Approximately 60per cent of Karachi’s population lives in informal settlements with limited access to water and sanitation.Karachi Urban Lab.
As we brace ourselves for the virus epidemic in Pakistan. We are being told to wash our hands and self-isolate. What if you are unable to do any of these things? According to the Census 2017, Pakistan’s population is 207.8 million with an urban share of 75.6 million. The United Nations asserts that in 2015, 45.5% of Pakistan’s urban population was living in informal settlements. Thus, an estimated 34 million people in Pakistan live in katchi abadis or urban informal settlements, where water is scarce for the most basic of needs.
In The Karachi a city of over 16 million — approximately 60% of the population lives in informal settlements with limited or no access to clean water and sanitation. Let us compare this — for a moment — with countries being devastated by Coronavirus. For example, Italy and Spain, where there is almost universal access to clean water, sanitation, soap and antibacterial gels. Even with their comparatively tiny populations, the virus has spread and killed at a pace no one could imagine. So with northern health systems on the brink of collapse, will the spread of Covid-19 in Pakistan bring urban informal settlements to the frontline of the crisis?
The threat to Pakistan is palpable. As we anxiously await the impact while self-isolating, the voices of the most vulnerable are barely audible. What health threats do the 34 million people living in Pakistan’s informal settlements face? What does this mean for the spread of Coronavirus across the country? How can we leverage data for designing urgent planning interventions that will actually work?
While the instructions for containing the spread of the covid-19 sound fairly simple — wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap multiple times a day — it is not an easy task for the majority of Pakistan’s informal settlements that are water deprived. Access to water varies massively. People living in Karachi’s Machar Colony, an informal settlement at a considerable distance from the city centre, pay Rs7,000-8,000 a month in water purchased through tankers and other informal means. Residents of Gharibabad, near Karachi’s PIDC, spend over Rs5,000 a month on the same. For poor households, this is a very significant portion of their earnings. The idea of using that water repeatedly for washing hands is a luxury. Here are some basic calculations on daily water use for maintaining hygiene: