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Saturday, August 13

It's forecasted that by 2025 Pakistan will have depleted its available water supply

The headline to this post is taken from Sabrina Toppa's June 28, 2016 report for The Guardian, Dry dams, leaky pipes and tanker mafias – Karachi's water crisis. (The reporting project was funded by Femsa Foundation.)  I posted a Los Angeles Times report in 2010 on Karachi's water crisis and again in 2015 but since then the crisis has gotten even worse. 

The details Toppa provides are so awful, and depict such suicidal corruption and stupidity on the part of officials, they're almost unbearable to read. And I say this as an American who is well aware of my own country's serious problems with water infrastructure. 

But what's going on in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, and across the nuclear-armed country, is nightmarish. And the nightmare will worsen the closer Pakistan lurches to complete disaster. For one indication of what's on the way, see Codi Kozacek's report for Circle of Blue, India and Pakistan Water Tensions Escalate to The Hague,published August 10, 2016.

Yet the most telling recent depiction of Pakistan's water crisis is Tharparkar: Pakistan's ongoing catastrophe, an in-depth report by Faras Ghani for Al Jazeera, really a study more than a news report, published August 5, 2016 with a veritable photo album of striking photographs by the author.

If Tharparkar rings a bell for Pundita readers, it's turned up more than once on this blog -- most recently in my discussion of the Pakistan's water crisis (see the above 2015 link).

But for all the photographs, charts, graphs, and discussion of a wide range of social and economic problems in Ghani's report, for all his extensive research, there's something missing. For the missing piece we need to go all the way back to 2009 to my first mention of Tharparkar, in the following section of an essay I wrote titled Alden Pyle in Pakistan, Part 1: 

Caste in Pakistan

If you're surprised to learn that an Islamic nation has a caste system -- the chatter about Islam being egalitarian is for the tourists; anywhere the conquering Muslims found the caste system they continued it because it was so useful for keeping the conquered and their own lower classes in line. That's how it is for Pakistan, not only with their Hindu population (the "scheduled" castes) but also the Muslim one.

Those who're unaware of the caste issue among Muslims living in caste societies (or a diaspora caste community; e.g., Pakistanis in Norway) assume that gang rapes and murders among those communities are products of fundamentalist Islam. Yet these are often caste crimes; the rigidity of fundamentalism only makes for more brutal enforcement of caste.

In Pakistan any lower caste Pakistani caught consorting with a higher caste person or taking a job assigned to a higher caste can be gang-raped or worse by high caste Pakistanis. 

For an excellent introduction to the subject read Shahbano Aliani's August 2009 essay, Caste in Pakistan: The Elephant in the Room. Just so you understand that by 'caste' I don't mean merely 'social station,' Aliani's essay begins with the words:
A pregnant woman from a remote rural village in Tharparkar goes to a private hospital in Hyderabad. The medical staff refuse to attend to her, saying they do not want to pollute their instruments and dirty their hands.
Low caste does not only mean 'bottom of the human social order.' It also means subhuman. And where it is rigidly enforced low-caste people are treated as if they're subhuman.

Yet people outside nations with a Muslim caste system know virtually nothing about the situation. This is particularly true in the USA, where the news media here refrain as much as possible from portraying Pakistan in a negative light. You won't even find mention of Pakistan's caste system at the U.S. Department of State website or the CIA one, or in Wikipedia's article on Pakistan -- although Wikipedia does make brief mention of the topic at their entries on Caste and the Caste system among South Asian Muslims.

There's very little reporting in the USA about Pakistan, period, except when there's a terrorist strike inside the country or when there's a report directly related to Pakistan's actions in the U.S. war effort. But such reports are narrow in scope; because of that few Americans who aren't of South Asian parentage know anything about Pakistan's society unless they're involved in certain fields such as international aid/development or human rights.

Discussion about the caste system in Pakistan is hard to come by even inside the country because it's off limits for public discussion. Few Pakistanis other than the country's communists are willing to publicly engage in frank analysis of the country's caste system. Not surprisingly, given the brutal repression of Pakistan's communist party in earlier days, the number of communists is very small.

So why didn't Faras Ghani mention Pakistan's caste issue? I don't know him. I do know that he is Pakistani, "born and bred" in Karachi, although he seems to be living as an expat based in England.  

As I noted in the Alden Pyle essay most Pakistanis are loath to talk about caste, to the extent that it really isn't an issue. It's a subterranean fault line that runs through the entire of Pakistani society, manifesting in an incredible array of seemingly intractable problems that keep being chalked up to poverty, backward religious traditions, and the World Bank compendium of development problems.

However, if the country is running out of water within a decade it's a little late in the day to say, 'Now we must confront our caste problem.'

So what if anything can save Pakistan at this Eleventh Hour? Same thing that can save Afghanistan. The appearance of the Great King. 

Isn't a return to monarchy an awfully high price to save a modern nation? But Pakistan isn't a modern nation; it only wears the trappings of modernity and it can't get there from here because the population keeps exploding in number. To turn to Sabrina Toppa:
Karachi – home to more than 20 million people – is currently meeting just 50% of its total water requirement, according to officials from the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB). The city needs 1.1bn gallons of water daily but can only supply 550m gallons per day (MGD).
Meanwhile, Karachi’s population growth rate of 4.5% per annum means that nearly a million newcomers – economic migrants, refugees and internally displaced people – enter the city every year, further stressing the already-limited water supply.
To turn to Codi Kozacek, the number of people living in the Indus River Basin is expected to grow from about 300 million today to 400 million by 2025. But to return to Toppa:
The Hub Dam went dry earlier this year, leaving Karachi with just one water source, the Indus river, which is more than 120km away.
To turn to Faras Ghani:
Early marriage, teen pregnancies and an absence of family planning has become a norm in the district.
It is 9am on a hot, windy summer's day in Mithrio Soomro village when local women gather around a well to collect water. Aqeela, who says she has "10 to 12" children, is pulling the thick, rough rope tied to the well along with a few other women -- a job typically assigned to a donkey.
As the conversation turns towards the number of children each woman has, some shy away from the question while others respond with "eight", "six", "10" or "12".
Aqeela says with pride that she married her daughter off as soon as she turned 12. "My girl was sitting in school aged 13 with a baby in her belly," she says with a chuckle.
The local mosque's imam, they say, implores them to marry their daughters off as soon as they hit puberty. "He [the imam] says the longer we keep a baaligh [adolescent] girl unmarried, the bigger our sins will be."
What are you going to put up against hundreds of thousands of these little satraps, each ordering the people to breed like rabbits? The modern approach? Here's how well that's working. Back to Ghani:
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) recently directed all TV and FM radio channels to stop airing family planning ads as the "general public is very much concerned on the exposure of such products to the innocent children, who get inquisitive on features and use of the products".
The ban was later tweaked to allow such ads after 11pm.

Although the ban means little in Tharparkar, where few have electricity, Dr Najma Khoso, a gynaecologist at Nagarparkar Hospital, is irked by it.
"What corruption can a family planning ad cause?" she asks. "This is awareness."
"Sex education should also be preached on TV so that people know that this is a reality. We are still looking for God's name in potatoes, but when someone with forward thinking comes out, we deem it un-Islamic."
It all comes down to the price you're willing to pay to save yourself, and when it gets really late in the day you'd better not haggle.   

As to where they're going to find a great king on short notice, well they'll never find one if they don't go looking, isn't it so?

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