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Elixir of Life a Cleaner Shade After UNICEF Repairs

© UNICEF/PAKA02008D/Zaidi
A technician at the Makri Water Treatment Plant, rehabilitated by UNICEF after the October 2005 earthquake caused extensive damage and halted the supply of treated water to Muzaffarabad for two weeks.

By Bronwyn Curran

MUZAFFARABAD: The fountain of life of Pakistan-Administered Kashmir’s main city is pumping out top-standard treated water at double its pre-earthquake capacity, following extensive repair and upgrade by UNICEF.

The October 2005 earthquake that razed 10,000 packed schools and the homes of three million people also shook the Makri Water Treatment Plant, the main source of clean water in Muzaffarabad.

The intake pipes that suck water up from the surging Neelum River were broken by the force of the 7.6-magnitude quake, halting intake for three days. The electricity panel room was shattered and inoperable for a week.

The water clarifying tanks had tilted up to four centimeters to the side. They were unuseable for 15 days. Two plates under the filtration tank were damaged, obstructing the filtration process – only raw water was being pumped out.

At the peak of the crisis when the need for clean water to treat the wounded, bathe survivors, feed hundred of thousands of homeless and keep them hydrated, the only water treatment plant in Muzaffarabad was another casualty.

“The earthquake damaged one of the sedimentation tanks, it damaged the reservoir, it also damaged the back-up generator room. The whole of the infrastructure intake was damaged, including the intake chambers and the control panels,” said UNICEF Water and Sanitation Officer for Muzaffarabad, Victor Kinyanjui.

UNICEF’s team of Water and Sanitation engineers came in almost immediately to conduct intensive emergency repairs. After two weeks they had the treatment plant running again, pumping out treated water to 52,000 people in 21 of the camps mushrooming around Muzaffarabad to shelter hundreds of thousands of homeless people.

More than six months on, after supplying generators, new motors, pumps, intake pipes, water turbines, aluminium sulphate material, and chlorine to control water quality, the plant is now operating at 80 percent capacity – twice the capacity it was running at before the earthquake.
“UNICEF helped us save this treatment plant,” said Superintending Engineer Raja Mushtaq Ahmed of the local government’s Public Works Department.

“We were not in a position to run the plant ourselves, particularly the network system. There was a lot of leakage inside the plant. UNICEF provided us the team to help it function again”, said the Public Works Department official.

UNICEF also provided water testing equipment and paid full-time technicians to run the system.

The treatment plant was designed to run at 16 hours a day producing 4 million gallons of clean treated water. Prior to the earthquake, the plant operated at 40% its capacity.

Now the plant operates around the clock, pumping out 4.5 million gallons of treated water daily. 

However the plant suffers inefficiency due to fluctuating power supply from Muzaffarabad grid system. 

UNICEF’s rehabilitation work is ongoing.

“Plans are underway to install 4 extra intake pumps to enable them to operate alternately,” UNICEF’s Kinyanjui added.

“Repairs were done on the sedimentation tank, the reservior, the back-up generator unit, and the structure was totally repainted. We’ve given four booster pumps, chlorine, and four generators with a combined capacity of 1,000 kilowatts. That can light up the town.”

Water is now tested on a daily basis to ensure cleanliness levels are up to World Health Organisation standards.

Before the earthquake, the plant was also beset with high turbidity problems, triggered by the annual monsoon rains. 

“Usually when there is very heavy rain the turbidity increases. Production capacity can go down to three million during the monsoon period, because the river water becomes very turbid,” Kinyanui said.

While the treated water produced at the Makri plant now meets WHO standards, the pipes distributing the water around the city remain a problem. The pipes are old and at places prone to leakage. 

Leakage within the town reticulation system is estimated to be around 10 to 12% of the total production. Repairs are hampered by inaccessibility because of debris, and sometimes pipes are damaged during rubble removal.

Private storage tanks may also contaminate the water.

“At source, the water is very much up to WHO standards. But at the user end, five to 10 percent of storage tanks are not always as clean as they should be,” said Syed Shaukat Ali Gilani, senior engineer from the Public Works Department.

“If there is some leakage in the distribution pipes, contamination can occur. At some places dirty rainwater seeps inside the leakage point. The person who is at the tailend is also not getting sufficient quantity of water”, Engineer Gilani said. 

Since the plant started operating again, UNICEF and partner agencies have been delivering half a million gallons of water daily to 21 crowded camps by tank straight from the plant, bypassing the pipes network. But the water-trucking is costly and can not be sustained.

In early July partner relief agencies began reverting to the city’s normal distribution system as the more cost-efficient alternative. UNICEF Water and Sanitation engineers have been rushing to install new pipes to connect camps to the city’s main lines.

The Makri plant is now the only water treatment facility that feeds clean water into the city reticulation. Three emergency small treatment plants were installed to supply clean water to the camps.

“For the residents of Muzaffarabad, this is it,” said Victor.



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