Islamabad’s residents grapple with water scarcity

July 07, 2019

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Last year there were eight tankers deputed for I-10, but this year there are just four or sometimes five supplying water. The other picture shows residents of I-10 queuing up outside the MCI office to register water shortage complaints. — Photos by Mohammad Asim
Last year there were eight tankers deputed for I-10, but this year there are just four or sometimes five supplying water. The other picture shows residents of I-10 queuing up outside the MCI office to register water shortage complaints. — Photos by Mohammad Asim

One of many residents affected by water scarcity in I-10, Mohammad Tahir wakes up early most mornings to register a water shortage complaint and book a water tanker because even a slight delay means “you will not get a chance to get water provided by tankers”.

Roughly 350 register such complaints every day, according to sources in the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI). Of them around a hundred are supplied water from tankers on a first-come-first-serve basis because the MCI does not have enough tankers to meet demand.

There used to be around eight tankers deputed in this sector, Mr Tahir told Dawn, but there are just four available this year. “This is a matter of great concern,” he added.

Administratively, I-10 is divided into two union councils. Farman Mughal, the chairman of the union council that covers I-10/1 and I-10/4 said residents of the entire sector are facing a water shortage.The sector is supplied water through tubewells installed in Pona Faqiran, he explained.

“The main reason for the shortage is that water is supplied through tubewells, and the MCI supplies water using tankers to fill the gap. We are not being supplied water from Simly or Khanpur dams; we are given water from tubewells,” he said.

Just 13 tubewells are currently in working condition, and they do not supply enough water to meet the requirements of a densely-populated area.

Mr Mughal said at least 12 more tubewells are needed.

“In the past, maybe in the 70s or 80s when the tubewells were installed, the population of I-10 was very small. With the passage of time, the population kept increasing and now it has increased by four times but no attention was given to increasing the number of tubewells,” he said.

He too said that last year there were eight tankers deputed in I-10, but this year there are just four or sometimes five supplying water to his union council.

These tankers also supply water to the sector’s other union council. I-10 residents say they have registered a number of complaints with the MCI seeking an increase in the number of water tankers, but to no avail.

They said that even if someone does manage to secure a tanker, the tanker will only partially fill a house’s water tank. Residents called this an injustice, saying that water tanks should be filled up so people can get a few days’ relief.

Residents of other Islamabad sectors are also facing a water shortage, as the city’s urban areas are being supplied around 60 million gallons of water daily (MGD) against a demand for 110 MGD.

The MCI receives 25 MGD from Simly Dam, 9 MGD from Khanpur Dam and almost 25 MGD from 160 functional tubewells. According to MCI officials, there are 193 tubewells in the city, of which 33 are not functional.

The rural areas, home to half the population of the capital, also requires 110 MGD but the MCI has no mechanism to supply water to most rural union councils. Residents instead rely either on past water projects launched by the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration or on boring.

Officials said that the MCI could save water by replacing rusting pipelines, but no steps have been taken in this regard. Sources also said that of a total 30 tankers, eight cannot be repaired while only 13 are on the roads.

The officials said that the water directorate used to be part of the Capital Development Authority (CDA) but was devolved to the MCI after the local government was formed in 2016. However, the MCI does not have the funds to upgrade water supply lines.

They said that besides upgrading the existing water supply system, work on the Ghazi Barotha water project – which would bring Rawalpindi and Islamabad 100 MGD of water each – also needs to be started immediately. The project will cost Rs77 billion, and neither the CDA nor the MCI are in a position to initiate it, they said.

Officials said that all three MNAs from the capital, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on CDA Affairs Ali Nawaz Awan, former minister for finance Asad Umar and Raja Khurram Nawaz have taken an interest in this project.

“These lawmakers held a meeting with the CDA chairman a few days ago to discuss how funding could be secured for the project,” an MCI official said.

He said the meeting discussed if the Planning Commission could be asked to look into a public-private partnership option, or if the federal government could get a loan from the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank.

Mayor Sheikh Anser Aziz said the MCI has been working to mitigate people’s suffering, but “the issue is that we have been facing a shortage of funding. Earlier, we were receiving a loan from the CDA, but the CDA stopped the loan six months ago, putting us in trouble.”

He added that there are very few functional tankers for the entire capital, which was why I-10’s tanker supply was reduced. He said they would “look into the issue of I-10 on a priority basis”.

The mayor claimed the PTI government had been neglecting the MCI, which is headed by a mayor from the PML-N.

When contacted, MCI Water Supply Director Shahid Iqbal said efforts are being made to provide water through tankers in areas where residents are having difficulty receiving water through the supply lines.

“I will focus on I-10 specifically,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2019