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KARACHI, June 5: The port city does not have its own source of water so the water in Karachi has to be transported and distributed within the city through a combination of canals and pipelines. There is a big gap between the supply and demand.

People belonging to various classes also get to drink different qualities of water.

These were some of the points highlighted during a talk titled “Water woes in Karachi” given by chairman of the department of architecture and planning of the NED University Prof Dr Noman Ahmed organised by the Oxford University Press to observe World Environment Day, here on Wednesday.

“Thirty-five per cent of the entire water coming to the city is stolen through different forms of organised crime — be it through illegal hydrants, home suction devices, etc,” the professor said. “Meanwhile, the demand for water in Karachi is 835 million gallons per day [MGD],” he added.

“The suction devices are creating their own technological distortion in the system of supply. Due to the powerful suction in the water lines, sewage water, too, has entered the drinking water stream, contaminating the water,” he said.

“Drinking water is also different for the different classes. For instance, the affluent will buy bottled mineral or purified water, the middle class will also buy bottled water but maybe of another range that may not be that pure while the poor will drink tap water,” he said.

About the distribution system, Dr Noman said that it, too, was a victim of various flaws. “The water supply infrastructure in some areas of the city such as PECHS or KDA Scheme 1 is very old where the pipes have rusted away and broken down. Then in some places the quality of pipelines laid out was substandard as there was little money to do so but the work was carried out only to gain some political mileage,” he said.

While no water was reaching the consumers through the pipelines, the tankers or bowsers were brought in as an emergency service. “10pc of the city’s water is supplied through tankers,” he said.

“The underprivileged get water from the small metal tanks loaded on donkey carts or pushcarts. In Orangi, the people had constructed big tanks to which the Rangers supply water twice a week so that the people of the area can fill their cans there,” the professor said.

“But then all households do not have young people to fill big cans and carry them back to their homes so a proper pipeline system is still very much needed,” he added.

“So the several challenges in acquiring clean potable water prompt us to think whether we should view water distribution as a service or a commercial enterprise,” he said. “Many here also do not pay their water bills while arguing that they have a right to this natural resource. But they should understand that getting them the water costs. The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board [KWSB] is anyway in financial debt of more than Rs52 billion,” he added.

“The perception of consumers has to be changed,” he said. “The KWSB must build appropriate consumer relations and awareness to scale up the recovery of bills.”

About the KWSB, he said that human resource within the utility was a chronic issue at all levels. No one really wanted to work there so they were short of well-trained people in their engineering, technical and administrative cadres as the management was forced to hire inadequate manpower, he added.

“The management cadres of the water board, too, have become stagnant so they are not even able to come up with new policies or solutions to improve the utility. Change is difficult without any fresh blood,” he said.

Replying to a question about underground water sources, the professor said that earlier the mashkis used to supply water that they got from the hand pumps which were placed at proper places that pumped out sweet water. “But most ground water here is brackish and not fit for drinking. Some tanker services, too, supply the same brackish water to people who don’t have much choice,” he said.

Replying to another question, he said that recycling of water was a great thing to be considered as it was already being done in many countries that have shortage of water.

“I carried out a research once to find that 15pc of water supplied to Karachi was being used to wash cars. This is ridiculous when there are means to improve the quality of used water to near drinking level to be used for washing cars or in flush tanks. There can be an alternative plumbing system to do all this. About 70pc of every 100 MGD is wasted. Right now we are dumping 445 MGD of untreated waste into the sea while hurting the food chain and marine life,” he said.

Finally, about the much discussed K-IV project of the KWSB, the expert said: “It is a perception that taking more water from the Indus River will solve the city’s water needs. But more water means more wastage of water unless we fix the transportation and distribution problem here. Will this extra water even reach the consumers of Karachi?” he concluded.