A confluence of unfortunate events, some man-made and others accidents of nature, are conspiring together to cause a major crisis in the supply of water to Karachi. The natural events are related to the low levels of precipitation over the last two years that have, as a consequence, failed to replenish the natural water supplies of the city — the Hub Dam and the Keenjhar Lake. The Hub Dam gets its water from mountain run-off when it rains and the Keenjhar Lake is refreshed by the Indus River. In good years, there is sufficient to supply the city from rainy season to rainy season, but the years are not good and the Indus flow is much reduced and the Hub Dam has been at dead level for months.
Karachi is a thirsty city and needs 650 million gallons of water per day (MGD). It is currently facing a shortfall of 150MGD. The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) readily admits that 30-35 per cent of water is lost either through theft or cracks in the aged pipelines. The KWSB operates 16 water hydrants across the city, giving residents about 30,000 gallons a day, and there are another 129 illegal hydrants that are privately owned. To the surprise of nobody, the water mafia has stepped into the vacuum and if residents can afford Rs3,000 a day, then water is not a problem — but the majority cannot. The KWSB is aware of the situation but seem powerless to intervene effectively and shut down or bring into public ownership and operation, the illegal hydrants. Large sums of money are being made by those selling ‘black water’, and it may be assumed that bribes and kickbacks ensure the security of their operations. In theory, the solution is simple — crack down on the mafias and owners of illegal hydrants. But not so simple in practice when vested interests protect their cash flows. Once again, Karachi is held in thrall by gangsters and corrupt politicians. Thirsty people get angry very quickly, a fact the KWSB would be wise to take note of.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2014.
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