Quetta's water shortage problem

September 29, 2019

Quetta, has a severe water shortage problem. Water scarcity is arguably the most worrisome environmental disaster there

Quetta's water shortage problem

In the last 15 years, Imtiaz Ahmed has not received water from the pipelines of Water and Sanitation Authority (WASA). Ahmed lives in a densely-populated neighbourhood in Quetta around Sariab Road and purchases a water tanker every week.

"In the past, I used to call [water] tanker drivers and they delivered water to my house in an hour. Now, I had to tell them two days in advance." He spent last Eid without water. His supplier had stopped taking orders more than 4 days before Eid, and so he missed out.

Ahmed’s problems are not unique - almost all citizens of the provincial capital face similar water shortage issues. People living in certain upscale neighbourhoods however, needn’t worry about water supply.

Quetta, the only metropolitan city in Balochistan, has a severe water shortage problem. The demand for water is 61 million gallons per day whereas the WASA can only supply 34.8 million gallons. The scarcity of water in Balochistan in general and Quetta, in particular, is arguably the most serious environmental disaster in Balochistan right now. Experts apprehend that people from Quetta will have to migrate en-mass from the city in the next few years due to water shortage. The research titled ‘Scarcity of water resources in the rural area of Quetta District; challenges and preparedness 2018’ was conducted by academics from Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences (BUITEMS). The study indicated that underground water level had fallen in an alarming way in Quetta due to indiscriminate installation of tube wells, growing of high-delta crops and decline in the traditional kareze irrigation system.

Given this alarming news, the incumbent chief minister of the province, Jam Kamal, imposed a water emergency in Balochistan in August 2018. Despite imposing a water emergency, the provincial government failed to take any substantial steps to address the crisis of water scarcity. Just like the educational emergency, the water emergency failed to achieve its targets in Balochistan.

After scarcity of drinking water, the next natural disaster faced by Balochistan is that of prolonged droughts. In the last two decades, Balochistan has faced spells of drought after every two to three years. The drought has destroyed the backbone of agriculture and livestock economy of rural Balochistan; and almost every year, this issue has been highlighted by media. Every time that the issue makes it to the media, Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) springs into action with a few trucks of supplies sent to the affected districts. Photo-ops also take place. During my five years of covering drought stories as a journalist, I have observed that the disastrous effects of drought have compounded whereas the government’s capacity to address the challenge has remained stagnant.

Razia is a retired teacher, who settled in Quetta after her marriage in the early 1970s and has been able to observe environmental changes. "Back in the 1970s, we needed heavy quilts to sleep even in June and July due to the cold weather of Quetta," she recalls.

She adds that hot weather was something that the people of Quetta were not familiar with back then. "Now everything has changed in Quetta: Not only the weather, but also the beautiful landscape of Quetta," she laments.

Quetta city was established as a major town in Balochistan in the latter part of the 19th century by British Raj, and officers from all over British India would travel to Quetta to spend the summers. In 2019, everything has changed and even in September people can’t sleep peacefully without fans. The rise in mercury levels, droughts, and uneven rainfall patterns in Balochistan are effects of climate change. Engagement, so far, has only been surface-level.

Hashim Ghilzai is currently serving as the secretary of Communication and Works Department of Balochistan. He has also served as DG of the PDMA and has worked extensively on issues of the environment and climate change. He told TNS that climate change was happening at a quicker rate than had been forecasted.

"Balochistan has witnessed hydro and metrological disasters in recent past like cyclone Phet, flash floods and long spells of drought. Coping with such disasters needs effective preparedness and a proactive approach," he says.

Ghilzai adds that the idea of disaster preparedness is to predict, prevent and mitigate the negative impacts. He claimed that disaster preparedness cannot be successful without embedded risk-reducing measures. He concedes that "unfortunately, [Balochistan government’s] preparedness plan lacks effective risk-reducing measures and is mostly response-or relief-specific. He says that it is important to focus on risk-reducing measures and invest in Disaster Risk Reduction.

Given the climate change issues in Pakistan, activists all over the country, in sync with global climate activism are planning a climate action march on September 20. This march aims to raise awareness about grave consequences of climate change in Pakistan. Climate action marches are planned in some cities of Balochistan - the main march is planned for Quetta, the largest victim of climate change in the province. As of now, activists are trying to mobilise people to join the marches.

In Balochistan too, people have limited awareness about climate change. Hence, they cannot yet connect with the subject or activism around it. Secondly, due to years of neglect, Balochistan has many other problems which compete for the attention of the populace. In the wake of rampant poverty, declining economic activity, and the turbulent security situation, issues like climate change end up being afterthoughts. How all of these issues connect with climate change or can be impacted by it, are linkages that have not been fully fleshed out for the people of the province.

The government, since it has resources and mechanisms to carry out effective climate change awareness campaigns, must take the lead in educating the populace about climate change and what they can do about it. However, given its dismal performance so far in addressing natural disasters such as water scarcity, drought, and flashfloods it would demand a fair deal of optimism from the people to expect the government to spearhead awareness efforts.

Quetta's water shortage problem