KARACHI: The city receives 200 million gallons of unfiltered water daily. The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) has no functional system either to properly chlorinate drinking water or check the presence of major contaminants in it.
Only a handful of the 180 industrial units in the Port Qasim Authority (PQA) jurisdiction have their own effluent treatment plants and most of the waste is discharged into the sea without treatment.
These facts came to light on Tuesday when a judicial commission comprising Justice Mohammad Iqbal Kalhoro visited some important installations of the KWSB and a sewage treatment plant being run in the Port Qasim area.
‘Reservoir cleaning requires suspension of water supply for three to four months which we cannot afford’
He was accompanied by KWSB and Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) officials, members of civil society organisations, petitioners as well as some journalists. The commission is being assisted by former managing director of the KWSB Mohammad Suleman Chandio and an official of the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR).
The commission had recently been formed by the Supreme Court to conduct an inquiry into the state’s failure in providing clean drinking water, sanitation facilities and a healthy environment to the people of Sindh and present a report to the SC within six weeks.
The commission’s terms of reference include examining the statutory role played by Sepa on the issues mandated to it under the Sindh Environment Protection Act, 2014.
One of the most alarming revelations of the fact-finding visit was the disclosure by KWSB officials at the Pipri pumping-cum-filter plant that the utility had the capacity to filter only 60 per cent of the water. The rest was supplied to the city unfiltered.
“Of the total 550MGD supplies from the Indus source to the city, 200MGD is supplied unfiltered owing to lack of capacity,” said Asadullah Khan, the deputy managing director for technical services at the KWSB, while briefing Justice Kalhoro, adding that a project was in the pipeline to upgrade the system and increase the filtration capacity.
According to KWSB officials, the shortcoming has much to do with serious financial constraints which forced the board to focus on expanding the water supply system rather than improving the existing infrastructure.
Besides, they argued, the ‘chlorination’ carried out at the plant killed the germs that the unfiltered water might be carrying. “Though we lack complete filtration capacity, we do chlorinate the entire water and that improves its quality. Filtration is only meant to remove suspended particles from the water,” a KWSB official said.
Much to the visitors’ shock, the Pipri filter plant laboratory, supposed to regularly monitor water quality, lacked record of past testing analyses, suggesting to the team that water quality was not monitored at all on a daily basis.
In addition, the laboratory did not have the facility to test the presence of heavy metals in the water being supplied from the Indus source (Keenjhar Lake) that received untreated industrial and domestic waste from the surrounding areas.
At the Pipri filter plant reservoir, the last collection point from where the water is supplied to parts of the city, including Landhi, Malir, Korangi, Akhtar Colony, the Defence Housing Authority and Shah Faisal Colony, the chlorination system was found to be in a state of disuse whereas the reservoir, the officials admitted, had never been cleaned.
“It’s all because of a funds’ shortage. Besides, reservoir cleaning requires suspension of water supply for at least three to four months which we can’t afford,” an official told the team, which earlier visited the Dhabeji pumping station and was briefed by KWSB staff that the city faced a 50pc water shortfall.
The PCRWR expert assisting the judicial commission collected water samples from various sites during the visit. “We have already collected 200 samples from Karachi, Hyderabad, Badin, Sukkur, Tando Mohammad Khan and Shikarpur and will submit their report to the commission within 15 days,” said Dr Ghulam Murtaza of the PCRWR.
The findings would be part of the report that the commission would submit to the Supreme Court in coming weeks.
In the end, the team visited a small sewage treatment plant being run by the Port Qasim Authority. It appeared that the plant was made operational only for the occasion as it was evident from its condition, a concern also shared by Advocate Shahab Usto, one of the lawyers on whose petition the SC had formed the commission.
The team expressed concern over the fact that only a few industrial units were treating their respective sewage. The PQA official briefing the team was directed by Justice Kalhoro to submit a detailed report on waste discharge within six days.