by Jamil Bhatti
ISLAMABAD, July 13 (Xinhua) -- Standing on the roadside in the scorching sunlight for hours, Akbar is waiting for water tankers with two big drums in his hands. It is a daily routine for the 15-year-old in Pakistan's southwest port city of Gwadar.
"I waited here for a long time. Sometimes I waved my hands when the tankers came, but only a few stopped. Most of the time I returned home with nothing."
Only two or three drums of water can meet the Akbar family's daily water needs. Gwadar is facing acute water scarcity and local people are struggling with and suffering from water shortage.
Gwadar people used to fetch water from three dams in surrounding areas, a tough job due to the poor supply infrastructure of the dams, namely Akra Kaur Dam, Mirani Dam and Sawad Dam.
More unfortunately, the three reservoirs have already encountered dry-up due to an extended drought in recent years.
As the water shortage became more serious in the coastal city, locals also have to face price hike of the water provided by the private water tankers. "Most of the water tanker owners sell their water, but we have not enough money to buy," Akbar told Xinhua.
"One year ago, the water price from private tankers was about 1.5 rupees per gallon, but now it has surged to 2 or 3 rupees per gallon due to water shortage. The price will further increase when water supply from the government side suspended," Waseem Baloch, a local, told Xinhua.
Now, people are paying 5,000 to 7,000 rupees (about 50 to 70 U.S. dollars) for about 2,300 gallons of water, about 10-day amount consumed by a six-member family.
"Those who can afford the private tanker water are relatively rich, but most of the poor can not afford the water, it will cost all their monthly income, only on water," Baloch said.
Meanwhile, according to a report by the Health Department under the Balochistan provincial Ministry of Health, one-fifth of Gwadar population of 138,000 people visited hospitals due to consumption of unhygienic drinking water from private tanker owners last year.
But the water situation in Gwadar is having a positive turn, as a new seawater desalination plant was built and inaugurated by the China Overseas Ports Holding Company (COPHC), the operator of Gwadar port under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The COPHC in May has signed an agreement with the Baloch government to provide 300,000 gallons of drinkable desalted seawater daily to the later at a cost price and the government will distribute the water freely through its pipelines to families in Gwadar. The project could benefit about 4,000 Gwadar households.
"Since May, we arrange water tanker to carry the desalted seawater to locals. Currently, pipelines have been laid down and water will be supplied through it now. Some areas do not have pipelines so we will continue to send our tankers there," said Zeeshan, who is in charge of the water distribution in the Chinese company.
"I am very happy. The water plant established by the Chinese company is very helpful for us. The water is free for us and their water is very good. We are very thankful to them," said Akbar.
Babar Fiaz, a university student from Gwadar, was excited at the start of the water supply from the purification plant and said, "if we continue to make such water treatment and supply projects in Gwadar, the water crisis will be resolved soon."
Once a small fishing town, Gwadar is witnessing a wave of development projects, especially after the start of CPEC a few years ago.
Since then, the deep-water port is making its new identity and has become fully functional since late 2016. Its free zone first phase and business center have been constructed earlier this year and embraced its first liner in March. Now, people in the remote Gwadar could also enjoy the speedy 4G mobile connection to interact with the rest of the world.
Local builder and a real estate businessman Gul Zameer Shah termed Gwadar as a diamond in the crown of CPEC and said that CPEC is crafting this barren coastal area into an international port city by the fast completion of development projects.
"If we want Gwadar to become a successful story, the water issues must be solved," Shah said, urging the local, provincial as well the central governments to make fast decision on steps to counter the drought by constructing seawater desalination plants to support the city's water needs.