July 18 - 24, 2011

With Pakistan is already facing water shortage, existing water resources in the country are under threat due to untreated discharge of municipal and industrial wastes to rivers and other surface water bodies.

With an average 44 per cent of population without access to safe drinking water nationwide, around 80 per cent of population lacks such access in rural areas.

The inadequate water supply results in high incidence of water related diseases, increasing morbidity and mortality rates, besides posing major threat to the survival and development of children. The majority of the population of Pakistan is exposed to the hazard of unsafe and polluted drinking water.

Untreated sewerage, industrial effluents, and agricultural runoffs are usually released in streams or drains and finally into rivers and sea, experts told PAGE.

High incidence of water borne diseases can directly be attributed to polluted waters in the lakes. Other impacts of high contamination in the waters include loss of biodiversity and ecosystems, reduction in fish population and damage to soils and crops in the irrigated areas.

According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, 80 percent of the diseases are due to unhygienic conditions and unsafe drinking water.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) include a target to halve the fraction of the world's population without access to water and sanitation by 2015. The National Standards for Drinking Water Quality (NSDWQ) have been approved on 29th March, 2010 in order to improve the water quality and to provide the public with the safe drinking water.

Fortunately, Pakistan is on track on access to Improved Water Resources. This achievement owes partly to higher public sector investment in water supply schemes, and self-provision of water from hand and motor pumps in rural areas.

Around 95 percent of the urban and 87 percent of the rural population have now access to various areas of improved drinking water supplies with household connection of 48 percent and 19 percent respectively. Less than one percent of the population has to travel more than 0.5 km to the source of drinking water as compared to two percent at the start of the decade. However, access to water remains difficult in Southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, parts of Balochistan, Tharparker and Cholistan.

On the other hand, water pollution has been steadily increasing over the years. This pollution includes uncontrolled discharges of municipal as well as industrial waste in water bodies, runoff from agriculture fields where agrochemical usage has been increasing, and other natural as well as anthropogenic activities which take place in the catchment areas.

Health professionals told PAGE that about 200,000 children in Pakistan die every year of diarrheal diseases alone. Access to safe drinking water supply is not only a basic need and prerequisite for a healthy life it is also a fundamental human right.

Recent analysis revealed the presence of five main water quality problems which include bacteriological 64 percent, total dissolved solids (TDS 25 percent) turbidity 14 percent, nitrate 9 percent and fluoride 7 percent.

Overall findings exhibited that 82 percent of rural water resources of 24 districts were unsafe when compared with Pakistan Standard and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) standards and the remaining 18 percent were safe for drinking purpose. An average of 25.61 percent of Pakistan's 159 million inhabitants have access to safe and sufficient drinking water.

Health professionals said that safe water alone can reduce diarrhea and other related diseases by up to 50 percent, but an estimated 62 percent of Pakistan's urban population and 84 percent of the rural population do not treat their water. According to an estimate, one hundred million cases of diarrheal diseases were being registered for treatment in hospitals of Pakistan in one year. The need of the hour is to take immediate initiatives for the provision of safe drinking water to the natives of rural communities in order to prevent the onslaught of water borne diseases.