As repairs drag on, Tharparkar’s residents return to unsafe wells for water

The govt needs to set up more reverse osmosis plants or lay a bigger pipeline from the canal.

Z Ali February 06, 2012


The people of Tharparkar, yet again, face a scarcity of drinking water - only this time it is not because of a drought but the annual closure of the Jamrao canal.

On January 6, the Nara Canal Area Water Board, which controls the canal, closed its floodgates for annual repair and maintenance work for two weeks. But the work is still in progress.

A distributary of the canal supplies drinking water to Mithi and Deeplo talukas, through a pipeline from the Naukot area on the district’s border with Mirpurkhas. Hundreds of villages spread across these talukas also drink water from the canal.

While repairs are underway, water is supplied only for a few hours for a day after a nine-day interlude. Because supplies are limited, people only use this water for drinking and processed underground water supplied by the taluka municipal administration is used for other household work.

According to the board’s director, Ghulam Mustafa Ujjan, rehabilitation work in the upper Nara ranges has delayed a return to the usual supply. Jamrao branches off from the gigantic Nara Canal which flows from Sukkur Barrage.

During this unforeseen delay, the desert dwellers have been left to fend for themselves. With the advent of free water in pipelines in 2002, people became increasing aware about chronic illnesses caused by the high fluoride content and other contaminants in the subsoil water.

As a result of this, people stopped using wells that drew subsoil water. But with this drinking shortage, people have been forced to go back to surviving on the water they can draw from wells or from a reverse osmosis (RO) plant, installed at the Thar Coal Project office in Mithi.

But the water from the plant cannot reach Deeplo, which is about 40 km away, and the other far-flung villages. “Even the people of Mithi find it hard to fetch water from the RO plant which is located half a mile outside the taluka,” says Wasand Thari, a local.

Tankers, donkey carts and Qingqi rickshaws line up outside the plant which can produce about 75,000 gallons a day, although this is an estimate. “We don’t share the data,” said Iqbal Hussain, an engineer of the Pak Oasis Company which operates the plant. He only revealed that the plant works for a few hours, depending on demand.

The district has an estimated population of 1.3 million people spread across four talukas, with only one of them, Nagarparkar, devoid of a water supply system. Prem Kumar, the head of the Mithi taluka municipal administration, said that that the taluka’s tank, which can store 20 million gallons, has never been at full capacity.

Mithi has a sanctioned supply of 2.42 cusecs (roughly 1.3 million gallons per day) from a distributary of the Jamrao canal but the municipal administrator claims that they do not receive their complete share from that meagre supply.

Thari and others have been demanding for the government to find an alternate way to provide drinkable water to the desert. They have suggested more reverse osmosis plants be set up to match the population’s demand. They have also asked for an increase in the supply from Jamrao canal through a bigger pipeline.

“We have become dependent on an irregular supply for drinking water since the wells are an unwanted option,” says Thari.

Some NGOs have started encouraging people in Thar to use their model of deep underground tanks to store rainwater, a relatively successful model that can be used by each house or cluster. But this method of storing water has yet to be replicated throughout the district.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2012.


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