Karachi In Crisis: Water Shortages Spark Protests In Pakistan’s Largest City

Via Future Directions, a report on how continuing water shortages in Karachi have sparked protests and demands that the provincial government do more to address the city’s growing crisis:

Water scarcity is an ongoing challenge in the city of Karachi. Home to approximately 22 million people and rapidly expanding, the city’s neglected infrastructure cannot meet the demands of its residents. The industrial port generates as much as 70 per cent of Pakistan’s gross domestic product  and also has the highest level of employment in the country. Despite this, industries continue to depend on illegal access to water supplies and city-wide shortages exacerbate economic, political and social instability.   


Karachi faces an acute water crisis as it struggles to meet the demand from its booming population. While local authorities have promised to address the shortage, ongoing inaction and sporadic water supplies have led to unrest and frequent protests. Rapid urbanisation and the expansion of industries will exacerbate this tension and lead to a further breakdown of security if the provision of basic services is not urgently addressed.

The Karachi Water Supply Board’s (KWSB) system can, at best, only meet half the daily demand of its residents and industry. The city faces a water shortage of almost 1,900 mega litres (ML) per day. Karachi’s SITE industrial area requires approximately 150ML per day; the KWSB, however, can only supply approximately 19ML. The shortfall in supply is met through illegal connections to the city’s water pipelines.

The KWSB has recently cracked down on water siphoning and has disconnected at least 135 illegal connections since January. Disciplining those who steal the water, however, will prove challenging. Companies and bulk consumers often bribe local authorities for permission to illegally connect to the supply line; systemic corruption makes it difficult to tackle the problem.

It is not only Karachi’s industry that is dependent on an illegal supply of water. The irregular supply of water tankers to residential areas and polluted and saline groundwater have led residents to depend on water “mafia” for potable water. Not only does this undermine the official water supply system, taking water and revenue from the KWSB, it has also led residents to pay exorbitant amounts for clean water. This is particularly the case in unplanned settlements, where poor residents are not connected to the city’s public infrastructure and depend on private water vendors to deliver water to their area or risk disease from unimproved water sources.

Local authorities have promised to address the shortage with the development of a secondpipeline, dubbed the “K-4”. The project is unlikely to meet future demand, however, and will not be available until at least 2020. In the meantime, the provincial government needs to address water loss as a result of ageing infrastructure and expand its wastewater treatment facilities. This will require significant investment, money which the government does not have and cannot raise while the illegal water trade exists.

It is unlikely that Karachi’s current water crisis will be alleviated in the near future. Expanding water pollution, ageing infrastructure, systemic corruption and a rapidly growing population, many of who will reside in unplanned settlements, will only exacerbate the crisis. An increased incidence of protests and social unrest should be expected. Industry groups have also flagged the possibility of companies relocating within Pakistan or moving offshore where basic services are more readily available. Both the provincial and federal governments must view Karachi’s predicament as a crisis and act accordingly. Urgent action and the co-operation of both the private and public sectors is required if the city is to halt and begin to reverse the crisis.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 at 12:55 am and is filed under Pakistan.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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