Resolving water woes

October 11, 2020

A consultant has finally been engaged to work on an oft-debated project to draw water from Ghazi Barotha Dam, to meet Islamabad’s water supply needs, however, it is yet to be seen how the solution fares in practice

Islamabad: Due to a water shortage, residents are forced to install pumps.

Hafiz Arshad complains that his landlady stops his water supply while there is still water in the tank on the ground floor. The landlady, a widow, who lives with her son and daughter in Sector I-10/1, loses patience explaining how hard it is for her to stand in queues to put up a request for a water bowser.

“I get up at dawn and after saying my prayers go to the complaints office in I-10 Markaz. The desk officer now recognises me as I have to do it every week. When there is no water supply, how can the water tank not go dry?” she asks in Punjabi.

“At present, we have about 17 bowsers to supply water. On average, we deal with 200 to 300 requests for water bowsers. One bowser is enough to cater to four requests,” Syed Zeeshan Naqvi, the deputy mayor of Islamabad.

He says the number of complaints goes up to 1,000 a day in summer.

“In such a situation, we engage private companies to meet the water supply demands,” he says.

He says that I and G sectors are the “worst-hit” and “need more tube-wells”.

However, Professor Dr Muhammad Zaman, founder of the Sociology Department at Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) says that tube wells are “not the solution.” He calls them a part of the problem.

“Groundwater is an asset which needs to be tapped as a last resort,” he tells TNS. He says social habits need to be changed to conserve water.

“In Germany, bathroom showers are designed so that you can bathe with half a bucket of water,” he says.

However, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, a student of International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI) tells TNS that sometimes, he does not have even half a bucket of water.

“I have to go to a nearby hospital or a university hostel to use the toilet in the morning,” he says.

Khan uses university transport to come to the campus. Most of the time, he takes a shower and changes his clothes in his class fellows’ dorms.

“The problem is not simple by any means. The city was originally designed for less than a million people. Its population has now grown to about three million,” says Amer Ali Ahmed, the chief commissioner of Islamabad.

He says that groundwater levels are very low in Islamabad.

“The city has gets its water supply from two reservoirs – Khanpur Dam and Simly Dam”, he says.

He says the federal capital requires 100 million gallons of water daily but the two reservoirs can hardly supply between 60 and 70 mgd. Hence, the city faces a water shortage of between 30 and 40 percent, he says.

“We need to understand that there is an acute water shortage in Islamabad. The only solution is to supply water to the federal capital from Ghazi Barotha Dam,” says Ahmed.

“For years, the project has remained stalled for one reason or another. But now, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) is taking the matter seriously,” he says.

He says a consultant has been engaged to carry out this project and that “people will see an end to water shortage in the near future”.

When asked why rain water is not harvested as a practice, he says that the new master plan for the city requires all new houses to have provision to harvest rain water.

“Before the current monsoon rains, we dredged all rain-drains and nullahs. It required a lot of manpower due to the zigzagging nullahs in Islamabad. In the end some of the reservoirs were filled with water,” he says.

“Dredging of drains is good but the real solution is that they should not be polluted in the first place. There was a time was when Nullah Leh carried freshwater and you could see fish in it. But, appropriate care was not taken to protect the water sources and now these streams have become stinking sewers,” says Prof Dr Zaman.

He says that the water supplied to houses should be fit for human consumption.

Islamabad’s water supply is a subject of the Municipal Corporation Islamabad (MCI); but the body ineffective presumably due to the city mayor being under pressure from the NAB.

Zeeshan Naqvi, the deputy mayor, says that the MCI can deal with the situation if it is supplied the “necessary funds”. He says it takes extra care to make sure that no Karachi-like “tanker mafia” takes hold in the city.

“We keep an eye on water supply even in [private] housing societies so that no one is allowed to fleece people,” he says.

Nevertheless, it remains a fact that the MCI has not had adequate water supply even in settled sectors, where people have to pay Rs 300 for a quarter of a water bowser. In cooperative housing societies, price of a bowser goes as up to Rs 2,000 per quarter of a bowser.

“They need smart bowsers as the city streets are too narrow for the old bowsers to pass through. Cars are parked on both sides of the streets, and people do not bother to remove them to make way for bowsers,” says Ghulam Sarwar Khan. “In such a [water-stressed] situation, the families in need of water suffer even more.”

Hafiz Arshad has had to request his neighbours several times to remove their cars blocking the way. The neighbours don’t cooperate every time.

“Sometimes, we have to get water from our neighbours using a long pipe. But, this is not a solution,” says Arshad.

“I have heard enough about Ghazi Barotha Dam and this or that magic to solve water crisis. Mark my words: they don’t have a solution to water shortage in the federal capital,” his landlady tells TNS. She says that seeing is believing and she will believe anything to be a solution when the problem is tangibly resolved.

The writer studies and teaches media. He can be reached on Twitter at @furraat

Resolving water woes