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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Pakistan’s Struggle for Equitable Water Access and the Path to Social Justice

This research delves into the historical context, current challenges, and potential solutions, highlighting the urgent need for policy reforms, infrastructure investment, and a collective commitment to secure the basic human right to water for all citizens. Join us on a journey through Pakistan's water woes and the quest for social justice in the face of a growing crisis

In most nations, water is a basic human right for citizens, and access to clear and affordable water is deemed as a priority. In a research conducted in 2019, 200 million people in Pakistan were feared to run out of access to water. Currently, in the face of an economic crisis, the race to acquire equitable distribution of water resources is a big challenge for all major cities of Pakistan. Elsewhere in rural communities, the situation remains the same. During harsh times, prices for most commodities have risen sharply, including the price of affordable water.

The public has poor access to clean water raising public health challenges in most parts of the country. Not just a household matter anymore; lack of water affects major industries as the production of goods and services requires a sizable consumption of water resources. The nation has been enslaved due to excessive water theft, and illegal distribution of water. In other words, corruption has taken its toll when it comes availability of clean and drinkable water for the common man. In Karachi for example; millions of gallons of substandard water have been sold at abnormal prices to the common man.

Read more: Managing Water Insecurity in Pakistan

Understanding the matter better

No criminal activity can continuously thrive in a system without the support of the elite who run the system. Unfortunately, someone seeks to benefit from this crisis and it certainly is not the poor population of the country. There are implications. Supply of unclean and unaffordable water for public consumption may result in a bigger health crisis for major cities as well as other areas where people have to walk for miles carrying buckets of water back to their homes on a daily basis to survive.

Let us get a historical perspective on ‘water’.  In 1991, as per the water accord, it was documented that downstream water supply to Sindh would be mandatory and a survey would also be conducted to oversee the exact amount of water supply required for the benefit of the people of the province, based on high malnutrition and water scarcity in the province. No results of any surveys were announced or documented. Moreover, the flash floods of 2022 further destroyed the provincial infrastructure, with millions of people affected in the aftermath.

The Indus Delta Basin – the 6th Largest delta in the world has been damaged due to depleting water resources. More than 10 MAF (million-acre-feet-feet-feet-feet-feet-feet) of water was the estimated minimum requirement a few years back. Moreover, a lack of available data or a comprehensive water policy needs to be devised as a policy manual to address this problem. An estimated 4.5 -5 million acres of fertile land have been inundated by rising sea levels as a result of climate change and global warming, in different coastal areas of the province of Sindh.

In the 6th largest city in the world, there is a severe water crisis

A few years back, the average requirement of water in major cities like Karachi was somewhere around 835 MGD (million gallons per day)., with only 10% of the city water supply coming through tankers. Today, the situation must be even more challenging. Over 40% of the water supply for such cities is affected due to organized crime, through home suction devices and illegal hydrants, thereby indicating illegal pricing and sale of water as a commercial commodity.

Another challenge for the government today is the lack of infrastructure. The water pipelines laid out for the transportation of clean water need to be checked, as most of them are rusted or broken and sewage has started to penetrate these water lines, increasing the risk of disease and hazardous chemicals in the drinking water supply. Over 20% of the water that reaches city populations is being used to wash cars, being unsuitable for human drinking consumption.

For the majority of residents lining apartment buildings today, the price of water has risen from Rs 3000-4000 in 2019, to almost 10,000-12,000 per tanker today. For the more affluent class, the prices may exceed another 50%. With high inflation and cost of living, most people are unable to afford clean water for their families. It is highly important today for the government to wield powerful policy measures on crimes like water theft and illegal smuggling of water resources.

The dispensation of justice is necessary to give hope to our thirsty populations, who are currently being burdened by excessive taxes and bills they cannot afford to pay, and who may eventually resort to stealing water to survive.

Read more: The water crisis in Pakistan may need to be addressed urgently

Here are some urgent measures that the current government could implement which include:  1) Review the Water Accord of 1991 – Through possible construction of new dams. Over 40 years back, when the Tarbela Dam was commissioned, the province of Sindh received an additional 7.0 million-acre-feet (MAF) of water that led to the cultivation of over 27 lakh acres of land. 2) Investment in Infrastructure– By allocating resources for the development and repair of water supply infrastructure, with pipelines, reservoirs and water treatment plants. 3) Water Conservation– Through social media awareness campaigns launched in populated areas of major cities to minimize water wastage. 4) Harvesting rainwater– At individual and community levels to sustain available water. 5) Desalination – By exploring extra sources of freshwater in coastal areas and building desalination plants 6) Good governance– By implementing efficient and transparent water management practices. 7) Public-private partnerships-Through enhanced private sector investment and faster service delivery to end consumers of water.

We cannot succeed as an agricultural economy till we export what we locally produce. To grow food, we need water. Sooner or later, a lack of adequate water reservoirs and dams in the country may lead to a water emergency in the country. In the end, we need collective resolve to battle this challenge, for the great good of the public. Civic sense must prevail where people deserve a right to clear and safe drinking water, in times of high-income disparity, high food insecurity with record high inflation, record low reserves and record high fuel prices. The matter should be immediately tabled for action by the new government to ensure social justice for the masses, before this illegal sale of water resources becomes the biggest capitalistic gain for profit makers, leaving the general public in a state of despair.


Zeeshan Shah is a healthcare specialist and environmental activist and tweets @zeeshan82445998. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.