Gul Hassan Kalmati explains his presentation on Malir district’s water distribution system at the event on Thursday.—White Star
Gul Hassan Kalmati explains his presentation on Malir district’s water distribution system at the event on Thursday.—White Star

KARACHI: The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) subdued by high-level political/government pressures cannot deliver unless it is allowed to be run by an independent board led by professionals.

Water ‘crisis’ in the city has more to do with large-scale unfair distribution, mismanagement, wastage and theft than deficiency.

These points were raised by speakers at a programme titled Urban Water Dialogue organised by Karachi Urban Lab on Thursday at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA).

While a number of suggestions were shared during the event on what’s required to be done at the state and individual levels to help overcome water shortages, the discussion painted an overall bleak picture of current government and court initiatives.

“The way things are moving, the K-4 project won’t see light of day before 2025. Presently, no sewage is being treated even at the treatment plant (TP3 in Mauripur) inaugurated with much pomp and show by former chief justice in July last year,” said Syed Mohsin Raza, general secretary of Peoples Labour Union, KWSB, at the forum.

He strongly objected to the government decision of seeking loan assistance from the World Bank to overhaul KSWB, arguing that the utility was already running into debts of billions of rupees and unable to pay them off.

He was of the opinion that a particular “mafia” wants to get projects as they brought funds, though problems could be addressed at much lesser cost.

According to him, water supplies to Karachi, currently receiving half (650 million gallons per day) of its total requirement, have always remained deficient. The problem got intensified as the city was allowed to densify without planning and in violation of rules and regulations.

He also criticised cantonment authorities and said areas falling in their jurisdiction had been heavily commercialised but nobody could question their actions.

Issues plaguing the KWSB, he noted, could only be fixed through an independent board also having representation from civil society.

Giving a presentation highlighting how Malir district’s fertile land got barren and water resources fell, Gul Hassan Kalmati, noted historian and writer, pointed out that underground water table in the area had gone down from 60 to 70 feet to 600 feet.

He also questioned how new housing schemes, for instance Bahria Town, DHA City and the Fazaia housing project, had been allowed to be constructed in the city when decades-old housing projects couldn’t be completed on the pretext that water and electricity were not available.

Projects like Bahria Town and DHA City, he said, would destroy Malir River’s catchment area and spell more disaster for district’s ecology and its residents as both project developers had been allowed to build eight (Bahria Town) to four (DHA City) artificial lakes in their area.

Sharing findings of a survey, Mr Kalmati informed the audience that there were at least 200 spots in Malir district from where underground water was being extracted with the help of deep drilling.

“Three big mineral companies are also involved in this [illegal] practice, which needs to be stopped,” he said, adding that illegal water connections was a common practice in the district and people were not willing to pay for water.

He emphasised the need for building small dams, which could also help in underground water recharge.

Sharing her perspective on city’s water crisis, seasoned water expert Simi Kamal said that water shortages could be effectively overcome through better and wise management of water resources both at the government and individual levels.

Regulating water use

There was a need, she said, to fix water entitlement and people should be charged for consuming water beyond what could be their human right and that water use should be regulated through meters.

Speaking on bureaucracy of urban water, Dr Kaleemullah Lashari said that the government must make integration of “go green policy” in all projects and develop rural areas to reduce migration pressures from villages to cities.

There was also a call for turning to drip irrigation system from flood irrigation which wasted a lot of water.

The programme was moderated by Dr Abdul Haque Chang, assistant professor of anthropology at IBA.

Dutch Ambassador Ardi Stoios-Braken also briefly spoke, telling the audience how her country made progress amid climate change challenges and what Pakistan could learn from it.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2019