Is Pakistan running out of water !

The sight of water flowing from taps may soon be a luxury, with people having to queue up at tankers for just a bucket load of water for their daily needs. Meanwhile, affluent neighborhoods in gated communities may install desalination plants paid for (by volume) by wealthy homeowners.

If we are to try and bring some order to this chaotic picture of the near future, the starting point for Arif Anwar, who heads the non-profit research organization International Water Management Institute (IWMI), will be to ensure that cities are water secure.

This is because the day-to-day injustice from inadequate water supply hits people with precarious livelihoods the most. In fact, for several years now, the chaotic picture of the future is already a reality in scores of informal settlements in the port city of Karachi.

Since they first migrated to the metropolis from their village in Mian Channu, a small town in southern Punjab, and settled in a two-room quarter in Shirin Jinnah Colony, almost a decade ago, Mohammad Riaz, his wife, and their five kids have been rationing water.

“Back in the village there was always plenty of water so it came as a shock for all of us that our father had to buy water for us,” says Aasia, second in line among Riaz’s children. She is now married with a year-old son but lives with her parents, along with her husband, while her older sister Rashda lives in the quarter next to her father’s with her husband, and two children.

All three of Riaz’s daughters and his wife work as maids in the nearby residential area of Clifton, while one son works in a restaurant and the other son with disabilities stays home.

Riaz and his two sons-in-law take turns every month to buy a tanker of 2,000 liters of sweet water for PKR 5,500 (47.53 USD), which is just enough for eight adults and three kids. A large chunk of Riaz’s family earning goes into buying water and even then, Aasia complains, “The water smells and has insects crawling in it even after passing it through thin muslin.”

“We use a bucket each to bathe while my mother, father, and my sister’s son shower where they work. They also fill their flasks from the homes they work in to save money and after the evening meal, we never wash dirty dishes under running water,” explains Rashda. They use underground water which is salty to wash their clothes, although the final rinse is done with the tanker water. This is their way of making their tanker water last till the very last drop.

For drinking, they buy additional gallons of unbranded filtered water from a nearby shop. “A 25-liter barrel costs PKR 70 (USD. 0.60) and lasts two days in the really hot weather,” she points out.

This strict system of rationing water is not peculiar to Riaz’s home. Many families across informal settlements in Karachi, where 60% of the city’s population resides, have come up with their own ways of conserving water.