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Karachi water shortage

Most people living in Pakistan's second city of Karachi do not have an access to clean water. Apart from the obvious health problems, lack of potable water is leading to social, economic and political difficulties as well. Two ethno-political parties staged a rally against water shortages last June, which turned violent after police fired at the protestors killing two and leaving six injured. The protestors set vehicles on fire and ransacked property. The tension eased when additional water supplies were brought in from the river Indus, the key source of water for Karachi and the rest of the province. Karachi, with an unofficial population figure of 15 million, needs about 600 million gallons of water per day, but the city currently receives only about 435 million. Part of the shortfall is due to a dilapidated water supply and sewerage infrastructure. "At most places, our water transmission and distribution system has completed the designed economic life. One of our field investigations reveal losses to the tune of 30 to 35 percent," a spokesman for the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) told IRIN. Most parts of the city are served by piped water direct to houses, but many residents - paticularly in informal settlements - have to rely on water supplied from communal taps. Due to overcrowding, the water supply in many parts of the city is insufficient. "I have not received tapped water for many years, though KWSB serve me with water tax notice regularly," Fatima Haris, a housewife from eastern Karachi, told IRIN. She manages to get water from a tanker, which costs her about US$ 8 a week. Capitalising on the current shortage, a tanker mafia has mushroomed. Apart from 5 official hydrants allowed by the KWSB, dozens of illegal hydrants alongside the Lyari River, which passes through the city, have emerged. These hydrants are supplying contaminated sub-soil water from the river, into which the city's sewage is pumped. According to one report, out of 114 hydrants, 86 are illegal. On top of the public health risk involved, the economy is also suffering at the hands of the tanker mafia. Haji Yaqub Karim, runs a large factory in the city, he told IRIN that industrial units are forced to buy from water tankers permanently to meet their requirement. He pays around US $200 a day to keep his factory supplied with water. KWSB told IRIN it was trying to solve the water supply problem by building new infrastructure. The project would supply only another 100 MGPD to Karachi once completed, well below current requirements. But shrinking capacity of Pakistan's main reservoirs in the north of the country and unabated population growth will put even more pressure on Karachi's water supply. The UN's Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) has already sounded a note of warning - it says shortage of water is likely to emerge as one of the most pressing problem in Pakistan in coming years.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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