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Parched on the banks of the Indus

Despite more funding than ever, authorities fail to provide filtered and uncontaminated water to residents of Sukkur

By Sarfaraz Memon |
PUBLISHED October 03, 2021

Despite its existence on the right bank of river Indus, the biggest problem for the residents of Sukkur has always been the supply of potable water. Though some of the residents living in the city centre are getting water on a regular basis, it is unfiltered water, which requires proper boiling or filtering before consuming. Sukkur Municipal Corporation spends millions for the provision of potable water to the citizens, but every so far every effort on their part has failed due to wrong and half-hearted planning. Keeping in view the rising needs of drinking water of the citizens back in 1894, the British rulers planned to construct two water tanks, having capacity of 500,000 gallons each at the hilly area, where today the Islamia College Sukkur stands. The twin tanks were completed after a year in 1895 with the estimated cost of around Rs.3.5 million and the structure still stands tall despite the fact that no major repairs or renovations have been carried out by the authorities concerned during all these years. Ironically state-of-the-art valves installed at the time of the construction of the tanks, aimed at supplying water to different areas of the city, developed some fault 30 years ago but despite hectic efforts, no mechanic could remove the fault and thus the precious valves were left unattended and replaced with new ones. However, the authorities carry out de-silting of the twin tanks once every two to three years and even today, a five feet high silt is accumulating in both the tanks, reducing the capacity of the tanks to 400,000 gallons. After the creation of Pakistan in August 1947, the population of Sukkur city started rising but both the water supply tanks provided ample water to the citizens without any trouble for around 30 years. However, with the ever-rising population, the municipal authorities developed more water storage and supply facilities at different areas including, Numaish water storage, Adam Shah hill water supply, Airport road water supply, New Pind police ground tank and near Anwar Paracha hospital to cater the needs of people living at the tail end. Besides this, six booster pumping stations have also been established at Bakhar Island, Islam Ganj, Latif Park, Achar Ghitti (street), Amanullah Chowk and New Pind, with the aim to supply water to the people living on the higher grounds. Even today many areas of Sukkur including most populous New Pind, Numaish Colony, New Goth, Adam Shah Colony, Garam Godi, Waritar Road, Thermal Colony and others are being supplied with water on alternate days, while in New Pind people of some areas get water twice or thrice a week. Similar is the condition in many parts of Old Sukkur, where water is being supplied on alternate days. As most of the cast iron pipelines were laid before the creation of Pakistan, many of the pipes have developed cracks and as a result, people are getting water mixed with the drainage water. About ten to twelve years ago some water and drainage pipelines were changed under the mega project of improving water supply and drainage system but the work still remains unfinished.

According to the in-charge water works at Bunder road Akram Abro, the situation has turned worse after the water supply and drainage was handed over to the Public Health Engineering Department one and half year ago. According to him, all the storage facilities have been handed over to the PHED, while distribution is the responsibility of Sukkur Municipal Corporation, which is the main reason of mismanagement. He said that earlier we were providing 2.5 million gallon/day (MGD) from main water works Bunder road and other facilities, which was enhanced to 10 to 12 MGD back in 1981. Apart from this, extra 36 MGD water has been arranged by establishing booster station at Bakhar Island but it is not in operational as yet. However, we can use this facility especially during the closure of Sukkur barrage in January every year to avoid water shortage, he added. As far as the shortage of water in the city centre is concerned, he said that the 18 inch diameter mainline had burst in January 2021, which is not repaired as yet by the PHED.

He further said that there are four sedimentation tanks, constructed with the purpose to separate sediments from the water, but all these tanks are full of silt and thus have become useless. Similarly, the chlorination system has also not been in operation since the last two years, due to which bags of alum are used to purify raw water sucked from the river. According to Abro, heavy silt is accumulating in most of the water reservoirs, thus reducing the water storage capacity to half. For his part, the Executive Engineer PHED Abdul Qadeer said that despite financial constraints, they are providing 20 MGD water to the citizens on a daily basis and trying their level best to further improve the water supply. Talking about the supply of raw water to the citizens, he said, “we are using 22 bags of alum on daily basis.” However, he admitted that the residents of Old Sukkur, Numaish Colony, Qureshi Goth, New Pind and others being supplied water on alternate days and was hopeful that the situation will be overcome pretty soon. A reliable source in the SMC requesting anonymity informed that 10 to 12 years ago, heavy duty generators were installed at water works and drainage pumping stations with the aim to provide basic amenities to the citizens. He claimed that during the first six months, the generators were used to provide water and pump drainage water in the absence of electricity but afterwards the authorities stopped using generators but continuously charged bills for the diesel and mobile oil for the generators. Now, the water works have been supplied with express feeder, which is load shedding free and still bills are being charged for the diesel and mobil oil for the generators.

The Administrator Sukkur Municipal Corporation Ali Raza Ansari, brushing aside all the allegations about charging fuel against heavy duty generators, said there are three components of water supply. First is the source, where from water is drawn and stored in the reservoir. Secondly, the water is pumped from reservoirs to the filtration plants, and the third and final stage is water supplication to the end users. He informed that according to the decision of the water commission headed by Justice Retired Ameer Hani Muslim, all the three components were the responsibility of the Public Health Engineering Department. “When all these three components were handed over to the PHED, it could not handle it properly and resultantly complaints started pouring in regarding water shortage and contaminated water,” he said. He further said that keeping in view the public complaints, it was decided in a political meeting to hand over distribution network to the SMC and let the PHED handle water source and reservoirs. “After that, the SMC was handed over the distribution system but those were only verbal orders and no letter was issued,” he said. Ansari said, “The PHED has failed miserably even to handle the water source and reservoirs and even today our staff help them out to avoid complaints. “He told us that PHED has neither de-silted the reservoirs and nor have the time to let the raw water settle in the reservoirs for at least 24 to 48 hours before supplying to the users. According to him, we are supplying water to our full capacity, and we don’t have further reservoirs to meet the increasing demand. However, the PHED at its end is supplying raw water to the citizens without passing it through a filtration process, while he said that at some places people complain of contaminated water, which is due to leakage of the old distribution pipelines,” he said. Ansari further told that there are around 75,000 houses in the city, but legal water connections are only 26,000, which means that rest of the residents are using water through illegal means. “The 26,000 legal consumers have not paid their water bill for the last one and a half year, and now we have started issuing notices to them and hopefully they will make their payment at the earliest,” he said.

Ansari said that despite the fact that the SMC has nothing to do with the water supply, but to avoid public cry, they are managing the distribution line. “Most of the distribution lines are old and worn out and thus cracks have developed in them,” he says. He also mentions how adding, during recent past they have repaired more than 100 leakages in the distribution lines. “Yes, I agree sometimes people get contaminated water due to mixing of water supply and drainage water, but mostly it is because of the supply of raw water by the PHED,” he claims. He added, “Interestingly the 36 MGD Bakhar Island source, which is the prime responsibility of PHED, is being looked after by the SMC because the PHED don’t have enough funds to meet day-to-day expenses.”

“We are trying our level best through whatever capability we have to fulfill the requirements of the citizens and will continue to do so,” he concluded

Khadim Ali resident of Bakhar Chowk Old Sukkur complaining about the supply of contaminated water said, “For a long time, the residents of old Sukkur have getting contaminated water due to which stomach-related diseases have become quite common in our area.” He further said that sometimes water supply by the SMC literally stinks but no one is ready to take corrective measures in this regard. Mohammad Ali, a resident of Nusrat Colony Old Sukkur, shared the same story adding, “I have been residing in this area for the last 55 years and the SMC, at one point, used to supply potable water to the citizens. Now the SMC is getting more funds and additional facilities, but the performance is showing a downward trend with every passing day,” he said. He said that most of the water pipelines were laid before the creation of Pakistan and due to repeated digging of the roads by the SMC and SSGC, the cast iron pipes have developed cracks, due to which sewerage water is mixed with the drinking water. “Though we are living in the third biggest city of Sindh we don’t have basic amenities,” he said, adding, “Water is life and what the SMC is providing to us is no water but rather a slow poison.”

Shoukat Ali, a resident of Darzi Muhalla New Pind, said, “When I was constructing my house here, I constructed two overhead water tanks, keeping in view the water shortage in our area. We get water after two or three days and at that time we fill both the tanks and use the water carefully.”

Abdul Khaliq, resident of Amanullah Chowk New Pind, complaining about water shortage said, “After so many years of lack of basic amenities like water, we have adjusted ourselves in a way that now water shortage means nothing for us. What is the use of complaining, when no one pays attention towards your problems?”

Talib Hussain, a resident of near Police Line New Pind, expressing his anger over the attitude of the authorities concerned said, “They [authorities] are treating us like keera makoras.” He said, “We get water twice a week, which is never filtered. Therefore, we have to fetch drinking water from the water filter plants, which is a time and money consuming process.” Mehtab Ali, another resident of Old Sukkur said, “It is matter of concern that despite the lapse of 75 years, the government is not able to provide potable water to its citizens, what to talk about other facilities.”