Left High And Dry: Sindh Government RO Plants Not Functioning To Provide Water To Tharparkar
MITHI: People of Tharparkar living both in towns and villages have again been forced to drink highly contaminated water from wells, after all waterworks, including the costly Reverse Osmosis (RO) plants, failed to provide them with water as the harsh summers arrive. Thari women are the ones who mostly fetch the water, and they have to travel miles in search of it. Conditions are difficult: due to rising temperatures, a number of the wells have either dried up or their water table has gone further down. Local people talking to this reporter complained that both lawmakers and government officials of the desert district were least interested to provide any relief to the people of Tharparkar. According to the reports collected by this reporter, almost all RO plants installed in Thar by the PPP government to provide safe drinking were shut down by operators and workers more than a year ago, after they were not given their 18-month salaries and other dues .
Over 600 costly plants installed in various towns and villages with a cost of over Rs 10 billion to provide safe drinking water to over 1.8 million residents of desert district Tharparkar were shut down by the unpaid operators and workers, who were hired by a private firm to maintain and run the plants. These operators are saying that that they would resume their duties after some payments are made to them.
The Sindh government, after launching the mega scheme in Thar, had handed over the contract for installing 750 plants in all big and small towns and major villages to a private firm Pak Oasis. But the firm reportedly could not achieve the target of installing all the announced waterworks for want of the required funds from the high-ups of the Sindh government.The contract with the private firm expired last year, and since then, no other firm /company showed interest to take part in the bids to take charge of the existing 635 plants – despite the fact the local officials of public health engineering department invited the tenders more than ten times in a desperate attempt to put the closed plants in operation.
Officials of the public health engineering department, when contacted, told this correspondent that they had not only invited the tenders to hand over charge of the costly plants for their smooth running but also informed the high-ups of the Sindh government for the payment of the workers time and again.As many as 700 workers were hired by the private company, which was tasked with installing, maintaining and running nearly 750 plants when the mega scheme was launched and one of the biggest RO plants of Asia at Misri Shah area on the outskirts of Mithi was inaugurated by then President Asif Ali Zardari. in 2015.The leaders of the operators and workers, who have been protesting for the payment of their salaries, say that after failing to get any response to get their demands for payment and other dues, they were left with other options but to shut down the plants across the district. They added that they had also warned that if the plants were not properly looked after, the villagers would not tamper with the costly equipment but might also steal the solar panels from the sites.
Local people told this reporter that after the boycott of their duties by the workers, most of the RO plants were rusting and had developed major faults. Activists working in the rain-dependent arid zone of the country said that due to consumption of the brackish and contaminated water from wells, there were fears of outbreaks of viral infections and water-borne diseases in the desert district. They said that it was the responsibility of the high-ups of Sindh to revive the costly plants and other waterworks.
While 95 percent of the 635 government reverse osmosis (RO) plants have become dysfunctional due to poor governance in district Tharparkar, a public-private partnership model has been providing WHO-standard clean drinking water to the local populace – and that, too ,while being successfully run by local women.
Thar Foundation, a Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC)-owned non-profit company, has been successfully running 17 RO plants installed in the taluka of Islamkot in district Tharparkar for the last 4 years. Out of 17 RO plants, 10 belonged to the government of Sindh and were dysfunctional since their installation around the year 2012. “These RO plants providing WHO-standard water to around 25,000-30,000 local population have become a governing model at the time when most parts of the desert district are facing the worst water crises, forcing the people to migrate to the barrage with their cattle herds,” adds Mr. Mohsin Babar, the spokesperson of SECMC and Thar Foundation.
Babbar, commenting on the current water crisis in Thar, says that running RO plants in Thar and rehabilitating the dysfunctional ones was not an arduous task. Since 90 percent of the water fetchers from these RO Plants are women, the best way to make these plants successfully operational is to give women charge of the operations and management, believes Mr Babbar:
“Our trained women operators are running these costly plants very efficiently to provide quality water to the residents.” He adds that they hired the local women and then got them trained to provide the water to the people at their doorsteps. “Providing safe drinking water to the people must be the top priority of all the stakeholders in Thar,” he says.
He says that their mining company and the foundation took up the responsibility sensing the importance and the significance of a reliable water supply in the life of the people of the desert district. “It is yet another challenge but we are ready to take it up to provide more basic facilities to the people of Tharparkar with the active support of the government of Sindh.”
To a question, Mr. Mohsin Babbar confirmed that a proposal had been submitted to the government of Sindh to hand over dysfunctional RO plants to Thar Foundation for best delivery to the local population, starting within the limits of taluka of Islamkot.
“Thar Foundation is not a commercial entity and has demonstrated successfully running these RO plants through local women operators,” he says, adding that they had a solution to the problem but they can’t go ahead without a nod from functionaries of the Sindh government. He notes that the SECMC was a public-private partnership model between the government of Sindh and Engro Corporation with 54.7 percent shares owned by the former and the rest by Engro, Hubco, HBL and other partners. He adds that the Thar Foundation was established by SECMC to carry out community development schemes and programmess to benefit the local population.