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Provision of Safe Drinking Water: A New Challenge for Pakistan

By the end of the year 2020, the population of Karachi is expected to be approximately 23 million and the demand of water would be 1242 MGD (54 GPCD). And the short fall of water will be of 600 MGD (2700 ml/day).

The looming threat of clean drinking water scarcity constitutes one of the biggest challenges to Pakistan’s survival. This threat is not less dangerous than that of terrorism because it has been taking millions of lives, especially those of children, every year. Water is the most important and basic necessity for human life. Without water life can’t exist.

Throughout the world, more than a billion people do not have access to safe drinking water because the increasing population of the world has lowered the level of ground water alarmingly, particularly in the densely populated parts of the world like South Asia, China and Indonesia. Potable water is becoming a rare commodity all over the world. In some regions, water is even more costly than milk.

In Pakistan, 38.5 million people have no access to clean and safe drinking water and its shortage is proliferating quickly. Pakistan was a water rich country just a few decades ago; however, a recent World Bank Report mentioned that Pakistan is now among the 17 countries that are currently facing water shortage.

Because of the lack of clean drinking water, children are especially vulnerable to water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, worm infections, typhoid, and hepatitis A. Some of these diseases can have long term effects on physical, mental and educational development of children. According to a report of Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), the mortality rate children under-five due to ill-water conditions is 101 per 1000 children. Diarrheal infections kill 2 million every year. Unhygienic practices coupled with impure water usage cause a number of diseases. It adds more difficulties due to resultant high costing treatment for water-based illnesses.

For Pakistan’s majority, the main source of drinking water is groundwater. The most common instrument for extracting groundwater in rural areas are the hand pump and the motor pump. Hand pumps and motor pumps together provide 61 percent of households with drinking water; in rural areas this percentage rises up to 70. According to a report by the Pakistan Council for Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), Punjab has the best rural water supply as only 7 percent of the rural population depends on dug wells or rivers, canals and streams. In all other provinces, the situation is much worse.

In Sindh 24 percent, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 46 percent, and in Balochistan as much as 72 percent rural population depends on dug wells or rivers, canals or streams. The situation is getting worse at a mammoth pace. Besides, over exploitation of the natural resources and discharge of hazardous wastes into water bodies such as canals and rivers without proper treatment contaminate drinking water derived from these sources.

Karachi has been facing an acute shortage of potable water for months now. Since water, like air, is crucial for existence, people are left with no option but to buy water and that too at exorbitant prices. People have been left at the mercy of the tanker mafia, which is fleecing consumers by charging Rs. 3,000 to 8,000 a tanker. The rates of water tankers vary from locality to locality. Residents of various water-starved localities in Karachi, who are convinced that the government will do nothing to provide clean and safe drinking water, have started digging wells near and inside their houses.

In fact, the water transmission and distribution lines of Karachi Water and Sewerage Board were mostly installed during the 1960s and 1970s and have completed their designed life. In accordance with water experts, fresh water resources are fast depleting and its availability to common people is plummeting so revamping KWSB and the way it functions as a whole is the need of the hour. The replacement of the water supply infrastructure in the metropolis and adjoining suburbs is equally critical for conservation and efficient use of water. In 2005, technical assistance was also sought from the UNDP under the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme for South Asia (WSP-SA) and even a consultative process was initiated to identify and address the pressing issues faced by the KWSB. But matters were left halfway during the process because of the-then Sindh government’s apathy.

According to statistical reports at KWSB’s official website, the present supply of water to Karachi from Indus and Hub sources is approximately 650 million gallons per day (MGD) (2925 ml/day) and the demand for 20 million population is estimated to be 1080 MGD (54 gallons per capita per day). The current shortfall is calculated to be 430 MGD. By the end of the year 2020, the population of Karachi is expected to be around 23 million and the demand of water would be 1242 MGD (54 GPCD). And the short fall of water will be of 600 MGD (2700 ml/day).

Water is indeed a gift of life and having an easy access to clean and safe drinking water is an indispensable human right. Having paid attention to the water crisis, the least the government can do is ensure smooth provision of this most basic public health necessity to the deprived people and to prevent thousands of Pakistani children from dying.

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