Chapter VI The Water Thieves of Karachi

I just wrote Chapter VI for “The Environmental Wars: Fossils in the Air” A sequel to “The Voyages of Achmid Huchmid and Folletti”. I’d appreciate any and all feedback on this chapter especially from any Muslim readers since this is about a Muslim family and provides details into certain aspects of Muslim life, specifically Pakistani Muslim funeral details. I wish to be sensitive and correct in my portrayal of the funeral rites of the Pakistani Muslim culture as I can.


Chapter VI

The Water Thieves of Karachi



The mega-city of Karachi, Pakistan is located just over one hundred miles from its main water sources Lake Keenjhar and Hub Dam. Their combined capacity is Six hundred Eighty-three million gallons daily (MGD) but these have been greatly diminished due to several factors: poor maintenance, theft, and inadequate and shifting precipitation patterns.

According to the World Health Organization the standard supply should be Fifty-five gallons per person per day for a city the size of Karachi. That equals Eleven Hundred MGD per day and the population only continues to grow due to an influx of people migrating from the countryside seeking a better life in the city. Many are farmers and herders who were forced to leave their rural homes because of drought caused by anthropogenic climate disruption has destroyed their farms and decimated livestock.

This scenario has been playing out all across Southern Asia, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. The stresses on States that this water crisis causes are enormous, evidenced by civil uprisings in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and the ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel.

Karachi is unique because it has a problem that exacerbates the water shortage and is a direct result of it, water thieves. Gangs of armed militia in collaboration with corrupt government officials and greedy business owners have established a black market in the scarce resource. Known as Water Mafias these gangs steal water by tapping into pipes intended to supply water to the cities’ population and businesses. They then sell the water back to the people for an increased price.

The Anthropocene Epoch is fast becoming the era of human history fraught with conflict exacerbated over water shortages caused by anthropogenic climate disruption.

Nahla Chaudhry, wife of Tahir Chaudhry, walks down the dusty dirt road carrying a large blue plastic container of water that she has purchased from a group of water Mafia who supply the resource to her Gulshan-Sikanderabad neighborhood in a poor section of Karachi. Her husband Tahir works in the garment industry making T-shirts for export to the West. Tahir earns the equivalent of one hundred US dollars per month to support his wife and two daughters but the Chaudhry’s can spend as much as a quarter of that on water, which, elsewhere in Pakistan, costs pennies and flows out of household taps.

Finally arriving home with her burden, Nahla will use this water for washing and cooking because on previous occasions her daughters came down with diarrhea when they drank the water sold by the water thieves. So the family is sometimes forced to use money they should spend on food to buy clean drinking water.

“Nadia, Naaz! Come and take your baths. Mummy has brought water. Come, come.”

“Mother should we launder our clothes today also?” asks Nadia the eldest Chaudhry daughter, she is eight years old and very concerned with her appearance.

“Yes, yes but that means we will need to buy another container of water from the truck.” Replies Nahla.

Little Naaz walks into the kitchen and asks in that innocent manner young children have for comprehending why incomprehensible things are the way they are. “Why do we have to buy water from those men when there is free water from the hydrants?”

“Because the public hydrants don’t always have enough water for everybody, so we are forced to supplement our water with extra from the trucks.” Nahla patiently explains.

“But why isn’t there enough water from the hydrant?” Naaz persists, who is unsatisfied with her mother’s only unsatisfactory answer.

“Stop asking so many questions Naaz and take off your clothes and stand in the bucket so that I can wash you. Come on, right now, I don’t have all day.” Nahla’s perturbed response is a reflection of her own frustration from having no adequate response for her curious youngest daughter’s queries. The shortages don’t just annoy her, they are also a source of anger to her and the millions of residents in Pakistan’s largest city and much worse than that — this past summer it exacerbated the effects of a heat wave which killed more than 1,200 people.

By the end of the long work day Tahir Chaudhry is so weary he can barely complete the walk home to his cinder block corrugated metal roofed hovel. It is an ugly and grey structure built right next to hundreds perhaps thousands of others just like it. He struggles to get home to his wife and daughters but before he can take his rest first he must purchase another blue plastic container of water and lug it back home so that the Chaudhry family can have enough water for household use.

“Assalaam alaykum, Nahla.” Tahir greets his wife with the usual Muslim welcome in their native Urdu language. It translate to “May the Peace of God be upon you.”

“Wa alaikum assalam, my husband. How was your day?” Responds Nahla. This is the appropriate Arabic response for a Muslim it translates to “Peace be upon you.”

“Oh, you know another day making shirts for American teenagers. How are the girls? Where is the water container? I’ll go and bring back more clean drinking water for tonight and tomorrow.” Tahir replies looking for his pride and joy, his daughters.

“Papa, papa!” Both girls cry out hearing their father’s return. They embrace him like two little puppies clambering over each other to get to him. No matter how bad a day he has had this ritual welcome on his return never fails to brighten his evening, much like having his own cheering squad.

After the evening meal Tahir takes the now empty blue plastic container and his two daughters out to seek the container trucks selling water in his neighborhood. His neighborhood is a festering slum. Like the hundreds of other “katchi abadis” in Karachi, it represented the pitiless underside of urban life. Growing like an organism that breeds on what is discarded by others, Gulshan-Sikanderabad had no real roads, no formal school system for the hundreds of children that played on its refuse heaps, no clean water for the parched throats of its barely surviving inhabitants. The worst of Gulshan-Sikanderabad’s curses was the trash. Human dross and animal droppings and the filth of too many humans crammed together, clogging everything.

“Papa, where are we going?” Naaz asks her father, not particularly caring because she’s just delighted to be out with her Dad and older sister. This outing is an adventure and an opportunity to ask more questions.

“We are going to where the tanker trucks park and sell water to people like us. But you know that Naaz, what do you really want to ask?” Tahir offers his daughter a rare opportunity to exercise her active child’s mind thirsting for knowledge she can get form no one else.

“Is the whole world like here? How big is the world? When can I go to see it?” Just like a faucet once opened Naaz’s questions just pour out.

“No there is no place like this, I hope. The world is a very big place but it’s getting smaller every day, or so I’ve been told. You can do and see the wide world when you have grown up a little more my sweet flower blossom.” The answers are easy for the moment and Tahir enjoys this time with his daughters.

A short distance down the dirt road the trio comes to an illegal hydrant with a large tanker truck parked beside it. There are several armed men standing guard carrying the ubiquitous AK-47 Assault rifle slung across their chest. There are hundreds of these clandestine water connections throughout Karachi. The water mafias dig tunnels to tap into the mains supply, stealing millions of gallons a day and charging the poor inhabitants exorbitant prices for a resource that should be free. The siphoning forces many licensed tankers to refill from Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) and pay fees of $1-2 per 3,700 liters.

Tahir pays the guards and begins filling his container from the hydrant when gunfire rings out and impacts the ground near where Tahir is standing. The gang members return fire and a firefight breaks out in the street.

In recent months government forces on a major anti-crime crackdown in the city have shuttered 200 illegal water connections. The KWSB with the assistance of paramilitary Rangers have demolished 17 illegal hydrants and removed 31 illegal water connections as part of its ongoing campaign against water theft in this mega city. During these encounters 72 policemen and four Rangers personnel have been shot dead. At the same time, 391 people have been killed in raids carried out by the police and 116 by the Rangers in the past 10 months.

The gun fire continues as more Mafia members join the street battle. The body count rises but Tahir is only concerned for his daughters. He has Nadia with him crouched next to the tankers large rear tire but Naaz is nowhere to be seen. Frantic for his youngest daughter’s wellbeing Tahir does what any father would do under these barbaric conditions.

“Nadia, stay right here and don’t move until I come and get you. Do you understand me?”

“Yes Papa, I understand.” Nadia replies to her father’s imperative.

Keeping low, Tahir runs out into the deadly street frantically searching for Naaz. He calls out her name in desperation.

“Naaz! Naaz!” But there is no reply only the static gun fire from automatic weapons all around him. Standing in the middle of the road scanning up and down for any sign of Naaz, Tahir ignores the zzzip, zzzip, zzzip of angry rounds whizzing threw the air around him. Eventually he spies a crumpled form near another grey cinderblock home. The colorful garment identifies whose remains lies there and it sickens him as he realizes that it is the corpse of his bright young child, Naaz. Picking her lifeless form up off the ground he walks solemnly toward Nadia’s refuge without concern for his own life. Crouching down with the lifeless body clutched to his chest to protect his remaining progeny, Tahir weeps softly while the gun fight winds down. No parent should be forced to bury their child that goes against the natural order of things. This tragedy has devastated Tahir but he yet has a task to perform. Now he must bring the remains of his beautiful daughter home and inform his wife of the grief she must endure.

“Nahla, Nahla!” Cries Tahir walking into his familiar surroundings but he hardly notices. News of the action has spread through the neighborhood and Nahla has been crazed with worry. Her worst fears realized she slumps to the floor of her home at the sight of her husband carrying the lifeless body of her baby girl. Nahla keens silently in her grief but no shrieks can be heard coming from the saddened household.

“Why, why has this evil befallen us?” She asks no one but her own heart.

“My daughter was just walking with her father and sister to fetch water.” Nahla asks the question that begs an answer. But no response is forthcoming.

The Chaudhry’s being Muslim adhere to Sharia law and proceed accordingly. Wrapping her in a clean white shroud in preparation for burial. Her tiny body is not washed which is the custom for accidental death. According to the Holy Koran “To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return” (2:156).

Upon death, prayers for the departed are said and preparations for the burial to begin. Muslims are taught to give the utmost respect to those dying and to that of a dead body. The eyes are closed and the body of the person is temporarily covered with a clean sheet. It is important to bury the deceased as soon as possible (within 24 hours of death) so as to not need the use of embalming fluids. The Islamic people do not believe in cremation because when the Day of Judgment comes, their bodies will be resurrected and they need to be fully intact. When the son of Muhammad (PBUH) died, he said,

“The eyes shed tears and the heart is grieved, but we will not say anything except which pleases our Lord.”

Therefore, crying is viewed as normal and acceptable, while excessive wailing, screaming and thrashing are forbidden. Muslims strive to be patient during the time of death and must remember that Allah is the one who created life, and he can take it away as well. It is not to be understood and no one is to question his wisdom as to why and when he takes life away.

During the burial ceremony for Naaz the following day the local Imam and muqtadee preside.

The Muqtadee makes the niyyat,

“I make the niyyat for the prayer of this janaza for Allah, duaa for this deceased, behind this imam.”

The Imam and muqtadee raise their hands to their ears and fold their hands underneath the navel as usual while saying Allahu Akbar and read Sana, a slight difference is that after wa ta ’ala jadduka one must read wa jalla sanauka wa laailaha gairuk. Then without raising the hands, say Allahu Akbar and read duroode Ibraheem; then without raising the hands, say Allahu Akbar and read the duaa. The Imam must say all the takbeer aloud whereas the muqtadee must say it slowly, the rest of the azkar (supplications) are to be read slowly by the Imam and Muqtadee. After the duaa, say Allahu Akbar and now drop the hands and then turn the head both sides for salaam.


“Glory be to You Oh Allah, and praise be to You, and blessed is Your name, and exalted is Your Majesty, and there is none to be served besides You.”

  Darood e Ibraheemi: 

“O Allah! Shower Your mercy upon Muhammad and the followers of Muhammad, as You showered Your mercy upon Ibrahim and the followers of Ibrahim. Behold, Your are Praiseworthy, Glorious. Oh Allah! Shower Your blessing upon Muhammad, and the followers of Muhammad as You showered Your blessings upon Ibrahim and the followers of Ibrahim. Behold, You are Praiseworthy, Glorious.”

Duaa for a girl:

“Oh! Allah, make her (this child) a source for our salvation and make her a source of reward and treasure for us and make her an intercessor for us and one whose intercession is accepted.”

There are twelve steps to the funeral orders and the Chaudhrys observe them all as dictated by Muslim custom. They will also pray for Naaz for Forty days after her funeral.

Still Nahla’s questions have not been answered and she really wants an answer. “Why, why has this evil befallen us?” She asks this question of her still grieving husband over and over but Tahir has no answers to offer either.

It would appear that a perfect storm of conditions conspired to end a beautiful young girl’s life before it ever had the opportunity to begin. A warming climate set the stage for greedy men to commit acts of theft and condemn a child to death. It keeps coming back to the release of CO2 into the atmosphere that changes weather patterns and precipitation amounts, resulting in a shortage of natural resources and overcrowding. Man’s inherent nature for avarice in a vicious attempt to collect more and more material wealth at the expense of his fellow man. An indictment of humanity is certainly valid in the case of Naaz’s death but none will come. No one will be arrested, tried, or convicted for her murder; she is but another casualty in a very long line of needless deaths.

2 thoughts on “Chapter VI The Water Thieves of Karachi

  1. Thanks Jenna, I did extensive research not only on the funerary customs of Pakistani Muslims but on all aspects of the Karachi water crisis data that I present. I would be great to hear from a practicing Pakistani Muslim though.


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