan is also facing increasing urbanisation. According to a report, 56 percent of the world’s population, or about 4.4 billion people now live in urban areas.
Pakistan has the highest rate of urbanisation in South Asia. According to the 2017 Population Census, 36.4 percent of the population lives in urban areas. The UN Population Division estimates that, by 2025, nearly half the country’s population will be living in cities. Most people are moving to urban areas for the facilities they do not get in the rural areas. As a result, municipal service delivery systems are under ever-increasing pressure.
The government is getting considerable support in this regard from international institution like the World Bank through initiatives like the Punjab Cities Programme, which is providing urban development plans so that development and planning targets may be devised according to the expected growth rate and small cities can be developed as engines of economic growth.
This can help curb the migration towards metropolises by providing the citizens an improved lifestyle and better economic opportunities closer to their current location. Under the PCP, investments are being made in municipal service sectors of water supply, sewerage, storm water drainage, urban roads, parks and street lights.
So far under the PCP, infrastructure development sub-projects of water supply, sewerage, parks, street lights and roads worth Rs 1,450 million have been rehabilitated in 16 partner MCs. These MCs were selected on the basis of their economic potential.
To tackle the solid waste management problem in the PCP partner cities new machinery worth Rs 3,330 million is being provided. New water supply, sewerage and storm water drainage schemes and roads, parks, street lights and general bus stand projects worth Rs 14,000 million will be started by the end of January.
The goals of the current $236 million programme include contributions towards ending intense poverty and promoting shared prosperity.
Municipal services could play an important role in lifting the living standards and opening up new avenues of growth and prosperity. However, a drastic realignment of local government objectives, resources and responsibilities is required.
The writer is a media and communications professional and has experience of working in the development and the public sector