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KARACHI: The future of Karachi lies in seawater desalination. The city needs a pilot desalination/reverse osmosis plant using waste-to-energy technology that can be scaled up, apart from two other desalination plants. Sewage can be recycled and treated for use. Investments are available and all this can be achieved in two to three years.

This is the gist of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s recently launched plan of action for Karachi’s water, garbage and electricity woes.

While the proposed plan is open for debate and one can point out many gaps, the party should be given credit, at least for being the only political party that has come up with a list of proposals for the city’s worsening civic conditions.

“This took us two years to develop. We visited the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) installations and held consultations with all stakeholders, including officials representing the government, cantonment boards, Defence Housing Authority, Hub Power Company Limited (Hubco) and potential investors,” said Dr Arif Alvi of the PTI in a recent interview with Dawn.

The party deserves appreciation for coming up with a list of proposed solutions to the city’s worsening civic conditions

He seemed hopeful about his party’s prospects in the coming elections and said that even if the party couldn’t succeed in Sindh, it would form the government at the federal level and push for ‘the much-need systems’ a city like Karachi had been waiting for a long time.

“These issues must come in public discourse. I agree that honest people make a lot of difference but it’s equally important to bring in checks and accountability at every level of governance and strengthening institutions such as the National Accountability Bureau,” he said in reply to a question.

Sharing their feedback on the PTI’s plan, seasoned architect and planner Arif Hasan said: “All this is very fancy. The traditional system can be put back in place and then we can think of new solutions. The main issue is of rehabilitation, maintenance and management. That means institutions, finances and minimum subsidies.”

Dr Noman Ahmed, senior professor and dean, faculty of architecture and management sciences, at NED University, said that the idea of using ‘Co gen’ approach to seawater desalination was not new on technical counts.

“It was applied in the DHA and has failed to deliver. The technical, financial and institutional reasons are available in many reports and also in newspaper articles,” he said.

Dr Ahmed suggested to the PTI to go through the March 16, 2017 judgement of the Supreme Court which, he said, highlighted the problems and also indicated some of the solutions for Karachi.

“There are many suggestions by Dr Alvi which have been categorically set aside by the Supreme Court. For instance, the court is critical of the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board and has even advised to close it down due to its heavy overheads and low performance.

“A water and sanitation expert may be consulted by Dr Alvi to come up with a logical and workable plan if he wishes to follow on this issue beyond the process of electioneering,” he said.

Key features

The PTI’s plan for Karachi revolves around desalination. Explaining this approach, Dr Alvi said that opting for desalination was important to secure Karachi’s future given the high scarcity of freshwater in the country.

“The crisis is expected to intensity due to climate change. Mistrust among provinces over water distribution has been a source of bitterness,” he said, raising doubts over what the city actually received from its mega water project.

Under its garbage-to-energy-to-water proposal, the PTI suggests setting up a 10MGD pilot desalination plant using solid waste of 700 tonnes of per day (TPD) or 50MGD using 7,000TPD, which can be scalable to 200MGD.

The party proposes that environmental grants are available from development finance institutions and estimates that cost of water delivery may be Rs0.50 and timeline two years once letter of comfort is issued by the government.

“The National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) has fixed a quota of 50MW (for electricity generated from waste) per province and Islamabad. The solid waste Karachi generates is 16,500 tonnes and, therefore, our capacity for waste-to-energy-to-water is 220MW. The PTI will ensure that the ceiling is lifted for Karachi,” says Dr Alvi.

Answering a question about private sector’s involvement in providing basic services, Dr Alvi reasoned that it’s because the government performance had been far from satisfactory.

Desalination, he said, could be successful under a public-private partnership but for that a legal framework was to encourage investment and ensure transparency.

On the success of desalination plant given the past failure of DHA’s Cogen plant, he said that the causes for its failure were technical as well as financial.

“A number of countries, including China, are successfully producing electricity from waste and we can do the same here,” he said, adding that a separate desalination plant had been suggested for DHA and Clifton in the plan to meet their water requirements.

Diverting total energy production towards desalination, he said, could be a preferable option for a power company such as Hubco currently dependent on costly furnace oil for electricity generation.

“It would be a brown field project as a power plant and intake channels and a power plant already exist,” he said.

The party favours recycling and treatment of sewage with major overhaul of the entire KWSB system. Treated sewage, it suggests, can be used for industrial and horticultural purposes.

Dr Alvi, however, had no satisfactory reply when asked how desalination could effectively work at Karachi’s polluted beach and that which kind of solid waste would be required to generate electricity as there was no concept of segregating waste in Karachi.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2018