Residents will now have to pay collective bills as the Sindh government has decided to include water charges in electricity bills.
This was decided in a meeting chaired by Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad at Governor House. In order to financially stabilise the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board, it has been decided to include water bill charges in electricity bills.
Moreover, it was decided that the desalination project — under which the sea water will be processed to make it drinkable — will also be taken forward.
At the time of Partition, Pakistan had 5,000 cubic metres of water per person for one year. That availability has now reduced to 1,100, which is very close to 1,000, the level marked as 'water-starved'.
Pakistan's population explosion is predominantly responsible, but when you couple that with poor water treatment facilities, the consequences are hazardous to the environment and population.
Karachi generates 472 million gallons of sewerage water a day and all of this has to be treated with just three water treatment plants that are equipped to deal with a total capacity of just 151 million gallons per day.
KWSB's Muhammad Ayoob Sheikh has been trying for years to alter this equation. "The plants are in horrible condition," he said.
Sheikh is the project manager on the S-III project — a Rs16 billion scheme that aims to improve the environmental condition at beaches and stop the damage caused to marine wildlife by increasing and renovating treatment plants.
In their most recent report, the KWSB found that 90 per cent of Karachi's water is contaminated because it remains untreated posing serious health risks. Contaminated water is then dumped into the sea. The proof of our poisoned sea lies in the fact that within a six-kilometre radius of dumping areas, no aquatic life exists anymore. "This water is dumped into sea that poisons fish, which we then eat," he added.
The World Bank estimates that Pakistan incurs a loss of Rs365 billion per year because of environmental degradation. This means Rs1 billion every day are lost to illness, lower household incomes, lower company outputs and food contamination.
The federal and Sindh governments, and the Karachi Port Trust are financing the S-III project but, Sheikh said that until the government makes the environment and specifically water and sanitation a priority, resources will remain limited. "The government's priority has never been the environment," he regretted.
The S-III project has been slow to start since 2007 and the KWSB agreed that if resources had been made available, it would have already been completed by now. A project to improve treatment of industrial waste has yet to be approved but that is the second half of the equation which will determine whether Pakistan turns its water resources into a crisis or an opportunity.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2011.