Mar 10 - 16, 2008

LAHORE: Groundwater, the main source of water supply, is rapidly depleting because of extensive water pumping in comparison to poor recharge, while groundwater is known to be adequate in Lahore, Gujranwala, Multan and Sialkot. But the situation in Faisalabad and many other cities is less favourable.

This was said in the Punjab Urban Water and Sanitation Policy of the Government of the Punjab aimed at guiding and supporting provincial institutions, district governments, tehsil municipal administrations, water utilities and communities to improve water and sanitation.

Sources told PAGE that the policy stemmed from wider stakeholder consultations held at the provincial and city levels with institutional, primary and secondary stakeholders. The policy provides an overarching framework to address the legal, regulatory, institutional, administrative and environmental issues and challenges faced by the urban water and sanitation sector in the Punjab. The policy is consistent with the National Sanitation Policy 2006 and National Environment Policy 2005.

The Punjab Urban Water and Sanitation Policy says access to piped water in Punjab's cities is estimated to be only 55 percent since many urban settlers rely on individual groundwater and other un-secure sources. Access to the piped water supply and sanitation service through direct connections to distribution networks exceeds 75 percent in Lahore, Sialkot and Rawalpindi, but is below 30 percent in Gujranwala, Bahawalpur, Multan and Dera Ghazi Khan.

Several cities have connection ratio to sewers higher than to piped water. For instance in Multan, 55 percent of households are reported to be connected to sewers through 126,000 connections, while less than 20 percent are said to have access to piped water through 37,000 connections, the sources say.

Since local aquifers are saline, the main source of fresh water for Bahawalpur, DG Khan and Sargodha is the seepage from large irrigation canals. Groundwater is not only tapped by WASAs and TMAs but also by real and industrial estates and cantonment areas. Abstraction by these independent WSS service providers is often not negligible.

In Lahore, the sources said it was estimated that abstraction by users other than the WASA represented 30 percent of the water consumed. Unregulated abstraction has led to the lowering of the water level by half a metre per year in the past 30 years. Lahore WASA has commissioned a mathematical model of the aquifer to help monitor its performance and design a plan to re-deploy bore holes. Other cities lack access to such a sophisticated tool. Most households or industries tap ground water without any permission and monitoring since no groundwater abstraction fee is levied to manage demand. Apart from groundwater, Rawalpindi and towns on the Potohar Plateau get a large chunk of their supplies from surface sources or reservoirs and are often short of water, especially in summer.

Currently, wastewater in the five large cities is collected by WASA and in other cities by DGs or TMAs. A varying level of wastewater collection and the drainage system exists in all cities though none of them has managed to cater for total wastewater generated in the city. Typically, the wastewater collection and drainage system has a combined collection of storm and domestic sewers. There is no separation of domestic and industrial wastewater. Overflows from the open drains to low-lying areas and ponds of wastewater are commonly observed.

Raw sewage is either used for irrigation or discharged into fresh water bodies through a network of drains, ultimately running into rivers. Water from these water bodies and rivers is again used for irrigation. The river waters contaminated by untreated municipal and industrial discharges are also used for drinking. All this has serious environmental concerns and impacts on the ecosystem and human health significantly.

In the Punjab, none of the cities has a proper wastewater treatment system, except in Faisalabad having a limited capacity of treating only 20 percent of the total wastewater generated in the city. There are some individual wastewater treatment plants in some of the industries, mostly the exporting industries. These plants are installed under the international environmental governance by buyers.

It is estimated that the urban WSS sector employs over 10,000 staff, of which 6,700 in Lahore and 1,800 in the eight other large urban centres. These figures exclude staff employed by Punjab's agencies, such as PHED. The number of staff per 1,000 water connections is higher in Lahore (14) than in other urban centres (5.5). Punjab institutions train engineers mostly on design and construction techniques, but provide few courses on O&M. In general, profiles of WSS are inadequate and staff lacks training. WSS are both operated and regulated by the government in a conglomeration of functions, which are in need of being extricated. In TMA, there is no separate accounting for WSS, which is the necessary basis for accountability. WASA are "autonomous agencies" but essential functions are not in the hands of the WASA management.

Punjab WSS institutions lack accountability mostly because of an unclear mandate of the key functions of policy formulation, ownership of WSS assets and operating the WSS service. This is further aggravated by weak economic set-up, poor financial resources and inadequate or non-enforced environmental regulations.

Tariff revenues of WASA and TMA even fail to cover the current operating costs because of poor collection rates and low tariff levels. Service providers respond to financial shocks by reducing service quality (for example, reducing hours of service to reduce electricity costs). Poor maintenance and efficiency leads to existing resources being poorly employed, thus contributing to the vicious circle of poor performance, poor service, poor collection rates and insufficient funding.

The community behaviour and attitude towards water conservation and responsibility to pay bills is poor because of poor education and communication strategies. The partnership with the private sector in the absence of clear policy guidelines and procurement process has failed to yield the desired potential and engagement with the sector.