KARACHI: Not long ago, the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources conducted a joint study with the UN Development Programme, under which over 15 osmosis plants were installed in southern Punjab at a cost of Rs20 million. It was quite a large sum of money to spend on simply proving a point – the water in that region had been heavily polluted.
The main cause of pollution was attributed to the seepage of effluent in fresh water sources from the worn out sewage system. The old sewage pipes, made out of cement, are slowly being replaced in the bigger cities of Punjab; however, the rural population continues to be at risk from water contaminated due to the weary drainage infrastructure.
In Sindh, the district of Thatta is home to many migratory birds and endangered species. The Keenjhar Lake harbours a rich diversity of marine life. Sadly, a number of industries have found it convenient to dump lethal industrial waste into the Lake’s tributaries and distributaries.
This gross negligence endangers not just the wildlife in that area, but also the human population that depends on the freshwater lake for survival. Over 70,000 people living on the Lake’s bank and 62 small villages in the area are at direct risk from gastroenteritis, eye diseases, hepatitis and dermatological diseases. Some of these diseases are lethal and incurable. Against the World Health Organisation standard of 0.75%, the level of pollution in the Lake is a worrying 2.3%.
The dumping of industrial effluent directly affects not just the health of organisms dependant on the water source, but also the economy of the region. Pollution of the Lake, which once had healthy reserves of edible fish, means that people of the region have lesser of this food available, and at a significantly diminished quality.
Furthermore, the healthcare infrastructure in such areas is already weak, which puts the indigenous populations at even greater risk of suffering from waterborne diseases.
Tests on the Lake and the organisms inhabiting it indicate that the water-content of urea, lead, arsenic and mercury is very high – fish and other organisms, once taken out of the water, started bleeding blood from their skins. There should be no doubt that a person who drinks that water will face deadly diseases. The authorities, on the other hand, have so far denied any fault in the matter; while some go as far as to claim the water is fit for human consumption.
Apart from the Keenjhar Lake, the Manchhar Lake has also been contaminated beyond human consumption. Even though the Water and Power Development Authority has installed over six water treatment plants in the area, a lack of electricity means surrounding populations use the lake water directly for drinking purposes.
Pointing fingers is easy for those in charge; what is really needed is authorities gather evidence by sampling water for chemicals and toxins, in order to expose and punish corporate and civil negligence. Our marine ecosystems and the people dependant on them shouldn’t be put at risk to industrialists’ carelessness and crass disregard for the adverse effects of dumping industrial waste in human water and food supply sources. The culprits must be charged with criminal negligence and the authorities must set the right example.
The matter should be taken to court by the Sindh Environment Protection Agency and allied civil rights movements. The irrigation department and the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board must be taken to task on the issue, and made to ensure that the indigenous populations of these areas are not forced to risk their lives for corporate greed.
Those who place value and worth on life must take charge of the situation and stop the mistreatment of rural populations. The government needs to wake up to the reality that we need to be wary and conserve natural resources; especially water, since it is a scarce resource globally, and we should preserve what we have in its most useful form. The government must not stand by and watch as this resource is slowly rendered unusable because of the actions of some negligent persons.
The writer comments on international relations and foreign policy
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2012.
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