Water in the pipeline

Water in the pipeline

Sheikh Abdul Hameed, a 59-year-old resident of Al-Fazal Town in Bhalwal tehsil of Sargodha district, has started getting clean drinking water at his home for the first time. "I am the fifth in my street to get the connection of water being provided under the newly-launched scheme," he tells TNS. The water scheme was started in the town in 2006 under Punjab Municipal Development Fund Company (PMDFC) which launched the Punjab Municipal Services Improvement Project (PMSIP) with financial assistance from the World Bank. The scheme was supposed to be completed in three years, but it has not been made fully functional even after eight years in 2014.

The initial cost of laying water and sewerage pipelines in the town was put at Rs60 million and a contract was awarded to a Lahore-based construction company. But the company completed only 45 per cent of the work and never came back. "The company which is owned by the brother of a PML-N MNA from Lahore not only delayed work but also got most of its bill approved during the last PML-N government in Punjab," a senior official of TMA Bhalwal tells TNS. Again in 2012, work on the project was started with a revised cost of Rs130 million.

"The contract was awarded to a new company which has almost completed its job, but most of the pipes have already started leaking," he says, adding that 4,000 households would be provided water connections under the project. "The PML-N government believes in completing projects in time in Lahore only," he says.

In 2012, the government of Punjab requested Nazir Ahmed Wattoo, chief of Anjuman Samaji Bahbood (ASB), a Faisalabad-based civil society organisation expert in water and sanitation issues, to help TMA Bhalwal manage the scheme under Changa Pani Project (CPP), a public and private partnership aimed at providing sustainable water and sanitation system involving local communities. Wattoo has formed a committee of local people and TMA officials which oversees the project.

Underground water in Bhalwal is brackish which is unfit for human consumption. There are two water supply zones in the city; the first comprises old portion of the city while the second is situated along the Bhalwal-Sargodha road.

CPP has been termed a great success in its pilot project in Lahore, but it has been facing problems in Bhalwal. "In Lahore, we were involved from the planning stage. We worked with local community, sensitised it first and then executed the scheme. In Bhalwal, the infrastructure was laid down by the contractor and we intervened almost at the end of the scheme. It is true that we have been facing different challenges, but hopefully we will overcome them and make the community realise that the project belongs to them and they have to invest in it," Wattoo says. "People in Pakistan believe that water should be provided to them without any cost. People take water for granted. Water is a commodity which has been depleting fast in our country and we need to manage it properly." Under this scheme, 24/7 metered water would be provided to 4,000 households in the town.

Bhalwal is not a very old town as it was established under the colonisation of West Punjab in the last quarter of 19th century. It was a planned colony town which was designed by Sir Malkan Hailey, the first colony officer of the area. The first water supply scheme was laid down in Bhalwal in 1927 which could not cater to the requirements of increasing population of the area. But consecutive governments in Punjab neglected the area and did not provide adequate water and sanitation facilities in the town.

The town’s current population is around 100,000 which would reach around 150,000 in 2025. Majority of the population is still living without water and sanitation facilities.

Underground water in Bhalwal, according to Tehsil Municipal Administration (TMA), is brackish which is unfit for human consumption. There are two water supply zones in the city; the first comprises old portion of the city which is also the commercial centre while the second is situated along the Bhalwal-Sargodha road. "There is only a small portion along the canal on the outskirts of town where we could find sweet water fit for human consumption," says Rana Muhammad Jameel Akhter, Tehsil Municipal Officer (TMO), Bhalwal.

Hameed, who shifted to the neighbourhood two decades ago, used to travel five kilometres on his motorbike to fetch water for drinking and cooking purposes. "Underground water in our city is not healthy at all. We either have to fetch water from tube-wells near canal bank or buy it from local venders who sell drinking water in plastic bottles," he says, adding that connection fees for the new water scheme is Rs3500 which is a big amount for the poor people in his area. "We are also not sure whether this scheme will succeed or not. The water supply remains disturbed most of the time due to different reasons. In many areas, the water pipelines have already been damaged," Hameed says. "It was promised that water would be provided 24-hour uninterrupted under the new scheme but it seems a distant dream. Leakage of pipelines is a routine matter which results in suspension of the water."

So far, only 270 people have got connections. Majority of them want to get the water connection for free. "World Bank has given the money for the project but now we are being asked to pay money to get connection. It should be free," Muhammad Arshad, a resident of Al-Fazal Colony, tells TNS.

Rehan Butt, a community leader and part of the committee which oversees the project in Bhalwal town, says that people need to understand the importance of water and the project. "The success of this project is very important. A household usually spends Rs20 on drinking water a day which is brought to them in unhygienic plastic bottles. That is the reason that waterborne diseases are on the rise in our town. People need to take ownership of the project."

Rehan Butt says, "There are different reasons for the leakage of the pipelines. It is true that the contractor did not use good material. We have repaired pipes from over 150 places after the contractor completed the project and handed over it to TMA. The capacity of the main water tank is 100,000 gallons which is enough to provide 24/7 water to 2500 households with pressure, but so far only 270 households have got connections. So, when we release water from the main water tank, it becomes difficult for the pipelines to hold the pressure."

According to TMA officials, there is no culture of paying water bills in the city. "We only charge Rs360 per year per connection under the old scheme which was built around 40 years back in the town. Majority of connections holders never paid their bills," says an official of TMA. "Nazir Wattoo has been working day and night but the Punjab government also needs to take the project seriously and ask its parliamentarians to take ownership of the project to make it a success."

Water in the pipeline