For almost seven decades, residents of Machar Colony have struggled with water scarcity like no other area.
Machar Colony or Machaira Colony is one of the neighborhoods of Kaimari Town in Karachi, Pakistan. Most people from the settlement are involved in the fishing industry which is why the area is also known as Fisherman's Colony.
Because of this reason, the area is marked by a very strong smell of fish as soon as you enter. Men work at the fisheries and average household size is eight to ten people.
Home to approximately one million residents, spanning over 4.5 kilometers altogether, Machar Colony is known to be the largest slum of Karachi, where racial and ethnic minorities like the Burmese and the Bengali reside.
Nazia Bibi, a resident and a homemaker, narrates the story of her water woes and every day struggles.
In the morning, Nazia uses two jugs of water to wash the utensils. The same water is then used to clean the kitchen area. In the afternoon, she uses minimal water to do the lunch dishes. While washing the clothes, she makes sure to use as less water as possible and this water is then used to clean washrooms.
For bathing and laundry purposes, the family has conditioned itself to a complete conservation mechanism. To bathe, one small bucket of water is used which holds ten liters of water. Each resident bathes two to three times in a week.
Nazia Bibi’s daughter washes ten pieces of clothing in five to six liters of water. “I don’t wash clothes in the washing machine because washing in the machine requires more water. Instead, clothes are washed by hand.”
“We thought of moving to other localities of the city but the house prices are too high there which is not affordable for us. And since the kids work at the fisheries, it is more feasible to live where we are right now.” When the fisheries are closed in the summers, there is no source of income for Nazia’s family. Her kids put up a hawker stall at Kharadar or Khadda Market and bring back water, which is used for drinking and preparation of food.
Nazia Bibi caters to the water needs of ten members of the household with one drum of water. A drum is the equivalent of 100-200 liters. She tries her best to utilize one drum of water for two days. The household’s daily wage is 1000-1500 rupees, out of which 300 rupees is spent towards water needs.
For an ordinary citizen, feeding the family and taking care of other household expenses is an ordeal with such income levels, on top of water procurement. Water needs to be secured for household chores apart from drinking water.
On top of that, the government makes a big deal about saving water. “We see public service messages on television that we must save water, but it is not available. If there is no provision of water, how can I save water?”
Water Mafia on the go
The water from boring lines is severely limited and residents have to pay 30 rupees for every gallon consumed. Apart from this, 10,000 rupees is spent to install water tankers in a house.
People who can afford to pay for water tankers try to be very miser in using the water and use one tanker for five to six months.
Nazia Bibi cannot afford the tanker like some people as there are only two breadwinners in the family. Therefore, she only buys water in drums. One drum costing around 300-350 rupees is utilized in cooking and to fulfill the drinking needs of the household. “The water tanker service does not give us pure clean water whereas pure water is provided in other areas of the city. When someone from Machar Colony calls for the service, they contaminate it with water from the boring lines. This is because they know we are dependent on them for water and we will settle on whatever is provided to us.”
Water provided by the tanker services arrives a week or two after the request, and if the residents complain, the supply is cut out.
According to the residents, a lot of politicians have promised time and again to resolve these problems. “When politicians come to ask for our vote, they make big promises and when they are elected, they forget who elected them against what promises,” she said. Many are concerned about the diseases springing up in the vicinity and have raised eyebrows over them. “Who is responsible for all the diseases sprawling in this neighborhood?”