The quiet struggle in water scarce Pakistan

Water scarcity threatens the security of Pakistan’s people. Follow one photojournalist as she documents its effects.

Safe drinking water is inaccessible to 650 million people globally. In Pakistan, it is estimated that the country may run dry by 2025 if immediate action is not taken. But, marred by internal conflict and the threat of a terrorist insurgency, the Pakistani government have been reluctant to put water scarcity at the top of their priority list. Teaming up with WaterAid and funded by the H&M Foundation, Swedish-Eritrean photojournalist Malin Fezehai set out to document the people most affected by the crisis, the children of Pakistan.

Fezehai captured 31 images the Thatta region in southeastern Pakistan. She documented the effects of climate change and water scarcity on the lives of schoolchildren living in the Indus River Delta. Through her images, we follow Fezehai’s journey through the canals and inlets of the Indus River Delta, as it flows from one of Pakistan’s largest and most beautiful lakes, the Keenjhar – the source of drinking water for Karachi’s 16.6 million inhabitants – through to the schools and communities in the region.

Fezehai's photographs are focussed on schools where the H&M Foundation, WaterAid, and National Rural Support Program are building safe drinking water facilities and bathrooms designed to be resistant to flooding and saline erosion. 

The photographs form part of an exhibition titled, Noori Tales: Stories from the Indus Delta. The exhibit was on show as part of the Kulturfestivalen from 16 to 21 August and World Water Week in Stockholm from 28 August to 2 September, the annual focal point for global water issues.

The exhibit also lives online where viewers can view the photographs and the accompanying stories. Here’s a brief look at the project:

Students in the coastal fishing community of Haji Karfoor Jat gather for lessons in the shade outside their schoolhouse, which is collapsing due to erosion caused by saline groundwater. Temperatures here can exceed 45 °C in peak summer.
An older girl fixes her younger classmate’s headscarf in Haji Saleh Jat. Residents of the area are famed for their skilled embroidery work.
Women collect water from the open canal in Noor Muhammad Thaheem.
11-year-old Shaneela stands by a window inside her one-room home in Muhammad Ali Bhar. Her parents do not allow her to attend school, although she often sneaks into the classroom anyway. Her parents say they will send her to school when there is access to water and a separate functioning toilet for girls.
Pupils await the start of lessons at the Government Girls Primary School in Chaudhry Atta Muhammad. Since the sanitation block was built, attendance has increased, with parents reassured that their children will not have to leave the school compound to find a place to go to the toilet.
Six-year-old Gul stands amid the ruins of her classroom in Haji Karfoor Jat. The school’s walls and ceiling are collapsing due to erosion by saline groundwater and salt winds blowing from the nearby Arabian Sea.
A boy climbs out of the canal after a swim in Noor Muhammad Thaheem. The canal is the only source of non-saline water accessible to villagers for their homes. This untreated water is used for bathing as well as cooking and drinking.
Four-year-old Benazir attends class with boys and girls of different ages in Haji Saleh Jat.
Women collect water in traditional terracotta pots from the open canal in Noor Muhammad Thaheem. The canal transports drinking water from Keenjhar Lake to Karachi, however the local government will not allow the village residents to connect a pipe from the canal to their community, because they fear that the water supply to Karachi, which already suffers water shortages, will be reduced.