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Explainer: Where did Karachi get its water board from?

Storm water drains are not its job

SAMAA | - Posted: Sep 1, 2019 | Last Updated: 2 years ago
Posted: Sep 1, 2019 | Last Updated: 2 years ago

Keenjhar Gujjo headworks and a canal. Photo: Samaa Digital

You really don’t need to go far to find some excellent research on the history of the Karachi Water and Sewage Board, which is actually not what it seems.

Shortly after Partition, the first water board was made to get to Karachi bulk supplies from the closest source, the River Indus. 

A few years later the first decision was made to split the responsibility of bulk water supplies and water distribution and sewage in the city. This is the first time these jobs were separated. 

Perhaps it was a lack of vision of what would happen in the future because ideally water supplies to Karachi, how they got from the River Indus to our taps and the sewage that would come out of our houses and have to be sent to the sea should have all been tackled by one government department.

But what we see happening is that because there was no single department responsible, the cantonment boards, Karachi Port Trust and the armed forces started managing their own systems across the city.

It was only in 1983 that the Sindh government tried to bring all the water services together. It was placed under the city’s government. 

Thirteen years later, though, all this was undone and the Karachi Water & Sewerage Board got its own law and was officially separated from the city government. This back and forth has continued over the years and that is the tragedy of the city.

In 2009 the IIED published a paper by Arif Pervaiz, Perween Rahman and Arif Hasan that explained it all. “Storm drains and natural channels are taken care of by the city, town and UC governments,” they wrote, “while the sewerage system has been outsourced to KWSB.”

The CDGK was responsible for planning, making and keeping storm drains running. This was done by its Department of Works and Services. It was never the KWSB’s job. 

Interpretive timeline

ORIGIN 1953 Karachi Joint Water Board made to grow Karachi’s water supply from River Indus 

SPLIT 1957 KDA takes responsibility for bulk supplies. KMC distributes in city and does sewerage Other agencies manage on their own (cantonment boards, KPT etc)

MERGER 1982-3 Sindh government brings water under one roof: KMC to provide service, raise funds and expand systems 

SEPARATION 1996 The KWSB Act separates KWSB from KMC and places it under GoS as an autonomous body. After 1996, KWSB grows poorer, begs KMC for subsidies 

MERGER 2001 A new law bring KWSB back under CDGK. But oddly enough, the CDGK sets up Water and Sanitation Department headed by an EDO. As the KWSB Act, 1996 is still alive the CDGK’s Water and Sanitation Department and KWSB become one. KWSB’s head is the same person running the city government water and sanitation department. So KWSB and now KMC share responsibility. Cantonments get bulk supplies from the KWSB but distribute on their own.

By 2013 there is a new system with KMC and DMCs supposed to manage. But because they are too poor they need the provincial government to bail them out. 

If you want to read an in-depth report, see Jica’s study of Karachi’s water supply: here

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