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Urban Water Dialogue’ by KUL held at IBA, Karachi

March 28, 2019: Karachi Urban Lab (KUL) at IBA, Karachi organized its second Water Dialogue, part of a series of lectures that aim to critically interrogate Pakistan’s water scarcity problem, titled Urban Water Dialogue. This event was attended by students, faculty, activists and media representatives.

KUL’s director and City and Regional Planner Dr. Nausheen Anwar started the event by introducing her organization and contextualizing the needs of having such a dialogue in a city where water and land are tied not only to ecology, but also to many conflicts and institutions. Assistant Professor Anthropology, IBA Dr. Abdul Haque Chang moderated the discussion between esteemed panelists: geographer and founder Hisaar Foundation and co-founder Pani Pakistan Ms. Simi Kamal; writer, historian and social activist Gul Hasan Kalmati; retired bureaucrat KWSB Mr. Kaleemullah Lashari; and General Secretary of KWSB’s Labour Union Syed Mohsin Raza.

Ms. Kamal approached the topic of water distribution in urban Karachi through a gendered lens, pointing out how women in households bear the responsibility when it comes to managing and conserving water, which sometimes even puts them at the risk of domestic violence if there is scarcity.

Mr. Kalmati’s presentation historicized Karachi’s water woes and explained how discussions about water scarcity often privilege urban centers but elide over their effects on peripheral regions; a point he illustrated by talking about the famous Dalmoti water wells of Malir, and how Karachi’s gradual expansion and acquisition of Malir as a district has led to a massive loss of its agricultural land and water along with its ability to self-sustain.

Mr. Lashari talked about how the lack of a master plan for water distribution has left KWSB underperforming and incapable of dealing with the sheer population of Karachi. He also added that a new trend in governance has come about in which public sector entities such as the KWSB look for “development” projects that are externally funded which leads to a declining quality of work on projects that do not have bigger profit margins.

Finally, Mr. Raza explained how the dynamics of land and water are intertwined in Karachi, and that most of the water that is extracted illegally is often sold to residents in private housing complexes such as DHA City or Bahria Town.

The panelists ended the session by reflecting on how the institutions involved with extracting, managing and distributing water are often fragmented in terms of what they consider their goals and duties to be. Ms. Kamal suggested that maybe what we need is a whole new social contract that focuses on just and equitable distribution of water for all citizens.

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