“We hear about these water schemes. But in our village, located 20km from Mithi, we still walk over 40 minutes to the only pond to collect water, and carry it back. When the pond dries, as is happening now, we move. We have been nomads for centuries, and nothing has changed.”
The megacity of Karachi has had a water crisis for years, a steadily worsening one, and Tharparkar, a desert area in southern Sindh Province, was hit with a "humanitarian emergency" last year because of drought. See the February 12 New York Times report (Starved for Energy, Pakistan Braces for a Water Crisis). For a report specific to Karachi's water woes, see the August 24, 2014 report from the Associated Press, Pakistan's Largest City Thirsts for a Water Supply. From the Times report:
Agriculture is a cornerstone of the Pakistani economy. The 2,000-mile-long Indus River, which rises in the Himalayas and spans the country, feeds a vast network of irrigation canals that line fields producing wheat, vegetables and cotton, all major sources of foreign currency. In the north, hydroelectric power stations are a cornerstone of the creaking power system.
A combination of melting glaciers, decreasing rainfall and chronic mismanagement by successive governments has put that water supply in danger, experts say.
In a report published in 2013, the Asian Development Bank described Pakistan as one of the most “water-stressed” countries in the world, with a water availability of 1,000 cubic meters per person per year — a fivefold drop since independence in 1947, and about the same level as drought-stricken Ethiopia.
One major culprit in Pakistan’s looming water crisis, experts say, is the country’s inadequate water storage facilities. In India, about one-third of the water supply is stored in reservoirs, compared with just 9 percent in Pakistan, Mr. Amir said.
“We built our last dam 46 years ago,” he said. “India has built 4,000 dams, with another 150 in the pipeline.”
Experts say the country’s chaotic policies are hurting its image in the eyes of Western donors who could help alleviate the mounting resource crises.
“The biggest looming crisis is of governance, not water — which could make this country unlivable in the next few years,” said Arshad H. Abbasi, a water and energy expert with the Sustainable Development and Policy Institute, a research group based in Islamabad.The explanations given by officials and water experts quoted in the reports don't tell the full story. From an IRIN News January 29, 2014 report on water improvements in the drought-ridden, desert region of Tharpakar. Watch carefully don't blink:
Access to water is a key problem for the district of Tharparkar, which comprises an area of 22,000sqkm. More than 1.4 million people and about five million heads of livestock live in the area, where annual rainfall averages can be as low as 9mm, and drought is common.
“Barely 5 percent of the population has access to a sweet [fresh] water supply. Even the district capital, Mithi, [only] gets sweet water twice in a month. Laying down water supply lines at high cost is also open to question. Most of the population relies on dug wells,” said Ali Akbar, executive director of the NGO Association for Water, Applied Education and Renewable Energy (AWARE), in the town of Chachro in Tharparkar.
While several projects have been carried out by AWARE and other NGOs, Akbar believes these have had only a limited impact.
One reason for this has been fluoride contamination of underground water sources, which has led to grave health problems. But there are other major issues as well, including corruption in schemes set up by the government.
An inquiry into these charges began last year under the government’sNational Accountability Bureau. It is examining the manner in which contracts were awarded to companies to set up reverse osmosis (RO) plants, which turn brackish water into sweet water, and the location of these plants.
Traditional, cost-effective solutions
Also at issue are running costs after projects are constructed. The costs of running RO plants and diesel-operated tube wells installed by the government are high, and Akbar says only about 3-5 percent of communities are managing to pay the expenses.
One solution is to use indigenous water-purification technologies. The NGO Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP) has been able to reach around 1,000 villages with water solutions, often using water access and purification methods based on traditional practices, which are designed to be more acceptable to local people.
One such purification technique is ‘mussafa’, which involves using a 1kg-bag of graded sand, treated with silver, as a filter in the clay pots used to store water. The technique, developed by the Pakistan Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, is based on age-old practices.
“We know filtering water through sand will clean it. This method has been used for generations in some places,” said Habib Ali, a resident of a rural area on the outskirts of Mithi.
TRDP has also experimented with solar disinfection, in which water is placed in glass containers under direct sunlight to kill bacteria and reduce water-borne sicknesses.
The organization has also built rainwater collection tanks to serve 15,636 households in some of the most marginalized communities, with minimal running costs.
An eye on sustainability
Other projects being currently undertaken include the use of solar pumps, which can pull water from far below the surface, store it and pipe it into homes.There's more to the report, including reactions from villagers who have and haven't had the benefit of the water treatment initiatives. As one in the latter group observed:
“We hear about these water schemes. But in our village, located 20km from Mithi, we still walk over 40 minutes to the only pond to collect water, and carry it back. When the pond dries, as is happening now, we move. We have been nomads for centuries, and nothing has changed,” Sassui Bibi told IRIN.Yet a big question is why the age-old practices of water conservation and purification fell into disuse and had to be reintroduced by scientists and ngos.
I suspect the question also applies to many regions around the world.