DAWN - Features; September 15, 2008

15 Sep 2008

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A labour of love

Bihishti Niaz Ahmad belongs to a breed of men that is dying out. He has been filling water in people’s homes since 1953. Today, at the age of 75, he refuses to let go of a service that is becoming obsolete. There is a quiet dignity written in those lines of labour that are etched so clearly on his face. Though he smokes two packs of cigarettes a day, he walks tall and straight up two flights, 60 times daily, carrying his mashk with an agility that would put to shame young people.

He doesn’t take any day off because water is needed daily by the families and he doesn’t mind it either. If there is a strike he walks all the way from Orangi, where he lives, to Saddar. “It’s a habit that is difficult to break,” he says.

Fazal Manzil, the name of the building where Niaz Ahmad has spent nearly 50 years supplying water to its many tenants, is situated in the heart of Saddar. It has seen better times and is quite quaint even today, fitting in the category of a heritage building. Noted fiction writer, columnist and playwright Hameed Kashmiri was a tenant of this building. His wife and son still live here and Niaz Ahmad considers them his family, doing chores for them when needed.

Sitting in Hameed Kashmiri’s flat, Niaz Ahmad traced the years when he had arrived in Pakistan as a child. “I was 13 when I migrated to Pakistan from Patiala with my family. There were nearly 135,000 Muslims living in Patiala and its outskirts, a predominantly Sikh area. There was a huge massacre and only 18,000 survived at the time of Partition. Later, we were packed off in three trains to Pakistan. I have seen terrible things but time tends to heal everything.”

Niaz Ahmad came to Karachi with his elder, married sister. He worked in different places to make ends meet. Someone told him to work as a water carrier, a bihishti, in Saddar as there were lots of flats there. In 1958 he came to Fazal Manzil and has remained there to this day. “I used to fill drinking water in a tank from Paradise Cinema and bring it here, but in 1961, when the landlord broke the water pipeline after a fight with the tenants, I began supplying water for their everyday use as well, to all the 24 flats.”

He employed two people to help him as 106 mashqs were required daily, and made Rs20 a day after paying the helpers. “The money was more than enough in those days. In the beginning I got four aanas per mashq, though it doubled after 10 years. Today it is Re1 per mashq.” He earns Rs3,000 and can barely make ends meet.

He married in 1959 and has seven children. All are married except one. His earnings were enough to bring up and educate them. He was able to buy land and build a house at a time when a little money went a long way.

Niaz Ahmad has no regrets. His children were, at one time, ashamed of his work but have accepted it now. Today, when they urge him to leave his work, it is because he is old and they want him to take it easy. But Niaz Ahmad says if he stops working his body will give way.

His memory is phenomenal as he remembers dates and events that happened a long time ago. He has seen the country going through thick and thin. Uneducated though he is, what the country has become saddens him more than other worries. “This country was achieved after a lot of sacrifices. I pray to God that things become better soon,” he says.—Khursheed Hyder

A dying breed

Life in Karachi can best be described as very difficult given the inherent problems faced by the residents of this sprawling metropolis.

Yet, despite all the adversities confronting us, we being humans manage to survive as we are free to take care of our problems.

However, what about the animals which are left in our care, held in captivity at our zoological gardens or Safari Park?

During the past few months it has been sadly reported on numerous occasions that animals of different species have died in confinement at the Karachi Zoo.

The cause of death in most cases has not been or could not be ascertained but one thing is certain: negligence and apathy on the part of the zoo officials has played a major part in the deaths of the animals.

According to reports, three neelgais, three red deer, a Shetland pony (no pony rides), and over 40 partridges have died this year only, whereas last year almost 27 animals, including 12 spotted deer (poor dears), a puma, a black leopard, two Bengal tigresses, six fallow dear fawns, two blue bulls, a blackbuck, a red deer, a jackal, puma and a black leopard died of mysterious blood diseases.

Lack of adequate veterinary and quarantine facilities, unhygienic conditions and unnatural habitats in confinement have also contributed to the deaths of these poor creatures.

Karachians, especially the affluent class, must come forward and help revive this 137-year-old recreational facility or soon the Karachi

Zoo will be full of empty cages with the land mafia probably hovering like vultures to use this vast tract of land for commercial purposes.

—Syed Ali Anwer

Royal rides

The city police seem spineless to act against vehicles bearing fancy registration plates, black glasses and those simply without registration plates.

Though people might have been impressed by the increase in the presence of traffic police on major roads of the city, those driving vehicles bearing fancy plates inscribed with party slogans appear little concerned.

Being a regular user of Sharea Faisal, I have yet to witness any of the new hooter-fitted vehicles

of the traffic police chasing such violators or fining the owners for using black glasses or fancy number-plates, particularly when the vehicle has a tri-colour party flag on its hood.

In the past a serious campaign was initiated by the police against black glasses and fancy number-plates. It netted hundreds of violators irrespective of their social status.

However, all of a sudden the drive was stopped when a police team signalled the official car of a former federal minister for religious affairs over a traffic violation on Khayaban-i-Shamsheer.

It was within a few hours that the city police chief ordered that the campaign be immediately stopped.

Police again tried to enforce the law by carrying out a strict campaign against the tinted glasses and fancy number-plates a few months ago.

Police officers were seen enforcing the writ of the law on many roads by removing the black sheets from cars. However, it just fizzled out within a couple of months.—S. Raza Hassan

Compiled by Syed Hassan Ali

karachian@dawn.com

City’s horticulture

Sir,
Thanks to someone’s sensible direction, the parks department of the CDGK has started switching over to tree plantation from its previous activities of planting grass, seasonals and trimmed trees/shrubs, on roadsides.

On some of the roads like Shahrah-i-Pakistan, University Road, Ibrahim Rehmatullah Road and Rashid Minhas Road, the department had already spent millions on sweet earth and manure for lawn laying and immediately switched over to planting trees. Apparently, lawns won’t survive underneath the trees. Who is responsible for the wastage of huge amounts of public funds?

On some of the roads they are planting three rows of trees on an 8’-10’ wide median! A large number of ficus trees purchased at exorbitant rates from private nurseries have been planted. Even a layman knows that ficus are very huge trees belonging to the bar and peeple family. They have a very long, nasty root system, which would in the times to come choke sewerage and water lines and harm the foundations of nearby buildings and roads.

Mainly conocarpus, a newcomer, from Ethiopia is being planted, without sufficient background study, research and acclimatization. It is bound to affect our eco-system, already so precarious. Conocarpus plants have also been purchased from private nurseries at very high rates.

The CDGK’s forests and parks departments’ nurseries could have prepared the saplings at nominal rates. The parks department’s nurseries use to sell plants; the purchase of plants was considered to be a disgrace to the department.

It is astonishing to note that the CDGK’s forests department spends about Rs200-300 for planting a tree sapling, whereas the parks department is spending about Rs1,000-2,000 on planting one tree.

In the SLGO, the planting of trees is the job of the forests department. About seven years have passed since the introduction of the district government system, but the job of tree plantation has not yet been entrusted to the forests department, for reasons best known to the authorities of the CDGK.

M. TARIQ KHAN

Tree Club of Pakistan

Bridge reconstruction

Sir,

I refer to the article of July 25 on the above subject and would like to submit that the referred accident should be looked at from a technical viewpoint only to ensure that such types of accidents are not repeated.

Instances of bridge collapses during construction, with fatalities, are numerous. A survey conducted in the US says that 25 per cent of the 80,000 bridges need reconstruction as they are structurally deficient.

As a mechanical engineer, I can say that in advanced countries such as the US, there is an alarming number of crane-related deaths. In New York City, two crane accidents since March have killed nine people. Recently, a fatal accident occurred with a large mobile crane, which collapsed in a refinery in Texas, killing four workers.

In all these accidents, the root causes are investigated to ensure that these types of tragedies do not occur again. Accidents occur even in specialized spacecraft, which are designed by highly qualified and experienced engineers and scientists, with billions of dollars at stake.

What I want to say by giving the above examples is that as a consequence of these accidents, the approach had always been technical to find the cause of the accident for future guidance in design.

To call the parties concerned in the bridge accident, as given in your article, “culprits” and attributing to them “criminal negligence or culpability” to be “persecuted” is, therefore not a correct approach.

ENGR A. RAHIM

Stadium Road

Shahi Chowk Clifton

Sir,

The new monument erected opposite the Bin Qasim Park in Clifton has been named Shahi Chowk. The whole project does not seem to be in harmony. The tall monument should have been constructed at the centre, where the fountain is, and the fountain should have been where the tall monument is, thus creating harmony with the other two fountains.

The tall monument would have set majestically in the centre and would have been the focus of attention.

It is unfortunate that the monument has been named Shahi Chowk, as it has no connection with the Clifton locality. It would have been more appropriate to name this monument Benazir Chowk, which would have been a great tribute to a brave woman and a wonderful leader.

One hopes the relevant authorities would take note and urge the Pakistan People’s Party high-ups to rename this spot Benazir Chowk.

S. SOOMRO

Clifton

Drain required

Sir,

I live in an apartment building named Florida Homes located at 33rd street Phase VI (Ext), DHA.

Last year rainwater entered the basement of our building and we were not able to take out our cars and were without electricity for two days. The rainwater caused heavy losses to our cars and also damaged the electricity wiring.

We, the residents of Florida Homes, request the DHA to also provide a drain in front of our building, so the residents do not have to face a similar situation again.

We had sent an application to the DHA, but we received no positive response.

SYED WAJID HUSSAIN

Karachi

Overhead bridge

Sir,

An overhead bridge is required in front of the Bahria Complex I at MT Khan Road. There is a heavy flow of traffic here round-the-clock, especially in the evening when people get off from offices. Because this building is near the Jinnah Bridge, Tower and West Wharf, the flow is great while people have great difficulty in crossing the road. I would request the relevant authorities to build an overhead bridge here to save people’s lives.

ALI RAZA MUGHAL

Via email

city@dawn.com

24-hour piped water: dream or possibility?

IF there is one aspect of Islamabad that belies its claim to be a modern well-planned capital city, it is the state of its water supply delivery system.

Despite the completion of the Metropolitan Water Supply Project (Khanpur-I) implemented between 1994 and 2000 to improve the commodity’s supply in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, as well as the recent National Drinking Water Policy and the Clean Drinking Water for All programme that resulted in the establishment of numerous filtration plants, getting a regular supply of clean water for daily domestic purposes, is a frustrating exercise for an increasing number of households not only in the rural areas but also in the urban sectors of the capital.

Given the disappointing results of the Khanpur-I project, is there any guarantee that the planned Dotara Carryover Dam and the Cherah Dam projects will improve the water supply delivery to residents in Islamabad in the near future, given the simultaneous plans for developing numerous new sectors, including a new industrial sector?

One major problem lies in the misleading claims about water supply coverage. As stated in a 2003 report on the Khanpur-I project, the coverage of water supply in the Islamabad area was appraised at 100 per cent when the project was conceived in the 1980s and the water supply coverage in the capital city was being maintained at 100 per cent in 2002 despite the more than expected population increase.

What exactly does “coverage” mean? As evident in recent newspaper reports and photographs, many households in Islamabad, even in the urban areas, rely on standpipe supplies in the form of water filtration plants. Although reliance on standpipe supplies is the norm in many cities in Pakistan and in South Asia, this is not considered as “coverage” in many other countries.

A more accurate picture of the state of water supply and delivery system in our country is given in a WHO-cum-UNICEF report in 2004 on Access to Water in Pakistan. According to this report, only 27 per cent of our total population has house connections to piped water (49 per cent in the urban areas and 15 per cent in the rural areas). Ironically, the same report also says that under the broad definition of “coverage”, 91 per cent of our total population have access to water supply (96 per cent in the urban areas and 89 per cent in the rural areas) – the highest in South Asia!

Likewise, intermittent water supply to piped homes – getting water for only a few hours a day – has long been considered the norm in Islamabad, as it is in the rest of Pakistan and South Asia, and this type of service is also classified under “coverage”; whereas elsewhere in many other countries in Asia, not to speak of western countries, nothing less than a continuous 24-hour water supply through pipes connected directly to homes is acceptable.

Over the decades in Islamabad, the coverage of households having even intermittent water supply has decreased, so much so that many localities very often do not even have intermittent supply for long stretches of time. In some localities, e.g., Bhara Kahu, households are getting very muddy water supply from their taps, which is not even fit for washing let alone for human consumption.

These households thus have to depend on the water filtration plants or on buying water from CDA’s mobile water tanks, both of which are unsatisfactory. The latter is a very costly affair, while the lack of maintenance of the water filtration plants has resulted in their breakdowns or the supply of contaminated water.

A major cause of the lack of even the intermittent service in Islamabad is the stretching of the water distribution system beyond its hydraulic capacity, i.e., continual addition of new water connections in the city despite an inadequate distribution system.

Another cause is massive wastage of water, termed as non-revenue water or NRW, through leakages in the system due to poorly maintained and old pipes and unauthorized or illegal connections, including for the purpose of selling water. Leaking pipes also pose threats to public health as the mixing of dirty water at the leakage points causes major water-borne diseases.

The 2007 National Drinking Water Policy promised that all public “intermittent” water distribution systems would be upgraded in phases through supply and demand management and rehabilitation to “continuous water” supply mode.

The policy also promised the establishment of new drinking water supply systems and the rehabilitation and upgrading of the existing systems in urban and rural areas to ensure sustainable access of safe drinking water to all the population.

The people of Islamabad - and elsewhere in the country - are entitled to 24-hour service piped water; intermittent supply, standpipes and vended supply of water are not the hallmarks of a modern, well-planned capital city. It is time for CDA to set its sights on 24-hour piped water in all homes and design a road map to get there, bearing in mind the continual development of the city.