Tale of a thirsty town

Despite growing problem of drinking water in Gwadar, the administration is still not geared to manage the drought situation

By Naseer Memon

(The News-23rd Dec 2012)While Eastern parts of Balochistan are inundated under flood water, Southern belt of Makran coast of the same province is enduring a severe drought and people are desperately jostling for drinking water in long queues. Gwadar and adjoining areas with striking natural beauty of virgin beaches are without drinking water for several months.

A population of over 350,000 in the restive south of Balochistan is left at the mercy of nature by the callous decision makers in Quetta. Confounded district administration of Gwadar is facing the wrath of thirsty and disgruntled mobs every day. Ankara Kaur dam is the key source of drinking water supply. The dam was constructed in 90s at a cost of $24 million to supply water to Gwadar and adjoining villages. It is a rain-fed dam that was last filled in June 2010. Since then the area has not received significant rain and the empty dam body could not be replenished leading to the persistent dry spell.

Gwadar, Jiwani, Pishukan, Surbandar, Nigwara Sharif, Pallery, Panwan, Nalaint and other villages in the Gwadar sub-division are victim of the vagaries of capricious climate.

As the crisis surfaced, local administration swung into entropic response through various sources. There are ample evidences to believe that the administration was not geared to manage drought situation. Water level in the dam would not have depleted overnight. It did not require any rocket science to predict such crisis well ahead of its manifestation.

Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) in its monsoon contingency plan for 2012 did not identify drought as potential risk for the district. The hazard ranking of Gwadar district shows flood, earthquake, cyclone and tsunami among the risks posed to the district but the drought was placed in the category of “none” in the hazard ranking for Gwadar. This sufficiently indicates that the decision makers were either oblivious of the fact or were sanguine for nature’s blessing.

Similarly, Multiple Indicator Survey-2010 of Balochistan narrates an uncanny data that overall 74 per cent of the population was using an improved source of drinking water in the province (page: 67). Stakeholders term such reports hoodwinking and far from realities on ground. Another high profile document “Balochistan Millennium Development Goals-2011” issued by the government of Balochistan and UNDP makes similar hilarious claims. Under the goal of environmental sustainability, table No. 4.26 identifies Gwadar having 73.4 per cent households with improved source of drinking water. Local communities believe that such documents are full of distorted facts and provide misleading information.

Not having a point source as substitute to the Ankara dam, local administration resorted to several short term measures. Public Health Dept mobilised tankers to supply water and they claim to have been supplying more than 3.5 million gallons per day to Gwadar, Jiwani and surrounding villages.

The alternate sources used include Belar dam, Suntsar tube wells and ships of Pakistan Navy. Communities, however, express their reservations on transparency and efficiency of the process. Equitable distribution, frequency of supply, quality of water and expenditure were questioned by stakeholders. A typical tanker costs Rs15,000 per trip and so far district administration faces a liability of 254 million rupees. Due to non-payment, tanker owners have also brought supplies to screeching halt. To sustain the supply, district administration needs 17 million rupees every week. District officials have been beseeching provincial government for timely releases of funds but bureaucratic red tape refuses to soften.

In a politically-charged environment; the district has turned into a powder keg and a single incendiary incident can trigger a conflict of unmanageable proportions. Insensitivity towards political repercussions of such issues can result into turmoil.

Considering the situation on ground, there as an urgent need to sustain drinking water supply through tankers and restoration of rotten pipeline from Suntsar tube wells. It is, however, very important to ensure equitable and transparent system of water supply to avoid any sordid practices by unscrupulous elements.

Apart from this stopgap arrangement, there is a dire need of considering medium term and long term solutions. With its burgeoning population and sprawling neighborhoods, Gwadar merits a sustainable and reliable source of drinking water for its residents.

Supplying drinking water through Mirani dam is being considered as a long term viable solution of the problem. Located some 150 kms in the north of Gwadar, the controversial dam was constructed during the Musharraf’s era. It not only failed to meet the promised irrigation supply but also caused devastation in 2007 in the wake of a malevolent flood. Fed by Nahang and Kech rivers, the dam has deprived several downstream villages from their historical right on the natural stream. The downstream communities raised serious objections to the dam as the dam stored and diverted the stream flows and no provision was made to meet their agriculture and drinking water needs.

Gwadar can be supplied drinking water through the dam, however downstream communities have legitimate right to demand supply of water through the same conduit. These small villages would not divert significant quantum of water and the scheme can proffer long term solution of the perpetuating problem in the area. The provincial government has announced this scheme with an estimated budget of 4.5 billion rupees. The federal government has also committed fifty per cent share.

This is high time to consult with the downstream communities to ensure provision for their drinking water needs at the design stage rather than struggling with subsequent problems that may jeopardize the project. Security issue would be another challenge for the government to execute the scheme.

In addition to that, some other schemes can be considered to augment the supplies to Gwadar. Local stakeholders identify desalination plants to purify and supply water from sea, timely completion of Sawar and Shadi Kaur dams, up-gradation of Suntsar tube wells and desilting & raising Ankara dam.

It would be pertinent to mention here that the Drinking Water Policy 2009 of the government of Pakistan has recognised clean drinking water as basic human right of citizens. Preamble of the policy document in its very first paragraph reads “the Government of Pakistan, while recognizing that access to safe drinking water is the basic human right of every citizen and that it is the responsibility of the state to ensure its provision to all citizens, is committed to provision of adequate quantity of safe drinking water to the entire population at an affordable cost and in an equitable, efficient and sustainable manner”. The government has to fulfill this obligation towards the citizens of Gwadar district.

The author is Chief Executive of Strengthening Participatory Organization-SPO; nmemon@spopk.org)

Courtesy: ICUN

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