Water woes

April 9, 2023

Is the federal capital climate change resilient?

Water woes


sman Ahmed drives a water bowser for six to eight hours a day, mainly in the Airport Housing Society, opposite Gulberg.

“I and a fleet of 10 others bowsers cannot meet the water demand in the area. Many others are also running similar sevices,” he tells The News on Sunday.

Residents of Ghauri Town, the largest squatter settlement in Islamabad, have not forgotten the way their houses around the main drain were submerged a few years ago.

Aamir Baloch, a local leader of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and a resident of Ghauri Town, says that flash flooding is a regular phenomenon in the area. “The society administrator has been jailed. He is facing many court cases. The main problem is China cutting around the rain drain,” says Baloch.

The area faces a water shortage and urban flooding simultaneously. This is also true for several other parts of the city. Rainwater flows from Margalla Hills to the Potohar region starting from Rawalpindi, through Islamabad.

After multiple consultations arranged under the USEFP-PUAN project titled Urban Flooding and Droughts in Islamabad: Advocacy for Solutions Scattered around Us, researchers, journalists and university students have concluded that the solution lies in harvesting rainwater.

Dr Naveed, director of hydrology at the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) says that unchecked development is one of the causes of urban flooding. “When rain drains are modified, water flows at abnormally high speeds. Studies have shown that the time water takes for flowing from Margalla Hills to Rawalpindi is shrinking. This is a dangerous development,” he says.

Hasnain Raza, an award-winning documentary maker, says that the citizens need to be sensitised to this problem before it is too late.

“Rain patterns are changing,” says Dr Sohail Yousaf, a professor of environmental sciences at Quaid-i-Azam University. ”Due attention is not being paid to climate change,” he adds.

“Now the rainy season is not limited to July. In addition, the intensity of rain is increasing and its duration is decreasing. It has to be understood that high-intensity rains cause flooding and damage crops. This is a man-made disaster,” he says.

According to Yousaf, efforts need to be made to harvest rainwater. Otherwise, he warns, all cities will be at risk of urban flooding and droughts in the near future.

Islamabad is among the cities that are expanding at a high pace. If you look at the map, it seems that housing societies have been squeezing the city from all four directions in addition to stifling the growth of Rawalpindi.

The city gets its water supply from Simly Dam and Khanpur Dam. Rawal Dam is mainly meant for Rawalpindi.

Water in these reservoirs have been tested and found polluted.

It is mainly because the administration has not acted against the mixing of sewage and rain water. When industrial and domestic waste get mixed in rain drains, it turns water reservoirs into poisoned lakes.

“We had an indigenous system of water harvesting. Talabs or pounds and wells were built in every village and town of the Punjab,” says Professor Dr Zaman, the founding chairman of the School of Sociology at the QAU. “But then the British arrived and spawned an army of bureaucrats, who destroyed every good thing.”

He says it was simply not possible for bureaucrats to do urban planning, much less rainwater conservation. “We have left our cities at the mercy of the bureaucrats who lack capacity to find solutions. I remember that water wells and ponds existed in my village in my childhood. Germany and other European nations also conserve rainwater using similar methods. But we have shunned it,” he says.

He says ferries and boats can sail through Nullah Leh. This will reduce travel time for citizens of the twin cities. “When people travel through the Nullah, they will also do something about the smell that permeates the air and maybe there will be pressure to fix the problem,” he says.

“The only solution is to regulate the housing societies and promote vertical buildings,” says Zaman. “This will not only save our waterways but also spare arable land,” he adds.

It has been observed that housing societies are least bothered about conserving water and their residents always face water problems. But Naval Anchorage has taken a good initiative by maintaining a water pond. Up to 25 per cent of the water in the pond seeps into the soil and causes the water table to rise.

The situation is no better even in the residential sectors developed by the Capital Development Authority (CDA). Residents of Sectors I and G face severe water shortages and bowsers thread through the winding narrow roads.

The arrangement is fragile; every time somebody is not available to remove their car from the street to make way for the bowser a group of aggrieved citizens have to either arrange water or go without it for yet another day.

The writer teaches development support communication at the International Islamic University, Islamabad. He tweets @HassanShehzadZ and can be reached at Hassan.shehzad @iiui.edu.pk

Water woes