K-IV imbroglio

The writer is an academic and researcher based in Karachi.

IF the success of a project were to be judged by the number of times it has been inaugurated then the Greater Karachi Water Supply Scheme Phase IV (K-IV) would have done very well indeed. Most have lost count of how many times groundbreaking ceremonies have been held for it. The latest ‘inauguration’ of the project by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif about a week ago has only added to the tally.

In actuality, there has been no progress. It has been close to two decades since K-IV was launched. Planned in a phase-wise manner, it was meant to be completed in a few years. The intended milestones have long disappeared. Even the operationalisation of the initial 260 million gallons per day is nowhere in sight. A sprawling metropolis of over 20m people, Karachi faces acute water shortage. At the optimum level, the total supply to the city from the Indus and Hub sources is 550 MGD. Conservative estimates show that the total demand stands at over 1,100 MGD. Thus, the city is receiving only half of what it actually needs.

If one examines the distribution profile, the situation is far worse. A former managing director of the Karachi Water & Sewerage Board (KWSB) is on record saying that a third of the water supplied to Karachi is lost to leakage and theft. Add other emergencies and unforeseen situations, such as pumping motors breaking down, power outages, leaking underground pipes, fiddling with distribution valves by local workers of the utility, and things turn grimmer still. It was against this backdrop that K-IV was seen as a much-needed initiative to augment Karachi’s water supply.

The project faced multiple challenges. Its initial price tag was slightly over Rs25 billion. Now it is expected to cost over Rs150bn. Federal and provincial governments were to work together to implement the task. However, accusations by one tier of government against the other were common, especially when the previous federal government was in power.

There has been no progress on the water supply project.

Initially, KWSB was assigned the management of design and execution of the project. Later, in October 2020, this task was given to Wapda. The contracting entity, an outfit of the military, is considered by some as beyond technical criticism for its role in the execution of the project. A private consulting firm was assigned the tasks of its planning, design and top supervision. Its proposed right-of-way and design were found deficient on several counts. Another prominent organisation was invited to thoroughly review and vet the design. Again, many shortcomings were identified. While fresh claims about ‘timely’ completion of project are made, the actual situation remains murky.

K-IV has exposed our limited capacity for planning and developing large-scale projects. It has shown that the clandestine influence of many power-wielders overwhelms progress. For instance, a group of professionals still believe that the choice of the K-IV route, which is aligned with the M-9 motorway, is influenced by mega realtors. M-9 is an emerging real-estate market with two mega developments on either side of it, and many medium- to small-scale projects coming up along the corridor.

It is obvious that there shall be a huge water demand generated as a consequence of these developments. Given the fact that K-IV is the only major water supply project, it is understandable that its route has been aligned along the M-9. It is believed that many of these new real estate schemes shall benefit by drawing on the K-IV conduit when the time comes for making such a move. The question is, how will a balance be created between water supply quantities to the existing city and new developments, given that financial and political strength is whol­­ly tilted tow­ards the realtors? Informal settlements and low- to middle-inco­­me neighbourhoods located towards the tail end of Karachi’s southern tip will continue to face crippling water shortages. K-IV will not be a boon for them.

Another crucial issue is the capacity and preparedness of the retail distribution system of the water supply to absorb the extended load of K-IV supplies. It is a common observation that the distribution network in many parts of the city is in need of a major overhaul. In many locations, changed land use and densification have completely altered water demands. For example, where a single-storeyed bungalow existed in places like PECHS, Bahadurabad, North Nazimabad or Federal ‘B’ Area, multistoreyed apartments are being built. Thus, water demand has increased greatly. There is a need to initiate a comprehensive retail water distribution upgradation project after examining the status of such neighbourhoods.

Consumers won’t benefit from more water through K-IV unless we fix the retail distribution network according to present and future demand trends.

The writer is an academic and researcher based in Karachi.

Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2023