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The Express Tribune Editorial 3 March 2020

Karachi water woes


The summer season is yet to fully set in but Karachi has started to feel the heat of water shortage. Currently this sprawling city of 22 million is facing a shortage of 700 million gallons daily of water, much less than its requirement of 1.2 million mgd. The city seldom gets more than half of its water needs through pipelines of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board. Water tankers fill the gap. People have to buy water tankers from the KWSB, and in most cases, from the tanker mafia at exorbitant rates.
The water shortage is likely to worsen with temperatures rising in the coming days. The KWSB managing director blames K-Electric for the current water woes, saying power being provided by the electricity supply company to the five major pumping stations of the city was erratic because of which the functioning of the pumping stations had been badly affected. He says if the pumping stations get uninterrupted power supply, an adequate amount of water can be supplied to consumers. He says in areas that are at present not receiving piped water, the KWSB was supplying water through tankers on payment of charges. There are, however, many localities in Karachi where households have not received piped water for years but they pay their water bills regularly for fear of disconnection. Residents in such areas purchase tankers or cans.
The city has been facing water shortage for the past many years, and the situation has been deteriorating with the passage of time. Last year Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital, received heavy rainfall. The Hub dam was filled to a considerable extent. People were expecting that there would be no water shortage in the current year. But such hopes seem to have been belied. As for the K-IV water supply scheme, there are several difficult-to-surmount obstacles in the way of its completion. Judicious use of water is the only option.


Malaysian politics


An almost comical series of events following a move to increase his support base has seen former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad wind up on the opposition benches. Mahathir returned to power in May 2018 as the unity candidate for the Pakatan Harapan coalition, which replaced the corruption-plagued United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) government. It was the first time UMNO was not part of the government. Indeed, all previous Malaysian prime ministers, including Mahathir during his first 22-year stint, were from the party. Unfortunately for Malaysia, the Pakatan Harapan coalition was dogged by political infighting.
Last week a splinter group tried to form an alliance with the opposition, leading Mahathir to resign. He then became interim prime minister till a replacement was chosen by the king. While the palace tried to gauge who had the support of a majority of parliamentarians, Mahathir and long-term frenemy Anwar Ibrahim were able to cobble together what they thought was enough support to return him to power.
But Muhyiddin Yassin, the home minister in Mahathir’s previous government, formed a coalition of his own with the backing of far-right religious parties and the UMNO and convinced the king that he had majority support.
There may be some irony here because Mahathir’s failure to set a date for the pre-agreed transfer of power to Anwar has been cited by analysts as one of the reasons for the infighting that led to his resignation in the first place. Muhyiddin, incidentally, was deputy prime minister under Najib Razak until he was sacked in 2015, amid the multibillion-dollar 1MDB corruption scandal. Najib is personally accused of having siphoned off over $700 million as part of the scam. Muhyiddin left UMNO after the government was sacked and joined forces with Mahathir ahead of the May 2018 election. Now, having become prime minister with the backing of UMNO, it is feared that the ongoing investigation, involving multiple countries, will turn to nought.
Meanwhile, the new ‘Muslim bloc’ comprising Malaysia, Turkey, Qatar, Iran and Pakistan will have to be put on hold while Malaysia swims through this highly unstable phase.


Income generation


In Pakistan, 21.5% of people are living in severe multidimensional poverty while 12.9% are vulnerable to multidimensional poverty, according to the UNDP 2019 report. This is an improvement over 2018 when 24.7% of people were living in severe multidimensional poverty. The country is, however, is far from the target of SDGs, which is to reduce poverty up to 9% by 2030. The state has taken several steps to help reduce poverty. The Benazir Income Support Programme has been in place for the past many years. Under this cash transfer programme, the deserving are paid Rs5,000 quarterly at the rate of Rs1,666 a month.
Recently, Prime Minister Imran Khan launched the Ehsaas Amdan Programme aimed at widening the social safety net. Under the programme, livestock assets valued at Rs200,000 will be provided to deserving families. Among the beneficiaries will be 60% women and 30% youth. The total budget of the four-year programme is Rs15 billion. The programme would conclude in 2023. The main objective of the poverty-alleviation programme is to provide poor families with a permanent source of income. Initially, it is being launched in 375 rural union councils in 23 less-developed districts, which have been selected on the basis of three parameters — level of human development, level of poverty and food insecurity. Under the programme, deserving families will receive livestock (buffaloes, cows and goats), agricultural inputs and help in setting up small retail outlets and small enterprises. These assets will help in income generation. For success of the programme, it is necessary to provide expert veterinary services to those engaged in rearing livestock to ensure the health of cattle and poultry. Proper veterinary services will also help people in breeding healthy and robust animals and poultry birds. The government should also launch an awareness programme so that the recipients of livestock assets can carry on their business in a productive manner. Measures should also be taken to ensure that the assets are not squandered.
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