KARACHI, March 31: Recently undertaken research has revealed that Karachi’s water tanker mafia, which generates an estimated Rs49.6 billion annually, siphons off over 272mgd — or 41 per cent — of the water from the city’s bulk distribution system every day and then sells the commodity at exorbitant rates to residents and industries suffering from the water scarcity that is largely caused by the activities of the water tanker mafia itself.

A report authored by Perween Rahman of the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) shows that the city is supplied with 695mgd of water, 645mgd from the River Indus and an average of 50mgd from the rain-fed Hub dam supply. Of this, 30mgd are supplied to the steel mills and Port Qasim before the water reaches the main Dhabeji pumping station, so the actual supply of water to the city is 665mgd every day.

However, the city requires a maximum of 601mgd — of Karachi’s 16 million residents, lower and middle-income areas require about 20 gallons per person per day while the needs of the higher income groups, about 20 per cent of the population, are estimated at 35 gallons per person per day; meanwhile, industries require an average of 123mgd and there is an additional requirement of 110mgd for other uses.

This would indicate that sufficient water is supplied to the city every day to meet its needs. However, the reality is that “bulk supply to towns is 293mgd and thus there is a shortfall of between 260 and 308mgd,” says the OPP report. “This shortfall is met through tanker supplies. Karachi’s bulk supply is 665mgd. With 15 per cent wasted due to technical leakages, the available supply comes to 565.25mgd. The gap between the actual supply and the availability is 272.25mgd, which is siphoned off from the bulk distribution and sold through tanker supplies. This operation generates an estimated Rs49.6 billion annually (at the average cost of Rs0.5 per gallon).”

Sneaky tactics

There is an official system in place for water supplies via tankers. The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) maintains nine official hydrants which are managed by the Rangers. The officially sanctioned quantum of water is 13.75mgd, of which 3.42mgd is the quota for gratis supply to water-deficient areas while the rest is meant to be sold at official rates. This water is to be distributed through 13,750 trips made by 1,000-gallon capacity tankers of contracted tanker suppliers. The Rangers are authorised to charge the contractor a fixed amount of Rs44 (4.4 paisas/gallon) per 1,000 gallons of water for residential use and Rs73 (7.3 paisas/gallon) per 1,000 gallons of water for industrial purposes, which is then to be sold at the official rates.

In reality, however, 25mgd of water is taken from these hydrants and supplied to the city through tankers with capacities ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 gallons and some of 10,000 gallons.

The water is then sold at over double the official rates. The approved price of water supplied through tankers ranges between 15 and 25 paisas per gallon depending on the distance, and whether it is intended for residential or commercial use. “In reality, the rates are more than doubled to 35-60 paisas/gallon depending on the distance, bargaining with clients and the season in which the water is supplied,” reports the study. These inflated rates are Rs350-600 for 1,000 gallons, Rs700-1,200 for 2,000 gallons, Rs1,600-1,800 for 3,000 gallons and Rs2,000-2,400 for 5,000 gallons. “Therefore, the revenue generated per day from the sale of water is an average Rs10 million,” reveals the study. “This is shared between the various sectors.”

Unofficial hydrants

Investigations undertaken by the OPP show that in addition to the nine official hydrants, at least 161 unofficial hydrants and filling points exist all over Karachi, most of them located near bulk distribution mains. Additionally, many more filling points have been reported from all the towns.

A sample survey of nine unofficial hydrants shows that they are being used to siphon off 19.78mgd of water from the bulk supply. When extrapolated over 161 unauthorised hydrants, this means that some 358mgd of water is being removed from the regular supply channels and being sold to citizens at exorbitant rates.

Clusters of these unauthorised points have been reported from six main areas: Hub reservoir to Banaras Chowk, along Manghopir Road; Banaras Chowk to Gutter Baghicha; Mewashah graveyard to Shershah along Lyari nadi; near Saba Cinema, Ayub Goth-North Karachi and up into Gadap town; along the National Highway-Malir, and in Lalabad Landhi.

With reference to the 272.25mgd of water that is siphoned off from the bulk distribution and sold through tanker supplies, the OPP report also identifies the methods used. These include piped connections to the bulk distribution mains and perpetually unattended leakages in the bulk distribution mains which cause water seepage. At such sites, bores become filling points. “In some cases, like that of the Fauji Commander’s hydrant near the Hub reservoir,” says the report, “ponds are formed through which water is pumped out into tankers.” However, the report also acknowledges that “lately, KWSB officials have informed that 73 piped connections to the bulk distribution mains have been disconnected in North Karachi and Gadap.”

Supreme irony

In a city notorious for water shortages, it is often the KWSB that becomes the target of citizens’ ire during dry days. And while the organisation certainly does suffer from organisational and infrastructural problems, the study conducted by the OPP reveals that the tanker business is taking away a critical chunk of the revenue that ought by rights to go to the KWSB.

According to the study conducted by the OPP, the KWSB’s budget is dependent on government subsidies and its current annual budget (2007-2008) is Rs5.3 billion. Of this, Rs2.0-2.5 billion are recovered as water/sewerage taxes while the rest is government subsidy. (A total of Rs18.678 billion worth of dues are outstanding against the government and others.)

However, water supply to everybody is not only possible but possible at affordable and humane costs. “A comparison of the KWSB’s annual budget of Rs5.3 billion with the Rs49.6 generated through the sale of the 272mgd that is siphoned off and supplied through tankers shows the irony of the situation,” states the report. “If the KWSB can supply this water, it can earn profits as well as provide water to all at affordable, humane costs.”

For example, it says, if only the minimum requirement of 20 gallons per person per day were supplied at the cost of 5 paisas per gallon, the KWSB could generate Rs5.8 billion annually. This is more than the organisation’s annual budget. For the citizens, meanwhile, the bill amounts to about Rs200 a month, which is affordable and is incidentally the same as the average tax billed all over the city. “In water deficit areas, poor people are spending an average of Rs500-600 a month buying sweet and brackish water,” the report points out. “People are willing to pay this same amount to the KWSB for the provision of sweet water. In addition, some of the poorest are buying sweet water supplied through gadha garis (donkey carts), the cost of which comes to Rs100-120 for about 25 gallons, ie 40 paisas per gallon and about eight times the cost of water supplied through water tankers.”

Meanwhile, the KWSB could also annually generate Rs44.7 billion by selling the rest of the water, about 245mgd, at the current average rate charged by tankers (50 paisas per gallon). This could be used to resolve organisational and infrastructural issues.

Traffic troubles

In addition to swindling citizens and the KWSB, the dominance of the tanker mafia also contributes to traffic congestion, pollution and needless wear and tear on the city’s already overburdened road network. According to the OPP study, the Private Tankers Association reports that their members own 5,000 tankers of which 60 per cent are of 5,000-gallon capacity, 30 per cent of 3,000/2,000-gallon capacity and 10 per cent of 1,000-gallon capacity. Each tanker makes 10 to 12 trips every day, which means that about 50,000 to 60,000 trips are made across the city every day to supply the water that is the citizens’ right.

Distribution and quotas

The city receives water from the River Indus via canals from Kinjhar, Haleji and Gharo, and through conduits to the main Dhabeji pumping station. Thereafter, the water is distributed across the city through conduits and distribution mains of 66-inch and below diameters. There are two routes: the northern (via Pipri to parts of the Malir cantonment area, the Gulshan COD reservoir, Gulshan Town and parts of Gadap, North Karachi, NEK, North Nazimabad, Gulberg, Liaquatabad and parts of Lyari) and the southern (Bin Qasim Town, Landhi, Korangi, along the National Highway to Shah Faisal and Jamshed towns, Saddar town including Defence and Clifton, Lyari and Keamari). The Hub water supply, meanwhile, services mainly Orangi, Site and Baldia towns. Since the Hub and River Indus supplies are interconnected at the distribution mains, the supply is meant to be shared as needed.

According to the OPP report, the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board’s quota for supply to the various towns, the cantonment and DHA amounts to 417.65mgd of the available water. “However, the actual supply reaching the towns is only about 293mgd. Seven towns – Orangi, Gadap, Baldia, Jamshed, Site, North Karachi and Gulshan get 30-57 per cent of their quota while others get about 60-100 per cent. Cantonment gets 100 per cent while DHA gets 133 per cent,” states the study.