With its more than 16 million-strong population, Karachi faces many problems that are often inherent to cities its size in the developing world. Its never-ending water crisis, however, has made life nothing short of an ordeal for its people.
Not only do residents need an uninterrupted supply of water for their daily domestic use but considering Karachi's status as the economic hub, its industries also need millions of gallons of water every day.
The city faces an acute shortage of water irrespective of the season. Even when its dams get full to the brim during the monsoon season, the problem persists.
Over the past decade, the population of the city has doubled, yet authorities have failed to increase the supply of water. Due to the criminal negligence of the Sindh government and the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB), two major water-supply projects under K-IV - that were designed to supply 260 million gallons and 65 million gallons per day - have been hit with unnecessary delays. For the past three years, no progress has been seen and the completion of the projects remain a distant dream. At the same time, the up-gradation of the Dhabeji Pumping Station is also stuck in the pipeline.
Contending with our growing water scarcity
Karachi needs 1,200 million gallons of water daily to sustain the needs of its population. However, the city is only supplied with 406 million gallons of water per day. Under the distribution system of the water board, 364 MGD and 42 MGD of water is provided for domestic use and the industries, respectively.
According to the information contained in documents obtained from the water board, together with the discussion held with relevant engineers, it has been learned that the approved quota for water from the Keenjhar Lake is 650 MGD. However, due to a lack of capacity in the canal system as well as in the pumps of the Dhabeji station, the total allocated amount of water is not being provided to Karachi. Instead, the city only receives a total of 510 MGD of water from the Keenjhar Lake per day, which includes 450 MGD to the Dhabeji Pumping Station, 30 MGD to the Gharo Pumping Station, 25 MGD to the Pakistan Steel Mills and five MGD to the Port Qasim Authority.
The Hub Dam
As a result of the monsoon rains, a lot of water was stored at the Hub Dam due to which 100 MGD water was being supplied to Karachi. However, only 70 MGD of water reaches the Hub Pumping Station because 30 per cent of water is wasted due to the dilapidated condition of the Hub Canal. According to an estimate, billions of gallons of water has so far been wasted because of the perpetual leaks in the canal. For the past 10 years, the openings on both sides of the canal have been broken but no concrete efforts were made to fix the issue.
Similarly, throughout the decade, some years faced low rainfall because of which the Hub Dam had dried up and the water supply to Karachi was reduced to zero. That was the best opportunity for the authorities to carry out the required repair work in the canal, but the officers of the water board seemingly procrastinated and did nothing to fix the issue.
Per its approved legal share, Karachi should be provided with a total of 750 MGD of water from the Keenjhar Lake and the Hub Dam but due to a lack of capacity in the water board's canal system, together with a lack of capacity in the pumps at the Dhabeji Station and the breakage in the Hub Canal, only 580 MGD of water reaches the pump houses.
The tragedy is such that the citizens of Karachi do not even get the remaining 580 MGD because of leaks and water theft which leads to a loss of 30 per cent water, which makes 174 MGD. That leaves only 406 MGD of water in the water board's system and the citizens of Karachi have to survive with this meagre quantity of water.
The last project to supply additional water to Karachi through the Keenjhar Lake was completed by the former city government during the time of the former president General Pervez Musharraf. The 100 MGD project, titled K-III, began in 2004 and was completed in a record time of two years. In 2010, the city government system was abolished as a result of which the control of the water board was handed over to the Sindh government. Since then, the performance graph of the water board been on a constant decline.
Throughout the decade, the water board initiated three major water-supply projects; the up-gradation of the Dhabeji Pumping House was started in December 2016, costing Rs1.6 billion to install six new pumps within two-and-a-half years. However, due to the incompetence of the engineers, the project was delayed for six months. Finally, the project is its final stages of completion and is expected to start in January 2020. The completion of the project will add 40 MGD of water for Karachi.
Due to the negligence of the water board officials, the excess water project worth 65 MGD has been delayed for the past three years, which was approved by the Sindh government in 2014. The inability of the engineers can be gauged from the fact that the cost of the project could not be ascertained when PC-1 was created, which was worth Rs5.9 billion.
When the water board started the construction of the project in 2017, ground facts were discovered and a revised PC-I was sent to the Sindh government, which was worth Rs11 billion. The Sindh government is yet to approve the revised PC-1.
Civic authority told to improve water supply
In 2019's financial budget, the Sindh government allocated only Rs500 million for the project. Per the plan, the project has to be finished in 18 months, but even after three years, only 15 per cent of work has been done.
The K-IV is the most important water development project for Karachi. The construction work of this project started in 2016 which incurred a cost of Rs25.5 billion at the start. For the purpose, the federal and provincial governments have approved an equal contribution to the budget. The project was scheduled to be completed in 2018.
However, due to the pressure from various stakeholders, there was a change in the design which led to a sharp increase in cost. The Sindh government has handed over the task to the National Engineering Services Pakistan (NESPAK) to scrutinise the sudden change of design and the resultant increase in cost.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 29th, 2019.