H2O is going to be ‘no-go’ if we don’t prepare

Express May 23, 2010

KARACHI: As the mercury rises and electricity tariffs mimic them the water shortage in Karachi is slated to be one of our biggest problems in the coming years.

The areas and towns that are worst hit by the water shortage are Malir, Saddar, Gulberg, Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Keamari, Korangi, Landhi, Defence Housing Authority, Lyari, Shah Faisal Colony, Liaquatabad and Bin Qasim Town. Mohammad Shamshad, a resident of PECHS, says that along with buying petrol for his generator, he now has to buy a water tanker every two weeks. “We actually pay more to get less,” he says. Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) officials told The Express Tribune that the water woes are bound to increase in the coming years.

Karachi, a city of 20 million people with an annual growth rate of five per cent, needs to be supplied with more water every year. According to a senior KWSB official, the current water requirement of the city is around 720 million gallons. The main source of water for the city is the River Indus and the Hub dam. The Hub dam is supposed to supply 100 million gallons of water daily to Karachi, however, due to a shortage of rainfall, the dam is only supplying 90 million gallons per day and the rest has to be covered by the Indus, he explains.

KWSB officials say that the water shortage was exacerbated because of the rising temperatures as people are using more water than usual. “Out of the 720 million gallons required, the water board is now supplying 670 million gallons to the city. But one cannot ignore water theft and transmission losses as major factors contributing to the shortage.” Thirty per cent, or 180 to 200 million gallons, of the 670 million supplied by the water board is wasted in these losses. “So the city is just left with 500 to 550 million gallons,” he says.

The KWSB official suggested that the demand and supply gap can be met if Karachi’s quota of water from the Indus river is increased. The KIII plan, which was the third part of the Water and Sewerage Master Plan 2006-2020, was implemented in 2006 that was to ensure 100 million gallons of water supply for Karachi. But the fourth part, the KIV plan, which had to be implemented in 2008 and expire in 2010, has not even started as yet, explains another official.

About the daunting future, he says that in the coming years, the water shortage will become so severe, that the electricity issue will become secondary. “This is because of the perennial rift between the federal and the Sindh government about the amount of water each province should get.” On a more positive note, the official added that the Japanese are willing to provide financial support and expertise to solve Karachi’s water problems. “But they can only start when the government sanctions 1,200 cusecs of water for the city. Given the slow pace of decisions, I cannot see a solution anytime soon,” he says, adding that without any additional water, there is nothing the water board can do.

Lahore, Rawalpindi and Faisalabad have underground water unlike Karachi that only has surface water. “The cost of desalinated water is too high,” he says. “People don’t even pay their regular bills.” What makes us think that they will pay extra for desalinated water. Seventy per cent of consumers don’t pay their bills as a result of which the board has to bear all additional costs. “Because of this, we are unable to pay our electricity bill and they keep on cutting our power supply.”

Published in the Express Tribune, May 24th, 2010.