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Contaminated water: A major public health issue

The contamination of drinking water is a major public health issue. The quality of drinking water is badly managed. Sources of drinking water both surface and ground water is contaminated with different kind of bacteria, toxic metals and pesticides.

Drinking contaminated water may result in stomach ailments like diarrhea, vomiting, etc. Weak digestive system can cause deficiency in immune system. Contaminated water also causes Hepatitis A and B and skin diseases.

Globally, billions of people still lack access to adequate sanitation and uncontaminated water, according to report released by United Nations and World Health Organization.

Out of the world’s population of 7.3 billion people, about one-quarter of them drink water from sources polluted with fecal matter. Hundreds of millions of people still do not have access to soap and clean water, a measure of sanitation that would prevent the spread of several potentially fatal diseases.

More than 80 percent Pakistanis consume contaminated or unsafe water. The result was based on research conducted by the Pakistan Council for Research in Water Resources, which collected water samples from 2,807 villages in 24 districts across the country.

It was found that the major contaminants included bacteria, which was as high as 69 percent, toxic chemicals — mainly arsenic (24 percent) — and turbidity (14 percent). Other primary sources of contamination were total dissolved solids and nitrate and fluoride pollution.

The United Nations has recognized access to water for domestic and personal use as a human right, indeed as “a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights”.

Lack of potable water and mainly an outcome of ground water are becoming contaminated from industrial effluents and hazardous waste being discharged into water sources has an urgent impact on Pakistan’s under-resourced health delivery system.

Bacterial contamination is the cause of many preventable diseases, including dysentery, hepatitis, typhoid, etc. The annual diarrhoea-related mortality rate in the country hovers around 125,000, with Pakistan among four countries in the world where over half of under-five deaths annually are caused by pneumonia and diarrhoea.

In Pakistan a survey of 2,807 villages of 24 districts revealed that 69 percent to 82 percent samples of water were found contaminated or unsafe for drinking purposes.

Major contamination was due to Bacteria (Coliforms & E.Coli), Toxic Metals (mainly Arsenic), Turbidity, Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), Nitrate and Fluoride.

More than a 100 brands of bottled water have been identified as unsafe for human consumption in the Pakistan Council for Research in Water Resources’ (PCRWR) quarterly report.

PCRWR has been tasked by the government through the Ministry of Science and Technology to monitor the quality of bottled water and publish its results in an attempt to improve the quality of bottled drinking water.

Samples of 111 bottled water brands were collected from across the country, including the federal capital, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar.

In a statement, the water quality monitoring body of the Ministry of Science and Technology said that the poor quality of drinking water is the reason many people are buying bottled water for drinking.

Due to more demand, there has been an increase in the number of bottled water companies over the last few years. “However, many of the mineral water companies were found selling contaminated water,” the PCRWR statement said.


According to the report for January to March 2016, 22 brands are unsafe for drinking due to chemical and microbiological contamination. The report says that from these, 12 brands had high levels of arsenic ranging from 12 to 85 parts per billion when the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority standard for arsenic is 10 parts per billion.

In their statement, PCRWR warns that excessive levels of arsenic can cause various types of skin diseases, diabetes, kidney diseases, hypertension, heart diseases, birth defects, black foot disease and multiple types of cancers.

Twenty million people in Bangladesh are still drinking water contaminated with arsenic, two decades after the potentially deadly toxin was discovered in the supply, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says.

A new report from the rights group said Bangladesh had failed to take the basic steps needed to tackle the problem, which kills an estimated 43,000 Bangladeshis every year, mostly in poor rural areas.

Bangladesh has been building deep tube wells to source water from beneath the arsenic-tainted soil. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called Bangladesh’s arsenic crisis “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history”.

It warned that millions of Bangladeshis would die if the Government and international donors did not act to mitigate contamination.

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