KARACHI: The world is celebrating World Water Day today (Thursday) under the theme of nature for water, but around 80% of Sindh’s population are at risk because they consume contaminated water.
Nothing is spared from the killer water, be it households, educational institutions, government and non-governmental offices or even public hospitals. “Out of 336 potable water samples collected from various areas of Sindh, 251 were found unsafe and only 85 were safe for human consumption,” said a report of the judicial commission on water submitted to the Supreme Court. The report stated that fluoride, sulfate, nitrate, iron, sodium, chloride sulfate, colour, odour, potassium and microbiological contamination was found in the water samples.
“If the same situation persists for the next 10 years, then we will have to set up colonies for water victims similar to lepers’ colonies we witnessed after Partition,” said Shahab Usto, a former bureaucrat whose plea led to the establishment of the commission.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Usto said, “We don’t need an enemy, the unsafe water will kill our population if drastic measures are not taken”. He added that one cannot escape from air or water, which are essential parts of life. “People in the worst conditions are rushed to hospitals for treatment, but unfortunately the performance of all public hospitals is dull and they have no capacity to deal with patients,” he lamented, adding that there is no water, sanitation or even disposal system at public hospitals. “We, through the platform of the judicial commission, have done research and conducted surveys on the availability of filtration and treatment plants, drinking water and sanitation schemes and found that around 2,300 such schemes have been lying dormant for years now. With the efforts of the judicial commission, the provincial government is now compelled to revive a few schemes,” he said.
There are multiple sources of drinking water in the province — the Indus River and its tributaries, dug wells, rainwater based dams and ponds, natural freshwater lakes and reservoirs and ground water sources such as subsoil water, hand pumps, tube wells and reverse osmosis plants. Untreated and municipal waste, industrial waste and waste through drainage structure are among other factors that have polluted drinking water in the province.
Diarrhoea, skin conditions, infections, river blindness and trachoma can all be linked to dirty water, alongside poor sanitation and hygiene. According to a report, not only adults but newborn deaths occur in Pakistan due to infections that could have been avoided had the babies been delivered in places with safe, clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene. “Small children with regular bouts of diarrhoea or intestinal worms are more likely to experience malnutrition and stunting. In areas where groundwater has become saline, hypertension and eclampsia are more common,” Dr Zakir Husain Kaimkhani, a medical practitioner, explained.
The water commission, in order to check the quality of drinking water being supplied, collected 84 drinking water samples from Karachi. According to judicial commission officials, 11 samples were collected from District Malir, 11 from Central, 15 from West, 14 from South, 11 from East and 11 from Korangi, while 10 samples were collected from the Dhabeji, Pipri and NEK filtration/treatment plants. “Of 84 drinking water samples, 67 were found unsafe for human consumption due to the presence of total coliforms, which include bacteria found in the soil and among these samples 30 were found contaminated [with faeces]. High levels of microbiological contamination are [present] in Karachi’s water,” the report said.
Dr Ghulam Murtaza, a senior researcher at the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, has conducted research on underground water at government hospitals in the province. According to his findings 74% of 116 samples collected from 30 hospitals in the province were unfit for human consumption owing to physiochemical or microbiological contamination. The government hospitals from where he collected the water samples were located in Karachi, Kotri, Tando Allahyar, Latifabad, Qasimabad, Hyderabad, Jamshoro, Sukkur, Khairpur, Larkana, Umerkot, Sanghar, Shaheed Benazirabad and Shahdadpur. “The government must take drastic measures to provide ultra-filtration technology to these hospitals to get rig of all kind of viruses and bacteria,” he said.
Rivers, canals and barrages in the province have been polluted and filtration plants have not been installed in several cities of Sindh to provide potable water after treatment.
In many cities of the province, people are using underground water and the quality of that water has deteriorated due to a lack of sanitation, caused by, among other things, encroachments on sub-drains, use of pesticide in agriculture and constant inflow of effluent in irrigation canals. However, there is no initiative on the part of the government to build filtration plants in such areas to provide purified water and increase the capacity of water supply.
Nadeem Ahmed, policy manager at WaterAid Pakistan, which works for water rights in developing countries, told The Express Tribune that 90% of people in Pakistan depend on underground water and 60 million of them use arsenic affected water. “There are two types of water — surface and underground. Unfortunately, we are creating manmade disasters by polluting our own resources,” he said. “In the 1960s, there were 5,000 cubic metres of water per person in the country. This has now been reduced to 800 cubic metres,” he explained, adding that wasting water is also a big issue in Pakistan.
“There is a dire need for timely intervention to save our water bodies from all kinds of pollution and contamination by mobilising the masses and educating our people by incorporating water issues in the syllabus, otherwise water will finish in most of our cities and towns and we will face a drought-like situation like Cape Town, South Africa is suffering from now,” Ahmed said. He referred to a hadith of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in which says, “Do not waste water even if you are at a running stream.”