Footprints: No end to water crisis

Published September 2, 2016
A view of the Ankara Daur dam.—Photo by Mariyam Suleman
A view of the Ankara Daur dam.—Photo by Mariyam Suleman

GWADAR: Considered to be the backbone of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Gwadar has been in the grip of a water crisis over the last several years. Owing to the neglect of the provincial government, residents of Gwadar are compelled to collect water from distant areas of the district. Gwadar residents say many people have left the port city because of the water crisis.

The major source of water in Gwadar is rainwater, collected and stored in the Ankara Daur dam. Completed in 1993, the dam was built at a time when Gwadar’s population was far smaller than it is today. This is why the port city’s reservoir is not enough to serve the needs of the current population of the district. Sometimes, due to long drought spells, the reservoir dries up. There is no other source of drinking water for the Gwadar people than the Ankara Daur dam.

“In Gwadar, we get water supply at home after four or five days. Usually, we buy well water from donkey cart operators. Sometimes, our women have to go from door to door to seek even a bucketful of water,” says Mohammad Ilyas Baloch, a resident of the port city.

“Those who can afford it buy water from tanker operators, but that is too expensive for a majority of the population.”

Local newspapers often report government officials and politicians saying that they are trying their best to overcome Gwadar’s water crisis. Because of the CPEC, they say, the strategic importance of Gwadar has increased manifold, which is why they will leave no stone unturned for Gwadar people’s well-being, and resolving the water issue is their top priority.

Speaking to Dawn, Mariyam Suleman, a local social scientist, says: “During retired General Pervez Musharraf’s regime the Mirani dam, about 150 kilometres from Gwadar city, was constructed to overcome the city’s water crisis. It only needs laying pipeline to supply water to the city, but this government is not doing even that much. Several meetings of the relevant committees were held during the acute water shortage we faced this year as well as in 2012. But once it rains, and the water crisis eases, everything fades into oblivion and there is no proper planning for a lasting water supply. Of course, the Ankara Daur dam alone cannot fulfil the people’s water needs.”

Talking to Dawn, Siddique Baloch, a senior journalist who has exhaustively written on the Gwadar port project, says there are 360 seasonal rivers in Makran and five big rivers in its nearby coastal areas. This means there are many potential new sources of water to alleviate the current crisis in Gwadar in particular and Makran in general, provided the government builds necessary storage facilities on them.

“Iran’s Chabahar Port, some 72km from Gwadar, does not face any water crisis,” says Baloch. “The reason for this is that, unlike our government, they overcame the water crisis by working on it. But we, despite having potential sources for water, seem uninterested in resolving the water crisis in Gwadar.”

Answering a question, Suleman says: “I do not personally see any progress being made by the government in resolving the water crisis. In 2012, when Gwadar was severely hit by this crisis, government officials had vowed to resolve it. Later on, they merely made committees and did nothing tangible. This is why the port city is facing a water issue today.

“However,” she recalls, “I do hear about the Sawad dam, which has been in progress for several years [If completed, the dam will be nearer to Gwadar than the Mirani dam]. The dam was expected to be completed by 2014, but there are no signs of its completion soon.”

Dr Shahid Ahmad, an expert on water affairs and author of several papers on the water crisis in Gwadar, says: “First, water can be brought to Gwadar from the Mirani dam, which is situated in the neighbouring district of Kech. But before that, we have to keep in mind the following questions: how to deal with the local people who have preferential right on the water? Will they allow it? If they allow it, what will be their conditions for it? These questions and conflicts need to be addressed by the government before bringing water from there [the Mirani dam] to Gwadar.”

Secondly, he says, there are several feasible sites around Gwadar where dams can be built, as well as the existing ones improved, if the government takes due interest in it.

Thirdly, another option the government can explore is desalinisation of seawater. However, he says, the government cannot do this alone. Instead, the government should install and lease desalination plants to the private sector for better functioning and to ensure that Gwadar’s water problem is solved permanently.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2016

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