62% aquifer water unsafe in Bahawalpur

Doctors link arsenic to increased kidney, lung diseases

Arshad Shaheen/kashif Zafar February 15, 2021


A water quality report prepared by the authorities has confirmed that 62% of underground water in Bahawalpur region is not potable because of heightened arsenic contamination.

The water analysis report prepared by Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources on the basis of 550 collected samples from Bahawalpur noted that only 38% water sources were found safe for drinking, while the rest contained arsenic levels above the prescribed limit.

Arsenic is one of the top 10 chemicals of major public health concern according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The organisation has warned that the semi-metal is associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes and infant mortality.

“It has also been linked to increase in mortality in young adults due to multiple cancers, lung disease, heart attacks, and kidney failure,” a WHO statement highlights.

Furthermore, numerous studies conducted around the world have demonstrated bad impacts of arsenic exposure on cognitive development, intelligence and memory in humans.

Some citizens complained that the parliamentarians elected from the area are indifferent towards the issue.

On the other hand, the authorities identify reduced groundwater reserves as the main cause behind the increase in arsenic concentration in the area.

Experts say that under the Indus Waters Treaty, Bahawalpur lost its main source of flowing water, Sutlej river, which maintained its healthy mineral content through water flow. This may have contributed to increased arsenic concentration in aquifers.

In the past, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government had announced that a Sutlej lake would be made to compensate for the reduced water availability but the project never materialised.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, an official claimed that a project to improve the groundwater level will be launched soon by the government.

To warn citizens, the authorities have painted the water supply installations like hand pumps and reverse osmosis (RO) plants in red where the water is not potable and green where it is safe to drink.

As per sources, there are 32 RO filtration plants in the city but most of them are out of order or poorly maintained.

Currently, all the RO plants installed in Bahawalpur are incapable of removing the heavy quantity of arsenic present in the underground water. Chemical engineers suggest ‘Double Pass RO Systems’ to remove arsenic from water among other solutions.

Commissioner Bahawalpur Captain (retd) Zafar Iqbal, who has been posted recently, says he is collecting all the information about the issue to address it as soon as possible.

“By bringing the water filtration system on par and proper maintenance, the citizens can be saved from several diseases,” he underscored.

The semi-metal and its compounds are also recognised as carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The agency further recognises developmental effects, diabetes, pulmonary disease, and cardiovascular disease among adverse health effects associated with the long-term ingestion of inorganic arsenic.

It is worth noting that in Bahawalpur,the annual number of kidney patients has shot up to 130,000, whereas those inflicted by hepatitis B and C reached up to 60,000.

Victoria Hospital Bahawalpur Senior Medical Officer Dr Zeeshan Rauf told The Express Tribune that the division has witnessed an unusual increase in the number of kidney patients and the main reason behind it is contaminated drinking water.

“The situation is getting serious!” he warned. According to him, a separate kidney department would have to be established in Victoria Hospital to deal with the growing number of patients.


Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2021.


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