Frightful Conditions Of Water Shortage And Urban Flooding Need To Be Addressed Urgently

An old adage we grew up hearing has suddenly lost its metaphoric sense, calling us to reckon it literally: We need water to survive but too much of it will drown you. The two sides of the water problem can be seen all too manifestly today: generally across Pakistan, and specifically in Karachi.

Karachi served as the capital of Pakistan from 1947 to 1960. It is called the city of lights and it still acts as the destination of millions of people looking for jobs, livelihood and better living conditions.

Yet, this giant metropolis of Pakistan has faced problems with water supply since as far back as I can remember. Since childhood, we have had tankers bring water to fill our home tank. I recall my father used to stay awake until 2 or even 3 AM to make sure we got our water. He then used to go to work at 7 AM. It’s no wonder he would be so short-tempered with us and his colleagues. Later, my brother took over this responsibility from my father and now he usually has a bad temper. All of this is despite the fact that we live in a relatively well-to-do neighborhood. Imagine how those living in severely worse conditions than us would have to cope with the problem of water shortage.

This year in Karachi, we experienced what should have been a blessing from God, but which became an absolute horror because of the lack of suitable provisions to receive rainfall. “Amusing” videos did the round on social media in which the submerged streets of Karachi were transformed into adventure water parks by the more jovial-hearted citizens. Yet, behind this show of lighthearted resilience, one would have to be absolutely blind to not see the plight citizens are drowning under with this situation. Unsightly human and animal waste floated over the newly formed rivers and streams in the middle of residential areas and in underpasses, and people lost lives from electrocution.

Callousness and unconcern shown by certain politicians and higher-ups is an altogether separate chapter in this tragedy. The powers-that-be are quick to pass blame around, but absolutely fail when it comes to ameliorating or even empathising with the conditions of people. To them, what may one say but ask them to simply stop talking?

In this context, we all need to come up with viable solutions to the water problem. There are plenty of outstanding examples from across the world that we can learn from. Even small measures, when accumulated, can go long ways in improving a great many situations. Below is a list of just a few steps we must take.

We must make water regeneration pits on roadsides and in our houses where we use boring to obtain underground water, in order to keep the water table from depleting underneath us. Excess floodwater from roadsides should find its way back underground and for this, channels need to be built. Taking this measure will solve the problem of flooding, overwhelming of our sewage system and depletion of underground water all at the same time. Besides being a highly inefficient method, letting it evaporate in hot sun is letting a precious resource go to waste.

Moreover, the overwhelming majority of our population uses perfectly usable drinking water for wudhu, bathing, washing, even flushing toilets. What we don’t realise is that water can and should be reused. Water that has been used, for example, to wash hands or utensils, can be redirected for use to flush toilets or water plants. This will need certain adjustments in our plumbing but the benefits of this are incomparably larger than the efforts we will expend in doing so. There is a lot of room for creativity in this. Filters of rocks, pebbles, gravel, sand and activated charcoal are essentially DIY projects that you can use to obtain the necessary purity of water you need before reusing it.

We also need to bolster our water supply infrastructure by making sure we maintain our pipes and replace them when they are leaking to prevent both wastage and contamination by dirty water. There are a few municipalities in and outside Pakistan that lose 30% to 70% of their clean drinking water due to water pipes leakage. This wasted water needs to be saved.

We all have heard that world war three might be fought due to water as it is more precious than oil. People have been killed over water in Karachi itself, and even in the US in states like New Orleans after hurricanes led to a water and food shortage there.

It’s already past time we should have begun decisive action to conserve our water, to avoid water loss, and to use and re-use water in an intelligent manner. We must not delay it any longer. Otherwise, a very ugly future awaits us across the country, not just in Karachi.

Dr Nauman Zakir is the Chairman Hepatology/Gastroenterology sections at the Pakistan Kidney & Liver Institute & Research Centre, Lahore, Pakistan.