Karachi: In Pakistan's Karachi water is synonymous with power. Despite having 20 million residents, the coastal city's water needs are only partially met. Residents claim that in addition to being controlled by mafia gangs and dishonest local officials, the broken water system is also struggling with climate change.
Water is distributed throughout the city using government-owned subterranean pipelines, however the supply is only available to a few, occasionally fewer days per week. The delivery is considerably impeded by organisations known as the water mafia who tap into the pipes and divert the water to private hydrants or to fill tankers from which they subsequently sell water. The supply does reach some homes directly but also goes to community distribution centres.
Often, these tankers refill at unofficial water sources. This combined with old, leaking government water pipes, means many residents living in poor areas of the city have to fill plastic containers with filthy water that burns their skin and makes them sick.
Syed Salahuddin Ahmed, the new chief executive of Karachi's water and sewerage board, acknowledges there are significant issues. According to him water supply needs full commitment of the government as well as the internal law enforcement authorities."
Ahmed said that he was taking a hard line with those operating outside the law. Plans include digitising the system, installing flow meters in pipes and pushing for prosecution of those involved with the mafia groups, which is not without risk. “I have been informed about direct threats against me,” Ahmed said. He said that a £1.3 billion water and sewerage improvement programme, jointly financed by the World Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the government, was underway.