Where’d The Water Go?

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An alarming number of schools across Sindh lack one of the most basic needs of life: water. But at least they have water filtration plants and water coolers installed for consoling hapless students. Arshad Yousafzai writes about the missing water in Sindh’s public schools.

lthough the Sindh government has been pouring funds into the public education sector to facilitate schoolchildren, it probably is not doing a very good job at spending taxpayers’ money. In the last two years, Sindh’s School Education Department has spent tens of millions of rupees to provide safe drinking water in state-run educational institutes across the province, but so far, no positive outcomes have been observed. Students of a number of government schools are still deprived of clean drinking water, while many public schools in lesser developed areas have no water to begin with. The Sindh government, on directives of the apex court-mandated water commission, went to the length of providing water coolers, water filters, and pipelines to schools. But such arrangements have failed to bear the expected fruits.

In 2017, the department conducted a survey in which around 257 samples of water were collected from schools. Tests revealed that water provided at 2,997 schools was contaminated and unfit for consumption by humans.

In 2017, the department conducted a survey in which around 257 samples of water were collected from schools. The samples were later sent to four different laboratories, including Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR), Dow Medical University Labs, Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, and the labs functioning under the Bahria University Karachi Campus. The reports revealed that water provided at 2,997 schools was contaminated and unfit for consumption by humans. “It’s been around two years. The issue of clean drinking water supply to schools has not been resolved,” said Taleem Bachao Action Committee convener Aneesur Rehman. He said students whose parents could not afford private schools were suffering the most. “They are compelled to drink polluted water as they have no other choice.”

Rehman pointed out that Karachi was home to around 16 million people. The city is in desperate need of water for day-to-day domestic use, apart from the consumption of millions of gallons of water by industrial and commercial sectors. “How can one expect public schools would have enough connections of potable water?” he asked.  He lamented that a number the schools had no proper sanitation and toilets. The managers have no provisions for making a hygienic environment available at their institutes. On the other hand, heaps of garbage can be seen outside each public school throughout the city.

Some Water, Please! 

“It’s a fact that state-run schools operate in underdeveloped neighbourhoods where safe drinking water is almost a fantasy,” said education Journalist Qasim Khan, adding that around all government schools, apart from a few run by NGOs, have no clean water supply.

Khan further said that after the commission’s report, the Sindh government had taken some cosmetic measures. The authorities provided water coolers and installed water pipelines at some of the government schools, but there was no provision of water made available. “If there is no water, such initiatives are worthless. They are useless and cannot help in the long run”.  Another Education Journalist Raiz Sagar also narrated a similar story. He said, “Sindh’s Education Department has completely neglected water commission’s directives on the subject of providing potable water at schools. There is no one to ask the government. The issue is that the parents whose children are enrolled in state-run schools have no voice.”

Wastage

According to available documents, the Sindh government has spent around Rs 40 million on providing clean water at schools. This amount was spent only on 561 government schools.  It is strange that many of these schools have no power connections, despite the education department claiming they had installed water filters and RO plants there. And the reason for absence of electricity connectivity is the fact that these schools had their power cut after defaulting on electricity bills’ payment.

Reportedly, an extraordinary amount of Rs 450 million is still due on the part of the education department under the heads of water and power usage. Last year, the electric supply company in its report had stated that 1,457 schools owed more than Rs 202 million. These dues have been pending since long, even though the company has sent many notices to the education department, company officials revealed.

 

The authorities provided water coolers and installed water pipelines at some of the government schools, but there was no provision of water.

Once the power supply to 224 schools was cut, the department appealed to the company’s management for restoring power supply and agreed to pay the dues. However, the education department couldn’t come good on its promise and many schools that had their power cut resorted to illegal power connections. “On one hand, schools have no electricity connections. And on the other hand, authorities are installing RO plants in those very schools,” Sagar said, adding that this unchecked move showed a complete mismanagement on part of the education department. “The officers just wanted to squander public funds on worthless projects.”

Misleading Numbers 

On January 23 earlier this year, former School Education and Literacy Department secretary Qazi Shahid Pervaiz chaired a meeting in his office regarding water supply to schools. He directed the officials to make every possible arrangement and address the issue at the earliest. However, Sindh’s Works and Services Department officials, Education Works Department chief engineer and other related officers informed the secretary that they had installed RO plants at 90 percent of schools across Sindh. “The officials made such claims only on papers. There is nothing available on the ground,” an official of the department revealed on condition of anonymity.

He added that these officers knew that the secretary education could not visit each and every school. “Thus they provided facilities to schools functioning in posh areas or located along key roads. But no changes have been observed in schools located in suburban areas like Landhi, Korangi, Orangi Town, Keamari, Malir and Gadap Town,” the official added.

The Department’s Take

When Academia Magazine contacted Sindh School Education and Literacy Department, we were informed that after a major reshuffle in Sindh Cabinet in August, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah himself looked after the Sindh Education Department. When the department was contacted again, junior officers informed that the Sindh government had also transferred Education Secretary Qazi Shahid Pervaiz and none of them were willing to comment about on the issue. Director Schools Karachi Hamid Karim said some of the schools lacked water connections. “Our priority is to address each problem faced by the students at public schools. Sometimes however sustainable solutions take time,” Karim stated.