GROWING WATER SHORTAGES A CAUSE OF CONCERN

By MARIAM DURRANI
May 08 - May 14, 2006

Pools of stagnant water round the corner, overflowing gutters and springing leaks in pipelines, the entire picture presents an unhygienic environment. Stagnant water leads to the birth and growth of mosquitoes, major carrier of the malaria virus. UNICEF has reported that out of total, 40% diseases (NCSS, 2003) prevalent in the country are waterborne and 20-40% hospitalizations are due to such diseases. In addition poor access of citizens to safe drinking water is one of the major reasons for unbridled rise in poverty due to the high cost of illnesses and loss of working days occurring due to water-born diseases.

WATER LOSSES RESULT FROM LEAKY PIPES

A huge quantity of water - 166 million gallons which comes to about 35 per cent of the city's total supply of 475 million gallons a day (mgd) - is wasted every day owing to leakages in pipelines and bulk distribution and transmission losses as well as pilferage. Internationally, a maximum of 20 per cent line loss is considered as understandable but beyond this 'uneconomical'. Between 25-30 percent of water losses are caused from pre-stressed RCC pipelines which have outlived their life of 25 years, while another 5 to 10 is pilfered, mostly in Kutchi Abadis.

COMPROMISING QUALITY FOR COSTS

Pakistan spends around one quarter of a percentage point of its GDP on water supply and sanitation. On the pretext of cost-effective measures, relevant bodies neglect the cost of human misery, and choose substandard materials for pipelines. With the passage of time, the pipelines rust, rot or develop encrustations on the inner surface of the pipe that leads to frequent blockages and hence the entire distribution network collapses. By focusing on the short term gains i.e. cost savings water and sewer authorities compromise on the long term gains which are maintenance free pipelines that ensure reliable water supply and distribution throughout the existing network.

PCRWR (1985) and WHO (1972-73) reported that after installation of new water supply pipes alone in 30 rural settlements of Japan, communicable intestinal diseases were reduced by 72% and that of trachoma by 64% while the death rate for infants and young children fell by 52%. Similarly in Uttarpardesh (PCRWR, 1985) after carrying out improvements in water works, sewerage, and sanitation, the cholera death rate decreased by 74%, typhoid fever death rate by 63.3%, and dysentery death rate by 23%. Additionally, 10% productive time of each person, wasted due to water-related diseases, can also be saved.

WATER CONTAMINATION A THREAT AT LARGE

In Pakistan, access to water for domestic purposes in the urban areas is limited to about 84%. About 58.5% of the people have piped supply to their homes. End users continue to be unaware of the significance of plumbing material that is used for common applications within a house such as soil, waste and vent or hot and cold water supply, etc. For instance, pipe leakages often lead to dampening walls and other structures that invariably leads to recurring maintenance costs which become more costly in the long run.

Use of substandard and conventional material for the piping supply of potable water is also prone to water contamination. Based on the National Water Quality Monitoring Programme carried out by Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, the bacterial contamination in 2004 ranged from 48 percent in Islamabad to 100 percent in Ziarat. Micro-organisms continue to attack conventional pipe systems such as RCC or metal pipes or even sub-standard thermoplastic pipe systems. Thermoplastic pipe systems offered by companies like Dadex, being a major player in the industry, are a reliable and safe option instead. Quality pipe systems not only save money, but also time which otherwise is wasted in repair work. With a wide range of thermoplastic pipe systems being manufactured in Pakistan by companies operating in the organized sector, stake holders such as end users, public sector and private sector can benefit from using certified materials for water supply and distribution and safely counter problems arising from lack of awareness, absence of regulatory body to impose strict laws for marketing/selling unsafe material, etc.

HOPE FLOATS

Despite the on-going problems, a wave of change has surfaced among some utility bodies that are opting for durable materials and planning for long term gains. The Quetta Water Authority is responsible for ensuring steady supply of water to the population in Quetta. Since the city is subjected to frequent intense earthquakes, including one in 1997 that rated 7.3 on the Richter scale, the Water Authority required an infrastructure that would be robust, flexible and durable to withstand natural disaster. The solution came in the form of a polyethylene pipe system that can sustain seismic movements owing to its inherent characteristic of being a flexible material. Unlike conventional materials such as metal or ductile iron pipes.

This material has shown an excellent resistance to a variety of chemicals and harsh environmental conditions. The molecular structure of polyethylene makes it suitable piping material which outlives common choices. Remarkable flexibility and time-tested strength allow it to absorb pressure by expanding to a certain degree.

In 2003, the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) Karachi encountered recurring maintenance costs for the water supply lines laid. Since galvanized iron and mild steel used for the purpose deteriorated over time its repair had little effect. DHA officials were convinced to use polyethylene in place of faulty water supply lines.

In retrospect a number of times impatience leads to impulsive decisions, but their price can even cost lives. When the mistake is committed in solving civic problems, especially water and sewerage related it turns into a blunder and negatively impact the environment and most importantly people are the victims.

MAJOR BARRAGES OF PAKISTAN

KEY FACTS

Barrage

Year of Completion

Max. Design Discharge
(cusecs)

No. of Bays

Max. Flood level from floor (ft)

Total Design Withdrawals for Canal (cusecs)

Chashma

1971

1,100,000

52

37

26,700

Guddu

1962

1,200,000

64

26

-

Jinnah

1946

950,000

42

28

7,500

Kotri

1955

875,000

44

    43.1

-

Sukkur

1932

1,500,000

54

30

47,530

Taunsa

1959

750,000

53

26

36,501