Water scarcity: another cartel in the making

ISLAMABAD-The growing population and subsequent growth of residential settlement had put the capital’s natural resources under severe stress with its wetlands, cleaner environment and water resource depleting gradually.
Once known for its serene evenings, open spaces, less congested population areas and healthy lifestyle, Islamabad in recent years, has gone through several transformations from road infrastructure to taller buildings and a large number of private housing societies developed in the suburbs. 
Due to the ill planning of the city masters, the Islamabad Capital Territory witnessed a massive population influx during the last two decades or so showing a 150 percent increase in its populace during the period 2008-2018.
This phenomenon not only polluted capital’s air and natural clean water streams but also exerted extreme pressure on groundwater with its table gone down from 80 to 100 feet two decades back to 250 to 300 feet presently. 
As residents come across severe water shortages during summer, they are compelled to buy water from private operators through water tankers and these operators are now emerging as a cartel fleecing the citizens in the name of water provision in the absence of any declared tankers rates mechanism.
“It is an apathy that we regularly pay water bills to our societies but they fail to meet our water needs. Therefore, we have to buy it from tanker owners who charge us as per their desire,” said Adil Mahmood, a resident of Doctor’s Town. “We fail to understand why the authorities do not gauge this situation while according to approval to the owners for developing a housing society,” he said. “It is unjust that on one side they charge for routine water supply and on the other sell us water in tankers.”    
The tube wells installed to pump out groundwater are often choked due to depleting water tables leaving the residents particularly in summer leaving at the mercy of the water tanker mafia who charge Rs 2000 to 4000 for each tanker and sometimes more if water is required urgently. Although the housing societies also provide cheaper water tankers yet they take 24 to 48 hours to reach one’s residence. “Forget about society water tankers as they will arrive when you don’t need them anymore,” said Irshad Ahmed, a resident of the PWD colony. “The management of these societies should seriously think about a mechanism for water supply otherwise the situation would worsen with each passing year.” Many housing societies developed along Islamabad Expressway to cater for the needs of the populace migrating to the capital from other cities are facing serious challenges of water supply. 
“We regularly supply water to our residents. Daily the water channels are opened in all sectors for a specific time,” said an official of the Pakistan Town Housing Society. “But, since underground water resource is depleting, water supply could not be ensured for the whole day. Therefore, the residents have to use it prudently instead of wasting it in cars and floor washing,” he said. He said even during summer when water consumption increases, “we try to meet the needs of our residents. As far as delay in tankers supply, it occurs only when demand rises.” 
He further informed that at the time of developing society, the provision of all amenities is assessed as per the number of plots and future houses to be constructed. “But, once houses are constructed on all plots, almost 70 to 80 percent of owners rent out a portion of their houses meaning thereby that it doubles the number of families. This tendency exerts extra pressure on the amenities provision system.” 
There are multiple characters in this story. The district administration issues permission for hiring land to pump out water, and the owners install pumping stations and sell water to tanker owners who ferry it to residents. But what is lacking in this whole process is the pricing mechanism.
“We earn a nominal profit as we have to pay for water to the pumping station owner and for fuel and repair of our vehicles. If the fuel, vehicle parts and water price would increase, we would be helpless to charge more,” said Zahid Mahmood, a tanker owner. “Blaming us as an emerging cartel is unjust. Why we are into this business only because that societies and city managers fell short of meeting residents’ water needs,” he said. “As far as rate is concerned, it is market-based as if prices of all commodities will go up, so would the price of water.”
The water pumping station owners have their own argument for increasing prices in view of rising power and fuel prices as well as every year’s revision of land rent.
Now whatever the arguments of the parties, the situation demands from the city masters to devise a comprehensive strategy for meeting the future water needs of the Islamabad Capital Territory residents.
If the water resource continues to deplete at the present pace, the days are not far off that capital residents are made to face a Karachi-like situation. Therefore, the residents have demanded to ensure that in future no housing society is issued NoC until it submits alternate water provision plans like the construction of reservoirs and rainwater harvesting instead of pumping out more and more water.

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