Private water suppliers have called off their strike, spelling the end to a severe water shortage that hit thousands of Karachi residents, hospitals, businesses and livestock traders.
After meeting for hours with senior government officials Saturday night, members of the Karachi Water Tanker Owners Welfare Association emerged from the commissioner’s committee room all smiles. The protest started over the closure of hydrants and the alleged harassment of tanker drivers by the police. It ended with a victory for the association on many fronts as the administration bowed to the overwhelming repercussions of a water shortage.
Since Tuesday, 8,000 tankers had been parked for an indefinite period in protest against the closure of hydrants - a lifeline of commercial water suppliers. The association wanted all hydrants to be legalised and commercial water charges to be slashed. The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) insisted its move to close the hydrants helped start a piped water supply to a lot of areas.
“It was a matter of miscommunication,” said Karachi Commissioner Hashim Raza Zaidi, as he marked his first victory since taking office on October 6. The government also realises its job of taking action against illegal hydrants, he added.
A large part of Karachi is dependent on tankers for its daily needs. People from Defence Housing Authority (DHA) to SITE buy thousands of tankers daily as the piped supply from KWSB is negligible or connections do not even exist.
To meet this demand - which the water board puts at just one per cent of its piped supply but the tankers association claims to be around 30 per cent - a system of water hydrants has been created. Run by private contractors, around 21 hydrants siphon water from the city’s pipelines and sell it to the tanker owners who in turn supply it to these areas.
Under the cover of these legal hydrants however, hundreds of illegal ones had cropped up over the years, causing losses of millions of rupees to the city’s sole water utility.
A couple of months ago, KWSB launched a crackdown against illegal hydrants but the attempts met with failure. Finally, it was decided to close all the hydrants, including the legal ones. As a last resort, police started arresting tanker drivers.
“That was a stupid decision,” said an association member as he sat with his two dozen colleagues outside the commissioner’s office. “When there is demand, supply will be created automatically. We buy water from illegal hydrants because it is cheaper. Close them down instead of attacking us.”
The association’s general secretary, Hazoor Ahmed, said that they were forced to go on strike after police started impounding their tankers.
A lot of doubts persisted about the exact decisions taken at the meeting.
While the tankers association said hydrants will sell water at Rs120 per 1,000 gallons, according to KWSB Managing Director Misbahuddin Farid, it was impossible. “We will try and resolve the water price issue between the hydrant owners and the tankers,” he said.
On Friday, the officials met the association’s key demand of opening legal hydrants but it was not enough to take the supply back to normal via tankers. Thousands of households, offices and shops went dry by Friday.
The decision to close down hydrants had followed a controversy surrounding KWSB’s senior officials, who were accused of taking kickbacks for giving a nod to illegal hydrants. The price of a 3,000-gallon water tanker jumped to Rs2,500 from Rs2,000 after illegal hydrants were sealed.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2012.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ