Water is an indispensable source to sustain human life. To understand the essence of water, we need to explore the key empirical evidence from the past. Ancient civilizations such as the Indus Valley Civilization, the Aztec Civilization, the Egyptian Civilization, and the Mesopotamian Civilization all settled and thrived near water sources like rivers. The world’s70 percent is covered with water. Interestingly, only 2.5 percent of it is fresh water.
Balochistan is an arid land with no rivers in sight. It has always been dependent on rainwater (green water) or groundwater (blue water). The population of Balochistan is 12.3 million, but around 85 percent do not have access to clean and fresh water. Quetta, the capital of this underdeveloped and province left behind by geography and history has its own peculiar issues. At the time of its inception when the Britishers established it in 1881 as a military station, the total capacity of residents was thought to house around only 50,000 residents. Currently, it houses 2.5 million people.
Water shortage in Quetta should be the focus of attention
Today, the water situation in Quetta is dire and the water demand is 61 million gallons per day (mgd), whereas only 24.5 mgd is being provided by the water authorities. There are lots of reasons for this calamity. First, around one million gallons of water used to be provided from the Urak valley, but now it has reduced to 600,000 gallons per day, the reason for this is non-other than climate change. Rain and snow that used to shower the atmosphere of Quetta has reduced to mere nothing. The Zarghoon mountain, which used to stay covered with snow was a source of water to Urak valley, but today it seldom snows there. Rain that used to be 10.5 inches per annum in 1905 has greatly reduced to 1 to 2 inches in the current environment.
Second, population growth in the city at an abnormal pace further exacerbated the dire situation of water. A city established only for 50,000 now housing 2.5 million brings great stress on the management of water distribution. The excess increase in population growth is mainly due to the unavailability of other metropolitan cities in the province and a huge portion of this growth lies on the head of Afghan migrants fleeing from Afghanistan for safe refuge. This population growth also gives heads up to extract or mine water from the ground at a humongous level through tube wells.
There are an estimated 24,000 legal and documented tubewells around and in Quetta city, let alone the number of illegal tubewells in the vicinity of Quetta city. Third, poor governance is a hard-binding reason for the increasing water demand and supply. There is no coordination whatsoever amongst the relevant water authorities. Water and Sanitation Authority (WASA) and Public Health and Engineering (PHE) departments do not acknowledge each other’s authority. WASA claims to be independent of PHE, but the latter says otherwise.
That said, if such a state of affairs continues to exist, Quetta will become a ghost city for want of water. It will surely have some serious demographic, social, economic, and political issues and conflicts. Therefore, a set of decisions need to be taken timely and effective. One, Quetta should be supplied water from the tail of the Kacchi Canal through pumping pipelines. These pipelines can pump water into water storage like Spin Karez and Hanna Jheel. A feasibility study was conducted by WAPDA in 2018 for such a plan and the estimated cost was 42 billion rupees for the first phase which would provide 24 mgd and the operation and maintenance would cost 3 billion rupees per year.
Two, the government needs to develop other cities in Balochistan like Loralai, Pishin, Chaman, Khuzdar, Kalat, etc. This will likely diffuse the growing burden on Quetta city and help replenish its already stressed resources. Three, coordination amongst the relevant authorities needs to be improved and the relevant departments need to be held accountable for the negligence over the past years. Finally, the importance of the conservation of water needs to be reinforced by adding a specifically designed curriculum in primary schools. For this very reason, we need to rethink our ways of managing and using water. Failing this, the ramifications of this calamity will be dire not only for Quetta, Balochistan but also for Pakistan.
The writer is a Research Officer in Balochistan Think Tank Network (BTTN), Quetta. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.