Nothing to drink
THE dream of providing clean drinking water to all Pakistanis remains precisely that: a distant dream on the horizon. The country conceived of the Clean Drinking Water for All project in 2004, under which 6,638 water filtration plants were to be set up across the country at union council levels. The exercise carried a projected price tag of Rs23.8bn. Six years and Rs7bn later, the country has gained only 1,173 plants. Even more shocking is that of the plants installed, 467 are not working due to the lack of maintenance. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has the worst record in this context — none of the 237 plants installed under the project are working — while Balochistan appears to be faring best. At the heart of the problem, it seems, is a tussle between the federal and provincial governments over finances and financial control of the project. The project has been under the supervisory control of the Ministry for Special Initiatives since 2006, when it was transferred from the Ministry of Environment. Provincial governments were made the implementing agencies. Now, the federal government is set to pass this on to the provinces, making the success of the CDWA project even more debatable. As is usual in these situations, the federal and provincial governments are blaming each other, with the federal minister for special initiatives saying that funds have been made available but the provincial governments have failed to prioritise the projects.
While all this bureaucratic wrangling is going on, the ones who are suffering are the millions of Pakistanis denied access to safe drinking water and thereby health. Indeed, clean drinking water is not just a right but a basic necessity of life. Currently, 65 per cent of the population has sustainable access to clean drinking water. Under the Millennium Development Goals, Pakistan had pledged to raise this to 93 per cent by 2015. It is incumbent on the federal and provincial governments to sort matters out and make the full implementation of the CDWA project a priority. Further, all the maintenance needs of all the filtration plants must be met so that they can start functioning. THE current year has been a particularly bad one for Pakistan`s dargahs , or Sufi shrines. July saw a devastating attack on Lahore`s iconic Data Darbar while Karachi`s Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine was targeted in October. A blast of lesser intensity occurred outside Baba Farid`s tomb in Pakpattan in the same month. The tombs attacked are associated with some of the most revered names in Sufism. However, it is a positive sign that despite the lingering shadow of terrorism people attended the recently concluded annual urs of Abdullah Shah Ghazi and the event passed off without incident, though devotees came in fewer numbers this year. There was greater security cover, with visitors being frisked at several points. The security measures are a far cry from the free-flowing atmosphere that used to characterise the tombs of saints. Pakistan used to take great pride in its Sufi shrines; now these tombs are being targeted by a militant minority. Things have come to such a head that a march was taken out from Islamabad to Lahore by the Sunni Ittehad Council to protest against terror attacks on shrines.
The poetry and personalities of Sufi saints have greatly influenced subcontinental culture. Shrines have for centuries been centres of mystical experience and devotion, becoming carnivals of colour during the saints` urs . Those attending these gatherings can testify that they are sensory feasts, where sights and sounds open a temporary window into a surreal world where people from varied backgrounds come for spiritual solace or simply to get away from the troubles of daily life. Now all that is changing as shrines become legitimate, `soft` targets in an ideological and political war. But as devotees` attendance at the Ghazi`s urs showed, people will not cut their spiritual, cultural and emotional links with shrines so easily.