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Water: Commodity or Basic Human Right

January 6, 2018

By Saman Siddiqui 

Imagine no water to drink, or even to cook food with, no water to shower, to flush the toilet, or do laundry. Imagining such condition is scary, but in a metropolitan city like Karachi hundreds of households face these conditions on a daily basis. It must be sought to ensure that the basic necessities are provided to all, if it’s a society based on human dignity, freedom and equality. Where do we stand after reading this statement? Water is a basic necessity of life, which should be provided to all. And the irony is that people have to pay for drinking and consumable water. This definitely makes an impact on one’s capacity to pay for other essential goods and services like food, housing, education and medicines.

According to Resolution 64/292 from the United Nations General Assembly which was approved in July 2010, affirms water and sanitation rights as “essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.” The resolution references the UN’s resolution declaring the right to development (54/175) and various UN efforts to improve water and sanitation conditions, such as the International Decade for Action, “Water for Life” (58/217). It recalls the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and several international agreements regarding human rights. The resolution recognizes the commitment of the Human Rights Council to water and sanitation and reiterates the commitment of nations to halving the proportion of people who do not have access to water and sanitation by 2015 as part of the Millennium Development Goals.  States and organizations are urged to dedicate resources and efforts to overcoming the widespread deprivation of these rights.

Pakistan is a member country of the UN, like many underdeveloped countries access to water, clean drinking water is scarce. For most rural and may urban areas there is a huge struggle for receiving clean drinking water. Karachi is the largest city of the Pakistan, and conditions for water supply are scary. Adding to the misery, the water supply has taken a form of tanker mafia though this water is unsafe for human consumption, but there is no other way out. A report by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) showed that out of 118 samples of water collected in various districts of Karachi; only 11 samples were fit for human consumption.

According to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, Karachi’s population has grown to 14.91 million. There is a need to raise the water capacity of the city. The worst affected areas are Defence, Lyari, Gulistan-e- Johar, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Landhi, Malir, Korangi, Orangi, North Nazimabad, North Karachi, New Karachi and many other localities. These areas of Karachi are facing an acute water shortage due to the slackness of Sindh government and other authorities, compelling citizens to drink bottled and tanker water. Many areas of the city are dependent on the water tankers because of no or inadequate supply of water from KWSB.

Whose responsibility is to provide clean drinking water in a democratic country? There are elected people to solve issues of the people who selected them, but where are they? There is government, on federal and provincial level, to some extent metropolitan administration exits. The Supreme Court in December last year, constituted a judicial commission to investigate the authorities’ failure to provide potable drinking water and improve sanitation across the Sindh province. The question is why SC has to intervene in all the administrative matters when an elected government exists to look after the citizens.

The bottled water once considered as the status symbol, now is required for everyone in the city as tap water, where available is considered unfit for human consumptions. Apart from major mineral water companies, there are water filtration plants almost in every locality, which supply gallon bottles even on the doorsteps when ordered. Such gallon bottles or cans cost Rs. 50 to 80, depending on which area you are buying water. Again the question is from where these filtering plants are getting water when there is already a scarce water supply? Is it a mafia which is depriving citizens from their basic right to access to clean drinking and consumable water?

Stories of illegal water hydrants and tanker mafia are not new. Water mafia networks also divert water through illegal pipelines by drilling holes into official pipelines. The water thieves tap into water hydrants and set up illegal wells and pipelines for industries.

Governance failure adds to the misery of the people. In Karachi water leakages from old water pipes and outright water theft amounts to water loss of some 30 to 35 percent. There is a need of water regulation is to ensure long term water sustainability and compatibility of water use. Strict legal compliance does not guarantee the sustainable and efficient use of water always; politics must be kept separated from water management.



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