On October 16, 2023, Gwadar, the port city of Pakistan, faced a drinking water crisis as citizens announced a complete shutdown to draw attention to the current situation. The water crisis has highlighted the city’s incapability to face such essential shortages.
For an entire week, the residents of Gwadar have grappled with a water crisis, and their cries for help seemed to fall on deaf ears. The shutter-down strike called by the Citizen Committee of Gwadar led to the closure of businesses, shops, and banks. This drastic measure was the last resort to the community left parched and unheard.
The publication reported that the situation engulfed the city despite of appropriate water resources available in the region. The Gwadar water crisis originated after a dispute between the DG Gwadar Development Authority and Public Health Engineering officials, further underscoring the need for effective governance and dispute resolution mechanisms.
The fact that this crisis occurred concurrently with a sit-in Turbat over a powerful supply suspension issue in the border areas amplifies the gravity of the situation. Successful negotiations in Turbat, leading to a power load-shedding schedule and a predefined monthly bill, may provide a template for addressing such a crisis more effectively.
Gwadar’s Water Crisis
Water Management in Gwadar, a port city on the southwestern coast of Balochistan, has turned into a severe challenge for local and national authorities. Citizens have taken to the streets to protest both against the water crisis and the water companies which have been providing water to the cities for the past few months.
Although there is enough water in Meerani Dam to supply Gwadar for a few more months, the current profit-driven model is not only draining the provincial budget on a daily basis, but it is also inefficient compared to other systems such as government-run aqueducts and pipes. However, the government appears unready to offer a better solution, and the city has to continue to rely on trucking in water by private contractors.
Also called the tanker mafia by the residents of Gwadar, they are said to have gained enormously from the water crisis; the contractors have repeatedly stopped supplying water over payment disputes, holding the citizens of Gwadar de facto hostages. As the number of attempts increased, the citizens were forced to take to the streets.
The second reason is that the government has so far not come up with an effective solution to the ongoing water crisis. With the construction of the port since 2002, the population of the city has doubled, and with other construction and industrial projects set to continue, water has been consumed at an alarming rate. During the last 20 years, Ankara Kaur Dam was the main source of water for the city, but recently, it dried up completely because of low rainfall and a massive build-up of silt.
With the help of federal and Chinese funding, three new dams were completed in the last two years: Sawad, Shadi Kaur and Belar. But none of them have been connected to the city through pipeline systems so far. Many believe that due to climate change and droughts, even these additional dams will not be able to meet the water demands of the city. Three desalination plants have been built, but they have proven to be insufficient due to design flaws and technical issues.
Water tankers remain the only solution for now, and while there is no shortage of funding, there is a clear lack of interest in permanently solving this ongoing issue. In other words, if the scarcity of water is driven by a lack of water, it is equally driven by a lack of effective governance or administration.