Dry taps, parched throats

February 6, 2022

Karachi is facing a water shortage aggravated by damaged infrastructure

Dry taps, parched throats

Karachi has over 25 million inhabitants who are facing an acute water shortage. Over 50 percent of the people do not have access to safe water, which is a basic necessity.

In some areas, people have to purchase water from private tankers, mini tankers or in jerry cans. The areas facing water shortages include Federal B Area, Faqir Colony in Orangi Town, PECHS Block-2 Commercial Area, North Karachi Sector 11A, 11B, 11C, Punjab Colony in FC Area, Surjani Town, Gulistan-i-Johar, Sindh Industrial Trading Estate (SITE) area and Shershah. Some people have resorted to digging wells to get mostly water unfit for human consumption.

“Mominabad and Baldia Town have water but the adjacent Faqir Colony has been nearly dry for the last 15 years,” says Salman Ibrahim, a social activist who is campaigning for access to safe water for the residents of Faqir Colony. “We are purchasing water from tankers, paying Rs 2,000 to Rs 2,500 for 1,000 gallons every week. A jerry can of water goes for Rs 60 to Rs 70,” he tells The News on Sunday.

“The ‘tanker mafia’ has a stronghold in this part of Karachi. Most working class people have to purchase two or three jerry cans a day,” he says. He says it is very hard for a person earning Rs 700 to Rs 800 a day to spend Rs 300 on the purchase of water alone.

Dry taps, parched throats

Come election time, several political parties including Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P), Awami National Party (ANP), Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) will provide water using tankers. “Currently, the tanks are dry and nobody cares how people are surviving without a reliable water supply,” says Salman Ibrahim.

Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) have pipelines all around Faqir Colony but 16,382 residences of the area are at the mercy of the tanker mafia. The Pakistan Peoples Party used to win from this area. When the MQM-P took control of municipal services, the PPP lost interest. In the last elections, Minister for Information Technology Amin-ul-Haq was elected from this area on an MQM-P ticket.

According to Bakhtawar, a lady health worker, “Faqir Colony is an undeveloped area. Most of the residents are industrial workers and daily wage earners.” She says no MNA or MPA has ever tried to resolve this problem for the area.

Muhammad Younis, a Water Board executive engineer in Orangi Town, tells The News on Sunday that the water crisis in Faqir Colony is 15 years old. “The water pressure is too low in this area. Hardly any water gets through the old pipelines,” he says. He says the Board is trying its best to resolve the water supply issue and will soon provide safe drinking water to the people of Faqir Colony.

Orangi Town is one of the biggest katchi abadis in Asia. The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) has granted 99 year leases to the residents of Faqir Colony. The residents belong to various ethnicities including Sindhi, Baloch, Punjabi, Laasi, Hindko and Pashtun. Most of them have been living in the area for decades.

Many parts of the city have been facing a severe water crisis for decades on account of the differences between the MQM-P and the PPP.

Recently, the residents of Faqir Colony set up a two day protest camp to record their dissatisfaction. They have faced a massive water shortage for the past 15 years. The camp was set up by the Water Action Committee and organised by human rights activist Mir Sharif Baloch. The protesters demanded that the government provide them access to safe drinking water.

“Orangi Town is a hilly area. People have been facing a serious water shortage there for over a decade,” Federal Minister Amin-ul-Haq tells The News on Sunday. “In some parts of the area people do get safe drinking water for their daily use but many areas are facing a severe shortage,” he admits.

“Water is available in Mansoor Colony and Imam Colony in Orangi Town,” he says. He says water reaches some areas of Orangi Town once or twice a month. Others have a more regular water supply. “We are spending billions of rupees with the support of the federal government to provide water to remote areas like Faqir Colony,” the minister says.

The residents of Faqir Colony recently set up a two day protest camp to record their dissatisfaction. They have faced a massive water shortage for the past 15 years.

Amin-ul-Haq says Orangi Town has been neglected in the past. He says the Sindh government has to ensure water provision to the West district from the K-4 project. “Unfortunately, access to water continues to be an issue for the people of this area,” he says.

Samreen Wazeer, 55, a resident of Block 2 PECHS Commercial Area near Tariq Road, says that there has been no water in the KWSB pipelines in the area for the past six years. “We have been purchasing water from tankers for inferior uses and bottled water for drinking. It costs thousands of rupees every month,” she says.

“It is sad that while all citizens pay taxes to the government, some of them are denied basic amenities like water,” she says, pointing out that water is a necessity.

Faisal 35, a resident of Punjab Colony in FC Area, says that the KWSB men in charge of water supply valves demand Rs 300 to Rs 400 bribe per house for opening and closing the relevant valves on supply line. “The area has a proper water supply junction but the KWSB valve-man is corrupt. The whole population is at his mercy,” he says.

“Most of the families living in the area have now installed hand pumps but groundwater in the area is too brackish for human use. The Gujjar Nala has also polluted the sub-soil water,” he says. He says most people in the area purchase potable water from a filtration plant. “Living without water is a tough challenge,” he laments.

Shareefa, 60, a basket weaver, says that she makes Rs 270 a day and lives by herself. “I bought a jerry can of water for Rs 70 and used it over two days”, she says.

According to Shareefa, she is unable to purchase enough water for her use as it is too expensive. “I know also that this blue jerry can is used to supply industrial chemicals and should not be used for drinking water but we are helpless. We have to survive on a low income,” she says.

“These jerry cans have been causing liver and abdominal diseases but I see no alternative,” she says.

Zohaib Qureshi, 40, from Surjani Town says that his family has a municipal water supply connection but they have not had a steady supply for more than three years. “We have complained to the KWSB several times but to no avail,” he says.

We continue to receive a monthly bill from the KWSB but no water. The Sindh government and the KWSB management should take notice of this problem and resolve the problem for Surjani,” Zohaib says.

Muhammad Sujawal, a water tanker driver says that they charge Rs 800 to Rs 1,000 for 1,000 gallons for delivery through a small vehicle within a 20 kilometre radius. “If we carry water in a large tanker, which has a minimum capacity of 1,000 to 2000 gallons, we charge Rs 2,000 to Rs 4,000, depending on the distance, he says.

“Water tankers charge a minimum of Rs 56 per kilometre, excluding the water charge,” he says. He says the water tanker business is booming in Karachi as there is a massive water shortage in nearly half of the city. “We mostly provide drinking water. We buy it from the Sakhi Hassan Water Hydrant,” Sujawal tells The News on Sunday.

According to Hazoor Khan, secretary general of the Water Tankers’ Association (WTA), there are 10,000 tankers supplying potable water in the city. “We transport water from various KSWB or private hydrants and supply in areas like the DHA, Orangi Town, Gulistan-i-Johar, Tariq Road and North Karachi,” he said.

“Residents of newly constructed buildings in DHA prefer water tankers to KWSB pipeline,” he says. He says tankers have access to an entire network of water supply. “The KWSB water hydrants charge nearly half what private hydrants charge for a water tanker,” he states.

He says the KWSB infrastructure is badly damaged in remote areas. “For reliable access to a necessity, people purchase water from tankers,” says Khan.

There are more than 200 illegal hydrants in Karachi. There are only six KWSB hydrants in Steel Town, Safoora Goth, Crush Plant in Manghopir, Landhi near Future Mor and Nipa Chowrangi. The illegal hydrants are a major contributor to the water crisis.

A tanker driver at Manghopir complains that the cost of diesel oil is increasing by the day. “We have to pay ridiculously high amounts to the hydrants and bribe the police. We have to charge at least Rs 2,000 to Rs 2,500 for 1,000 gallons or go broke,” he says.

“The shortage of water in rural Karachi is a big business opportunity for us,” he says. He says people can sometimes go without food for whole day but not without water. “We pay the hydrant staff and bribe the police. That is why our prices are high,” he says.

Abdul Qadir Sheikh, a spokesman for Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB), says, “Karachi needs 1,200 million gallons of water a day. We are receiving 480 MGD from Dhabeji Pumping Station and 100 MDG from Hub River Dam.” According to Sheikh, Karachi has a shortfall of 620 million gallons of water daily.

“The main city has been receiving proper water supply on a daily basis. However, people settled in North Karachi, Surjani Town, Taser Town, Orangi Town and Ibrahim Hyderi are facing severe water shortages,” he says.

“We do not have the capacity to store more than 100 million gallons in our system from Hub Dam. The Sindh government has handed over the K-4 Project to WAPDA. It will be completed by August 2023. After K-4 completion the city will receive another 240 million gallons of water,” he says.

Sheikh says the KWSB charges Rs 1,340 for 1,000 gallons of water and Rs 1,800 for 2,000 gallons delivered within a 20 kilometres radius.

It may be a while before all Karachi’s residents have reliable access to safe drinking water.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Karachi. He can be reached on Twitter @Zafar_Khan5

Dry taps, parched throats