Liquid Lifelines: Strategies to Quench Karachi’s Thirst

Karachi: In recent years, this coastal city has been grappling with a severe water crisis. The city’s water distribution system is not only outdated but also insufficient, having received minimal maintenance. The governance structure exhibits weaknesses, leading to open and unhindered water theft.

The agency responsible for water supply and distribution in the city, formerly known as KWSB (Karachi Water and Sewerage Corporation), now reveals a stark contrast. While Karachi’s demand for water stands at an astonishing 1,200 million gallons per day (MGD), it receives only 550 MGD. What’s even more alarming is that over 10% of the 550 MGD is lost before it reaches the end-users.

Asadullah Khan, a resident of Baldia Town, expressed his dismay, saying, “The infrastructure was constructed years ago, but it was only operational for two days and never again.” Despite having a well-established system, water flow in the area is practically non-existent. Residents attribute this to individuals at the pumping station who divert water to tankers for sale rather than allowing it to flow through the supply lines.

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Initiated nearly two decades ago, the Greater Karachi Water Supply Scheme (K-IV) was once seen as a potential solution. However, progress has been slow, with only 10% of the project completed. Consequently, a significant portion of Karachi’s population, especially in the southern regions, including newly developed areas like the Defence Housing Authority (DHA), continue to endure water scarcity. In some neighborhoods, residents have never received a consistent water supply to their homes.

Even well-established neighborhoods in the city are now grappling with a deteriorating water situation, as shortages become increasingly widespread.

Ali Khan in North Nazimabad and Zain in Gulistan-i-Jauhar Block VII, like many residents, have experienced severe water shortages, some areas going without water for weeks. This has led to rising expenses for households and widespread dissatisfaction among the city’s populace.

The K-IV scheme, envisioned to alleviate the water crisis, has faced numerous setbacks and delays. Despite promises, progress has been limited, leaving Karachi’s people dependent on unregulated and often unsafe water sources.

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An alternative that some residents have resorted to is the use of shallow wells, which draw water from near-surface sandy soil. However, this is not a sustainable solution and comes with its own set of challenges.

In July 2023, the enactment of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Corporation Act, 2023 marked a pivotal stride in tackling these issues. This legislation plays a critical role in the success of the Karachi Water and Sewage Services Improvement Project (KWSSIP), a 12-year endeavor backed by $1.6 billion in funding from the World Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the Sindh government. The project’s aim is to overhaul the city’s water infrastructure and implement better management and operational practices.

The new law provides the KWSC with more operational autonomy and the authority to subcontract water supply and sewage maintenance services. It also facilitates the recovery of outstanding dues through agents, streamlining the process and aiding in revenue recovery.

Karachi’s water crisis is an enduring challenge that has exacerbated over time. While there are concerted efforts to address the problem, numerous hurdles must be surmounted before the city’s residents can enjoy consistent and safe access to water.

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