Sep 24 - 30, 2007

Fresh water, being an exhaustible commodity, is highly prone to the pollutants within the degrading environmental conditions and dilapidated water supply infrastructure of Pakistan, which instills into potable water health hazardous components. Preserving the quality and ensuring the availability of potable water have become challenges for the environmentalists and the government altogether. The challenges are numbered such as: the growing population of the major cities (antipathetic urbanization), which increased industrial activities at a fast pace; contamination of rivers including feeders; deteriorating water supply lines; and those-who-law-makers-are-breakers (iconoclast). The adequate water treatment plants and pertinent water management systems could stave off dangers of widespread lethal epidemics viz. gastroenteritis and hepatitis among local populace.

Pakistan is ranked eighth in per capita fresh water withdrawal among the 130 countries listed in the 1995 World Development Report. Out of total developed water resources of the country agriculture sector is the major user of water (96%) followed by domestic (3%) and industrial sectors (1%).

According to United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), 20 to 40 % beds are occupied in the hospitals of Pakistan by patients suffering from water related diseases. The reports of World Health Organization, National Council for Water Research and a number of other research organizations revealed that the water supplied to the citizens of many parts of the country is contaminated and not fit for the human consumption.

Usually the water gets polluted when toxic substances enter lakes, rivers, and other water provision sources. These substances get dissolved in the ground resulting in deteriorating water quality and malfunctioning of ecosystems.

Water pollution has numerous sources. City sewage and industrial wastage discharged in the water bodies are the major causes. Agriculture run-off water also creates significant pollutants. The water treating facilities are not up to the mark in any of the cities of Pakistan, let alone suburban localities. It is said in a research report that only one percent of discharged water is treated, the rest obviously submerges into the water bodies. Such water, which finally ends up in our households, is highly contaminated and carries over millions of viruses. Therefore, the incidences of water born diseases in hospitals are on the rise.

A survey conducted by Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan shows that drinking water available for drinking is mostly unfit for human consumption. It showed access, availability, pollution, irresponsible consumption, mixing of sewerage with water supply, interrupted water supply, and lack of tap water quality standards as some of major issues in the provision of safe drinking water to all citizens.

Prof. Dr. Akhlaq Ahmed, who is presently serving as a Pro-Vice Chancellor of University of Karachi and has presented many internationally acclaimed research papers on the environmental conditions and water issues in Pakistan as well as at several international platforms, said the problem of water pollution lies in the distribution system of potable water supply nationwide. The lines supplying water have been damaged. The seepage in the water supply lines gets sewage water and dirt mixed with the flow. Even the discharge of used water, which is about 300 million gallon in Karachi only, is going into waste because recycling it is as difficult as the cost it would incur, he lamented.

But, he suggested that a collaboration of government and private sector would improve the situation to a greater extent. For instance, recently around 120 tanneries operating in industrial areas of Karachi have collaborated with a Dutch company to establish a water treatment plant. The Companies may find it lucrative to treat used water before discharging it into waste since waste water has a substantially an expensive chemical element-Chromium. Besides, treated water becomes re-usable. Decades ago, Karachi Municipal Corporation has set up two drinking water treatment plants, but, he said, they have been outdated to function properly. But again, there have no, as such, water treatment plants installed to provide potable water.

There are two kinds of water pollutants. Conventional pollutants, which are made up of solid particles such as canes, papers, etc, cause variety of environmental problems. It can block sun rays that, in subsequent effects, disrupt carbon dioxide-oxygen conversion process. Conventional pollutants make water unusable for human and animals. The best way to remove conventional pollutants is to run the water through a treatment plant, which is used normally in our households. That eliminates only 60 percent of the pollutants and remaining tiny viruses could only be killed by the anti-microbes substances. In a production process of a manufacturing company, non conventional pollutants such as metals and other toxic elements drain out in a waste water, which if not treated, play havoc to the lives of living creatures.

According to the Karachi & Water Supply Board report in 2004, the government has built three treatment plants for the treatment of entire sewage of the city. Treatment Plant-I (TP-1) is situated in Haroonabad, SITE area with a treatment capacity of 51 mgd, while it only treats 7mgd. Treatment Plant-II (TP-2) has been built in Mahmoodabad, with a purification capacity of 45.5 mgd but could treat only 15 mgd, and Treatment Plant-III (TP-3) in Mauripur with a capacity of 54 mgd but present treatment capacity is only 5mgd.

The total capacity of these three plants remained just about 151 mgd but do only 27 mgd, which is a minor proportion of the produced sewage. Rest about 200 to 220 mgd sewage water with high quantity of contaminated and toxicant elements go directly into the sea water through drainage.

Although, City District Government of Karachi (CDGK) has started several projects to tackle with the water shortage of the city-one such project is to build a desalination plant on a 100-acre site near Hawkesbay to supply 25 million gallons a day of potable water-locals are looking towards disease-free drinking water supply in a near future.

In a national perspective, Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources has embarked on various research projects. To conduct and promote research in all aspects of water resources, it has also funded local universities' research projects.

PCRWR has completed several projects e.g. National Water Quality Monitoring Program (NWQMP) 2001-06 that cost millions in order to present with a sustainable solution of water issue. It has partnered with international institutions for several projects as well. In an appreciable cooperation, farmers spend their money with the guidelines and co-monetary assistance of PCRWR in an irrigated land development project.

Clearly, government is doing at its best to provide drinkable water to people in spite of few impediments in the form of poor infrastructure. The Government should ensure purified drinking water available to people. By establishing a network of potable water supply is a way to make them physically fit and healthy economic growth agent. Laws should be implemented in a way to curb illegal use of water for commercial purposes. People, however, may prevent deadly water born ailments through cautious use and practices.

INTERVIEW: Prof. Dr. Akhlaq Ahmed, who is presently serving as a Pro-Vice Chancellor of University of Karachi and has presented many internationally acclaimed research papers on the environmental conditions and water issues in Pakistan as well as at several international platforms.

References: KW&SB; PCRWR; WHO; CRCP; Primary Data.