For citizens, water is life. For parties, a lifeline to voters

Four political parties speak of water issues in manifestos. Others ignore it outright

Hafeez Tunio July 14, 2018
Children stand in queue to fill their bottles with potable water from a tanker in the metropolis. PHOTO: ONLINE

KARACHI: Water is life. For citizens, certainly. For some political parties, an election slogan. For others, the issue seems insignificant.

This much is apparent in the manifestos released by political parties contesting the upcoming general elections. Four major parties - Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the Awami National Party - have made the resolution of water and sanitation issues part of their agenda. Others seem to have missed the memo.

Water scarcity continues to be a major issue for Pakistan - ignored by previous governments and politicised by opposition parties. According to the Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation run by the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children Fund (Unicef), 74% of Pakistanis lack access to clean drinking water, 42% have no access to basic sanitation and 79 million Pakistanis have no facility for proper disposal of human waste. Of these, around 25m people living in rural areas lack basic awareness of the need for proper waste disposal, leading to the spread of diseases.

Despite these miserable numbers, only four political parties have thought it important to make water part of their outreach to voters.

The governments have constantly failed to address the issue of water scarcity by constructing new dams and reservoirs.

Water shortage prompts Karachi's residents to take to the streets


It was the consistent failure of the successive governments to address the issues of dams and reservoirs which compelled the Supreme Court to take up the issue. After many hearings and debate, the apex court ordered construction of two dams - Diamer and Bhasha. It also opened accounts under its supervision, seeking donations from public and institutions to help the government construct these dams.


“We will transform Karachi into a vibrant, competitive megacity through large-scale reforms in governance and with the provision of public services such as housing, mass transit, water and sanitation. We want to make Karachi the urban jewel of Pakistan,” says the PTI manifesto. “Water is scarce, as only 55% of the daily water needs are met due to the monopoly structure in place by a water mafia,” it adds.

According to the party, approximately half of Karachi’s citizens do not have access to sanitation and the root cause of Karachi’s poor state is its poor local government system, which is neither empowered nor resourceful enough to resolve these issues. “We will provide clean drinking to all residents of Karachi. In the process, we will crack down on the water mafia, illegal connections on public pipelines and champion the installation of desalination plant. We will aggressively improve waste management and resolve sanitation issues in Karachi through a component sharing model with public, private and community funding,” the document states, besides pledging to resolve sanitation issues only in mega cities like Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta.

The PTI has said it will build dams and solve the water crisis with immediate steps to conserve and improve the management of water. “We will expedite development of requisite infrastructure and ensure implementation of Pakistan’s national water policy and our water plan for each province,” the party’s manifesto reads.


Even though the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) 2013 election manifesto touched upon issues of water scarcity and sanitation, the party failed to live up to its promises. This time, the party has made the same promises all over again. “We recognize safe drinking water and decent sanitation as basic human rights and will work towards formulating appropriate legislation and policies,” states the party’s 10th manifesto launched by its co-chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on June 28 in Islamabad. “The provision of clean drinking water and sanitation facilities has been our top priority. Our seriousness on this issue can be gauged from the last PPP government in Sindh which allocated Rs29.12 billion to address water and sanitation issues in Sindh.”

Commenting on the gravity of the issue, the PPP manifesto recognises that, “potable water is not available to 83% of the population despite more than seven decades of independence. In Pakistan, unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation have been the primary causes of many water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea and malaria.”

According to the manifesto, following the consensus of all federating units, PPP aims to build more dams, keeping in view the rights of the lower riparian and delta ecosystem. “Bhasha dam is of immense economic value to Pakistan and therefore our focus will be to raise funds for and finance this important project,” the PPP manifesto reads.

Orangi Town residents cry foul over water crisis


The ANP manifesto also assures that the party will work for the provision of drinking water, particularly in public schools, where it will also initiate the construction of toilets.

“ANP will review the policy for urban planning and management. The design and alignment of underground and surface drainage would avoid or minimise the impact on existing environmental values,” its manifesto reads, adding that the party will ensure improved access to clean air, drinking water, waste management systems, sanitation and open spaces.

“ANP will also urgently address the problem of safe disposal at hospitals, industrial units and other toxic waste,” the party has claimed. “We will publish literature regarding protection of environment and the importance of potable water in textbooks.”


While the PML-N manifesto lacks details of a strategy designed to address water-related issues, it does mention some steps to be taken to improve the water supply. These include revision of tariffs, waste and theft reduction and establishment of quality standards for drinking water. “PMLN will ensure supply of clean drinking water to coastal areas and Karachi by setting up desalination and Reverse Osmosis (RO) plants,” the manifesto reads.

What experts say

According to water expert and research scholar, Nadeem Ahmed, inferior water quality and decreasing availability are an international issue. “Universal access to clean drinking water and sanitation stands unaddressed as 110 children die every day due to diseases like diarrhea caused by contaminated water,” he said. “We in Pakistan spend on healthcare, but ignore preventive measures,” he lamented, adding that every elections, political parties promised to resolve these issues, but all in vain.

For Ahmed, water and sanitation are the fundamental rights of every individual, recognised by the United Nations General Assembly and in turn by the Government of Pakistan after the ratification of the charter in 2008. “However, this recognition is not explicitly recognised in the legal ecosystem in Pakistan, nor is it given priority as an essential public right by political parties.”


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