December Issue 2009

By | News & Politics | Published 14 years ago

You turn on a tap. There is no water. You mutter a curse, pick up your phone and call your local tanker supplier. He promises to come in eight hours — if he feels like it, that is. You have no choice but to wait, gritting your teeth and watch the dishes pile up in the sink and the washing machine stopped mid-cycle.

Welcome to life as a resident of the supposedly ‘posh’ Defence Housing Authority (DHA) where water is as scarce as flour and sugar. DHA’s water problem isn’t a new one, but one that has gotten progressively worse with time.

Spread out over nearly 9,000 acres, DHA was initially meant to be a residential area for retired officers of the Pakistan Armed Forces. Decades later, it is now home to millions of residents from different economic strata of society, spread out in eight “phases.” Each year, DHA charges fees from owners of plots in the area in the name of development, conservancy, taxes, etc.

Yet its residents are unable to gain access to round-the-clock running water and are reliant on a combination of solutions. The most popular are water tankers, which are supplied by tanker owners who provide them water via illegal water hydrants. Some residents have even gone back to the basics and resorted to drilling for water. A pipe is inserted into the hole, which is then attached to a motor from the other end and allows water, lying beneath the ground to be pulled up. Naureen (not her real name), a resident of Phase VI, says she had no choice but to resort to illegally boring for water. “Have you seen the costs of tankers? We couldn’t afford it anymore. Now, we at least get some water so that we can use it in the house.”

A tanker full of water can cost anywhere between Rs 1,200-2,000. According to Samina Waheed, a resident of DHA since 1996, she spends an estimated Rs 10,000 on water tankers per month, a cost that “rises each time one has house guests over or there is a wedding in the house!” Tired of paying money to get her lawn watered, she has now had it paved with tiles. Ayesha Aslam, a resident of Phase IV, says, “It’s an inconvenience to be concerned on a continual basis about whether or not you have running water. Waiting for the tanker to get water to you is another inconvenience, which delays the process further. It’s such a basic necessity, and yet one has to remember you’re privileged to even have running water.” The cost, with the increasing demand of DHA residents for water tankers, has multiplied over the years.

The Association of Defence Residents, a federation formed in 2007 comprising the different organisations of DHA’s phases, has repeatedly taken up the issue with both the DHA and the Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC), according to Asad Qizalbash, the federation’s secretary general. Qizalbash says the problem is with the supply of water from the Karachi Water and Sewage Board (KWSB) and the DHA’s inability to break free from its dependent relationship on the KWSB. “From the records I’ve seen, the DHA currently needs a water supply of 14 million gallons per day (MGD). However, since the DHA has no water of its own, it gets its main water supply from the KWSB, which gives an average of 7 MGD, which leads to a shortfall of 50%.”

Qizalbash says they have raised the issue with the head of the KWSB and City Nazim Mustafa Kamal, MQM leader Dr Farooq Sattar and representatives of the CBC and DHA, but to no avail.

The CBC, established in 1983, is responsible for managing DHA’s water supply. An official at the CBC, who did not wish to be named, says, “CBC’s job is to manage the water supply that we get from the KWSB. Since we get half the supply that we need, we compensate our residents facing a shortfall by providing them water via water tankers, which are free of cost.”

The PRO for the Defence Housing Authority, Colonel Riffat Naqvi, agrees that KWSB is not supplying the amount of water that they’d agreed to.

“We are trying at all levels that KWSB increase DHA’s quota of water, and at the same time, KWSB is not providing water according to the commitments they had made. They barely give us 7-8MGD of water.”

However, Najmi Alam, the Chief Engineer for Bulk Transmission and Distribution at the KWSB, denies that the DHA ever entered an agreement with them for 14 MGD of water. “We have never agreed to this amount. We have an understanding with them for 8 MGD, which we do provide, barring certain situations where there is a shortfall or problems with the distribution.”

Another KWSB official, who did not want to be named, says the problem lies with DHA. “They keep developing these areas, but they don’t think about the water distribution. DHA says they want 14 MGD of water, but their existing water supply line, which carries water from Chakra Goth to DHA, doesn’t even have the capacity to take in more than 8-9 MGD. We have already given direct connections to the Naval Housing Scheme and the General’s Colony in Phase 6, DHA, which is part of DHA, and we’re sharing their load.”

According to the DHA’s Riffat Naqvi, there are problems with their own water supply distribution. “We recently had a Turkish delegation here who checked our lines, and they’ve identified sites in our lines where there are leakages. If these are fixed, and efforts are being made in this regard, then the water problem can be resolved.”

With water scarcity a permanent thorn in DHA’s side, even their solutions seem to have run into various roadblocks. DHA Cogen, a desalination plant which was inaugurated in 2004 and became operational in 2008, was meant to provide 3 MGD of water to DHA residents and would have helped DHA overcome the shortfall of water. Qizalbash is sceptical about the Cogen plant’s functionality: “The plant has not been working properly since it was inaugurated, and now after its recent ‘re-inauguration,’ it is again non-functional.”

According to the DHA’s website, “The Cogeneration Plant has been established by DHA Cogen Ltd (DCL), a company setup under joint venture between DHA and Messrs Sacoden (Pvt.) Ltd from Singapore and its associates. The project provides 84 MW net powers linked to KESC network and 3 MGD of potable water specific for DHA needs. The plant has been built on 10 acres of land in DHA Phase VIII alongside the Arabian Sea with an approximate cost of US $115 million. In a momentous development, AEI ASIA Limited (Hong Kong), a subsidiary of Ashmore Funds (Houston, USA), acquired controlling interest in DHA Cogen Limited in July 2008. With AEI at the helm of affairs, the Cogen project will continue to consolidate its technical and management regime. In order to meet future water requirements, the second phase of DHA Cogen is in its conception stage for 105 MW (gross) electricity and 5 MGD desalinated water at an estimated cost of US $185 million. The project is planned to be completed in two years after financial close.”

Naqvi says they have asked the company in charge of the Cogen plant to restart production, but after supplying water for a few months, it has again stopped production due to unknown reasons.

According to KWSB’s estimates, there are at least a 100 illegal water hydrants operating in the city, which get their water supply from illegal connections to the KWSB’s water lines in Landhi and Korangi, along with borings into the “<em>meetha paani</em>” supply in areas like Nasir Colony.

A few months ago, the KWSB began a drive against these illegal water hydrants, yet the drive has only been “partially successful,” according to sources at the KWSB. Despite the crackdown, illegal water hydrants, popularly known as the “tanker mafia,” continue to operate with impunity. So who controls them?

Najmi Alam says, “There are some people from the police that are involved in it, along with some influential people. This mafia could not operate without co-operation from the police.” With KWSB’s drive against illegal hydrants still underway, the utility has asked the home secretary for an extension of Section 144 imposed on illegal hydrants, which stipulates that there will be a bar on the illegal hydrants, and their movements will be restricted by the concerned Station House Officers.

With no solution or end to the problem in sight, it seems that DHA residents will continue forking out thousands of rupees every month and stocking up on their blood pressure medication when dealing with water tanker suppliers, just to ensure they have running water, one of the basic necessities of life. Salma Warraich, a resident of Phase IV, is seething with anger. “If I wanted to live in the desert, I would move to Bahawalpur, and I am fairly certain they have better amenities there than in DHA. Every house in our street gets two tankers per week to overcome the water shortfall. To make matters worse, the quality of DHA’s water supply is awful; I’m actually losing hair because of the water DHA sends our way.”

To top it off, it seems the situation is poised to take a turn for the worse. According to KWSB sources, the DHA has yet to ask for a direct water supply line for the currently under-development Phase VIII. “We understand they were going to divert the desalinated water from the Cogen plant for Phase VIII, but that’s non-functional again, so we have no idea what’ll happen when Phase VIII’s residents move in.”

Qizalbash is extremely worried about the state of affairs and what the future will hold for DHA’s water supply, “What’s going to happen when residents start moving into Phase VIII, which is as large as all the existing DHA phases put together? As developers of the area, it is their job to ensure the basic amenities like gas, water, etc. If they don’t fix the problem now, we will face an unparalleled shortage of water in all of DHA.”