Fighting over water

Two people were killed in Pakistan during protests against water scarcity

Published: Sunday 15 July 2001

Two people died and 40 others were injured during one of Pakistan's worst riots over water on June 10, 2001. The incident took place during a rally organised by a political party called Jiye Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (jsqm) and the Jeay Sindh Students Federation against the severe water shortage in the Sindh province. Police officials used tear gas shells and resorted to firing to disperse the angry protesters.

"It is a shame that the state is manifesting its inability to manage water through such violence," said Khalid Hussain, interim coordinator of Pakistan Water Policy Partnership, a network of organisations. a network of organisations. "The water sector is in serious trouble because of mismanagement and highhandedness," he added.

"Our demonstrations will continue until the issue is resolved," said Nasreen Jalil, a member of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a political party. In a country where holding public demonstrations is uncommon, frequent demonstrations against water scarcity have become the order of the day. In April 2001, two bomb explosions in Karachi killed one person and injured two others, during a strike in protest against the water shortage.

This year's drought is said to be one of the worst in many decades and has claimed many lives. Around 2.4 million people are suffering due it, according to a recent United Nations report. "In the Thar and Khudzar districts, about 300 to 400 people have died due to malnutrition, water-borne diseases and viral infections," says Tanveer Arif of the Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE), a Karachi-based non-governmental organisation. Thousands of people have migrated in search of food and water.

The country's finance minister, Shaukat Aziz, has said that the drought would cost at least US $2 billion in lost production and the cost of importing oil to replace water for electricity generation. Economists believe that at least a third of the wheat crop has already been destroyed. The official prediction for this year's economic growth rate has been cut to 3.5 per cent, and many analysts think it will be even lower.

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