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When pious fast, mashqis starve

Text and photo by Amar Guriro
Yusuf, 55, has prematurely aged under the weight of water. His father wanted him to become a doctor, but fate dealt him a different card: he is a mashqi (water carrier).
Yusuf recalls his childhood when, after his father’s death, his mother, instead of sending him to school, had forced him to be a mashqi to support his family. Since then, he has spent most of his time hand pumping, and his only friends are the other mashqis. When asked for his full name, he sadly replied that the poor do not have a full name.
Despite working his entire life as a mashqi, Yusuf is still unable to make ends meet. During the holy month of Ramazan, when profiteers and hoarders take full advantage by raising prices, mashqis face hardships in earning their livelihood because almost all the hotels, food shops and roadside food stalls remain closed.
A mashqi fills his mashqiza (water container made of leather) at hand pumps located all over the city, and then carries it on his back to supply water to various shops, hotels and roadside stalls. However, mashqis are unable to earn even Rs 100 for daylong labour.
Munawar, a mashqi, told Daily Times that Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) was unable to meet the requirement of supplying sufficient water to the citizens, adding that water tankers or mashqis supply the surplus.
The official data of KWSB states that the total water requirement of Karachi is about 734 million gallons per day (MGD). However, KWSB fails to provide 97 MGD of water, which is then supplied by other sources.
Shahjahan, another mashqi, said, “There is no official mechanism to fulfil the shortfall of water and the mashqis are fulfilling it to some extent, but the government has so far failed to recognise our value.”
The official data of Orangi Pilot project (OPP) states that KWSB has to supply 417.65 MGD of water to different towns, the Clifton Cantonment and DHA areas. However, the data further reveals, KWSB is only able to supply around 293 MGD. According to OPP’s Parveen Rehman, there are around 5,000 tankers in the city that get water from illegal hydrants.
Some reports indicate that the water acquired from hand pumps is highly contaminated. Nevertheless, a large number of people consume it on a regular basis. Karachi Water Partnership (KWP) reports that unsafe water kills at least 20,000 children each year in Karachi and the leading cause of child mortality in the city is diarrhoea, which is the result of water contamination.
However, Muhammad Arif, a mashqi, claims that the water acquired from hand pumps is safe for human consumption. “We have been providing water for several decades and we have never received any complaints about its quality,” he added.
Muhammad Sabir, another mashqi, said that mashqis have been suffering in the blessed month of Ramazan because water consumption has reduced due to fasting, adding that the government must announce a special Ramazan package for them so they could feed their family.
Thursday, August 27, 2009

About WashMedia-South Asia

WashMedia-South Asia is a group of South Asian journalists working on water, sanitation and hygiene issues. Theses journalists are from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.


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