KARACHI: Up to 90% of water supplied in Karachi is unfit for human consumption due to the presence of bacterial contamination, revealed a report on Saturday.
The report, based on laboratory analysis of water samples collected from surface and underground water sources from different parts of the metropolis, was submitted to the judicial commission headed by Justice Muhammad Iqbal Kalhoro. The commission was constituted by the Supreme Court to investigate authorities' failure to provide clean drinking water and poor sanitation conditions in Sindh.
The report was submitted by the task force formed by the commission to ensure implementation of the directives given by the SC, as well as the commission.
The report stated that although 118 drinking water samples were collected from parts of Karachi, 99 samples were collected from surface water sources such as water supply systems, water filtration plants and water pumping stations of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB). Thirteen were collected from underground water sources, three from reverse osmosis (RO) plants and three from mixed (ground and surface) water sources.
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The report concluded that out of the total 118 samples, 104 or 88.1% were found unsafe for human consumption due to presence of total coliforms beyond the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended value of zero per 100 millilitres of colony forming units (cfu) for safe drinking water. Faecal contamination was detected in 40 samples; the E coli colony count was found to be within the range of one to too numerous to count, exceeding the WHO limit of 0 per 100ml cfu for safe drinking water.
The report stated that the presence of E coli indicates the mixing of sewage water with drinking water sources.
"Overall data shows that out of total 118 samples, 107 (90.7%) were found unsafe for human consumption while only 11 samples (9.3%) were found fit for human consumption for analysed parameters under the prescribed standards," the report concluded. "The main reason for the unsafe results is supply of raw [untreated] water with filtered water, improper chlorination, mixing of sewage water and water supply lines/sources, silting of pumping stations/water storage tanks," it added.
The report said that a total of 460 water samples were collected from surface and underground water sources and RO plants in Karachi, Thatta, Hyderabad, Jamshoro, Tando Mohammad Khan, Tando Allahyar, Badin, Mirpurkhas, Tharparkar, Nawabshah, Khairpur, Sukkur, Shikarpur and Larkana districts.
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In Thatta, 16 water samples were collected of which 14 were found unsafe for human consumption.
From Hyderabad, 40 water samples were collected and 35 were found unfit for human consumption.
Shocked over the state of affairs, Justice Kalhoro inquired from the authorities what corrective measures had been adopted over the course of the past few months to ensure clean drinking water was supplied to the people.
The KWSB deputy managing director said that the water was chlorinated before its supply to the citizens. Yet the quality of water is deteriorating, observed Justice Kalhoro. The officer replied that in some localities the quality of water might be poor, but steps were being taken to improve it.
The commission noted with concern that no reports of the supply of safe and clean drinking water had been received from any parts of the city
"Point out any locality where quality water is being supplied," Justice Kalhoro demanded of the officer, who failed to give a satisfactory answer.
Researcher Dr Murtaza said while clean water was being supplied from the water pumps, the pipelines were not clean, which resulted in clean water being contaminated. He pointed out that the water pumps had not been cleaned for a long time.
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Justice Kalhoro told the officers that the commission did not want mere documents and notifications, adding the authorities should be able to say that the citizens were being supplied clean drinking water.
A KWSB office bearer claimed that more than 150 illegal water hydrants were operating in the city.
The commission inquired from the KWSB MD what kind of duties he was performing. "Are you operating illegal water hydrants?" the judge asked. He issued a notice to the West DIG to appear on July 29 and explain why illegal water hydrants were operating in his area.
The bench observed there should be legal mechanism to regulate the small water filtration plants privately being operated all over the city, as pointed out by Dr Murtaza.
The KWSB MD claimed an MPA had an illegal water pipeline laid in SITE and admitted that some water board employees were also involved in the provision of illegal water connections.
Health Secretary Fazlullah Pechuho said provision of clean drinking water at public health facilities was not possible without taking action against the concerned medical superintendents responsible for them. However, he complained that he lacked powers to take action against the officers in his department. He alleged that underground water tanks of public hospitals were rarely cleaned and lizards and dead insects were found inside the tanks but the same water was still supplied to patients.
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He said only the district health officers could take action against the hospitals' medical superintendents and other staffs, adding none else dared take action against the superintendents, who were working directly under the chief minister.
However, Justice Kalhoro remarked it was not the duty of the commission to gain powers for him.
The commerce and industries department secretary said the installation of 125 water filtration plants in industrial areas was being planned.
Advocate-General Barrister Zamir Ghumro informed the commission that work on treatment plant-III will be started in January and TP-I in June, 2018. TP-III will become fully functional in January, he vowed.
The federal secretary of the planning and development, Shoaib Siddiqui, said that the federal government had approved Rs3 billion for completion of the remaining work on the Right Bank Outfall Drain.
The local government secretary said the government had reduced the period for completion of LG development schemes to three years. He maintained that 74 development schemes were completed within the stipulated timeframe.