KARACHI: Acute shortage of water across Sindh is forcing millions of people to spend a large amount of their hard-earned money daily to secure water for their families. Such dependence keeps the masses in cycles of poverty.

This situation highlights the immediate need to prioritise water as a key development area, if poverty and inequality are to be reduced.

These were some important points shared during a discussion jointly organised by Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO), local government department and SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Unit of the Sindh government and WaterAid-Pakistan on Friday at a local hotel.

Titled ‘SGD Leadership Forum on Water & Sanitation-Karachi’, the event was attended by a selected number of legislators, civil society and private sector representatives.

Speakers laid great emphasis on the fact that access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation services were fundamental human rights and the government’s failure to provide these amenities deprived people of equal opportunities for a healthy, educated and financially secure life.

There were also concerns over the government’s performance and speakers were of the opinion that all targets set by the provincial government to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals wouldn’t be met until the local government system became fully functional and the technical capacity required to implement the plans was available.

The lack of trust among various departments and parties and non-existence of pricing mechanism for water sanitation services, some speakers pointed out, were important reasons behind lack of availability of water and sanitation services in Karachi.

“Capacity-building, awareness raising, adequate resource allocation and management at the union-council level are significant measures that need to be taken to address water and sanitation-related issues,” said Mohammad Hussain Khan, former local government and town planning minister, presently representing the MQM in the provincial assembly.

There was also a need to set up a local government commission to ensure accountability of the local government system, he added.

Mohammad Qasim Soomro, an MPA and member Legislators Core Group on Water and Sanitation, noted that issues within the local government system were responsible for causing public health problems, such as water contamination and lack of access to proper water supply and sanitation.

“Only a strengthened local government backed by a political system could deliver safe drinking water to people,” he said, underscoring the need for developing a water master plan for Karachi to address the city’s chronic water issues.

Syed Abdul Rasheed, member Provincial Parliamentary Task Force on Sustainable Development Goals, spoke about the health crisis the province faced due to contaminated water and said that if “we could ensure supply of clean drinking water, not only our health indicators would improve, it would allow us to use our financial resources efficiently”.

Project manager of SGD Unit, Sindh, Mumtaz Ali, referred to a report which indicated that Rs100 billion would be required annually to achieve sustainable development targets whereas the provincial government estimated an investment of Rs36bn.

“The government of Sindh alone cannot bridge this financing gap. There is a need for coordinated efforts of multiple stakeholders,” he said.

Nadeem Ahmed representing WaterAid called for prioritising water as a key development area. “Doing that, not only poverty can be reduced but also health, and education indicators can be improved”.

Mohammad Shakil Qureshi, director investment, Karachi Water Supply & Sewerage Services Improvement Project, informed the audience about KWSB’s plans for the city according to which the utility has started a $16bn project with the support of the World Bank, which would be completed in four phases.

The project is mainly focused on improvement in the KWSB system and structures; ultimately the project would increase efficiency and quality of water if successfully implemented.

Legislators, civil society activists and water experts also participated in a panel discussion focusing on issues related to water and sanitation and the role of key stakeholders to resolve it.

In her concluding remarks, Raheema Panhwar representing the SPO said the organisation had set up a legislators’ WASH core group consisting 25 MPAs. It was also providing support to legislators and the local government department in water and sanitation sector in collaboration with WaterAid.

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2019