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Looming water crisis (II)

Water News: 

Pakistan has drawn up a National Water Strategy to meet the millennium development goals (MDG) target before 2025 and has launched a scheme to provide clean drinking water for its people by the end of 2007. But the scheme, which was launched in September 2005, shows no positive results, due to bureaucratic internal fighting among the central ministries, the provinces and the local bodies, and is far behind its schedule.

Karachi: Water pollution is a big problem of the people of big cities like Karachi and Lahore that are getting more polluted water than other parts of the country. Samples of water taken from almost all over Karachi proves that nearly 90 percent of water was contaminated. It contained bacterium, agrochemical and even radiological pollution.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), nearly 60 percent of the diseases are infectious waterborne diseases such as typhoid, polio and Hepatitis A and B. Moreover, lack of regular access to water affects household income due to these diseases. Water is supplied to Karachi from the Indus River, which carries such pollution almost from its source. The Lyari and Malir rivers are not among the main water sources of Karachi. However, around a dozen illegal hydrants along the Lyari River are supplying water through tankers to the water scarce areas, which is the most contaminated.

Lahore: More than 50 percent of sewerage channels and pipelines are overloaded and remain usually blocked due to poor maintenance. Therefore, much of the sewerage overflows come into surface and mix up with drinking water channels. The cities in Pakistan are producing wastewater of about 4.43 billion cubic metres. The total wastewater going into major rivers is about 1.782 billion cubic metres. Ravi is the most polluted river not only in the country, but in the world, receiving about half of all municipal and industrial waste discharged. This is because of the Indus Basin Treaty signed with India during the Ayub era. The smallest of the five rivers of Punjab, Ravi has become a drain receiving not only the municipal and industrial waste generated by the residential colonies and factories around its banks but also the industrial and agricultural discharges from India through the Hudiara drain. Not only the private housing schemes and industrial units in and around Lahore, but also the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) are discharging sewage in this river without treating it. Lahore Cantonment Board, Lahore Cantonment Cooperative Society, Defence Housing Authority, Model Town Society, railway residential colonies, irrigation department residential colonies’ drains and several private housing colonies are discharging their sewage into the Ravi River through drains or sewage channels. The total sewage discharge of Lahore is about 1,015 cusecs of which WASA’s share is about 716 cusecs.

Multan: According to a report, heavy lethal and slow poisonous compound of arsenic were found in 21 union councils of Multan and a number of schools drinking water is affecting the health of students. In Multan the arsenic level is touching 400 PPB in fresh drinking water, which is an alarming level and hazardous to human health. WHO has fixed 50 PPB for developing countries like Pakistan against arsenic resistance.

Hyderabad: There are reports about finding of ‘arsenic’ and disease causing bacterial and other contaminations in drinking water being supplied to consumers in many parts of the country. There have been many situations in the recent past, including a public health emergency that occurred in Hyderabad last summer that affected hundreds of lives of the people who consumed contaminated water.

Quetta: To resolve the water crisis, Quetta Water Supply and Environmental Improvement Project (QWSEIP) has initiated different schemes and the government agreed to release Rs 700 million to be used for Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) that was to be completed by June 2008. At present, around 20 million gallons water per day is being supplied to Quetta, which was to be raised to 36 million gallons per day. Under the project a 254 kilometres new water supply line were to be laid, besides replacing a 30 kms old water supply line. The total cost of the project was estimated at Rs 8 billion.

The main problem of water in Pakistan is the poor water efficiency on the supply side as well as high consumption in all sectors. The shift from a supply driven approach to a demand management approach has not yet been realised.

Thari people consume an average of almost 16 litres a day. If all rainwater is collected the daily water availability could reach 95 litres a day.

Although rainwater may not meet WHO’s drinking water standard especially to bacteriological water quality, but this does not mean that the water is harmful for drinking.

The 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. The majority of the population of Pakistan is being affected due to unsafe and polluted drinking water. Untreated sewage effluent and agricultural run-off are usually released in streams or drains into the rivers and sea.

This pollution includes uncontrolled discharge of municipal and industrial wastes in water bodies, run-off from agricultural fields where agrochemical usage has been increasing in the catchments areas. Supply of polluted water is a risk to public health. High incidence of water borne diseases can directly be attributed to polluted water in lakes. Other impacts of high contamination in the water include loss of biodiversity and ecosystems, reduction in fish population and damage to soil and crops in the irrigated areas.

On one hand water day is being celebrated but on the other millions are consuming polluted water in flood-hit areas of Pakistan. Sweet water is found only in 15 percent areas close to the river or located near old river course on the Indus’ left bank. Millions of people in most flood-affected cities and towns of the province are forced to use underground brackish water because flood has destroyed water supply system. Nine cities are the worst hit areas of last year’s floods. The government is facing a serious challenge to meet water needs of the population of these cities where floods have washed away 77 percent of 451 water supply schemes.

Of the 451 schemes, 65 are in Dadu, 24 in Ghotki, 69 in Jacobabad, 57 in Kashmore, eight in Qambar-Shahdadkot, 21 in Shikarpur, 20 in Larkana, 58 in Thatta and 69 are in Jamshoro.

A study carried out between December 2010 and January 2011, found that a water supply scheme, especially in rural areas, catered to the needs of 10,000 to 20,000 people and in urban settlement it reached 50,000 to 100,000 people. The schemes, which were completed or being completed would have to be rebuilt and the remaining could be made functional.

Scarcity of sweet water, according to experts, is called ‘confined aquifer’ which recharges with rains and floods. Usage of water in agriculture sector contributes only two percent to recharging aquifers.

About 85 percent of underground water in Sindh has turned brackish or saline. In Sindh water table had dropped drastically due to excessive use of tube wells, posed a serious threat to shallow water that may turn brackish if it is not recharged regularly with rains or floods.

Once this sweet water became saline then it would remain saline or brackish and referred to the area around Thatta-Sujawal bridge, where sea water had seeped to a depth of 30 foot. The farmers will not be able to have any vegetation when the sea water will completely affect the land. Therefore, it is being demanded that 10MAF water should be released downstream Kotri barrage in order to repulse sea water intrusion and recharge aquifers.

However, now Sindh’s water table has improved after floods and it has come up to 12 to 13 feet. Before floods, it had sunk down to 30 to 35 feet. An environmental expert believes that 60 percent of cultivable land in Sindh had been hit by twin menace of water logging and salinity. About 80 percent ground water in Sindh was brackish, which rendered it unfit for human consumption and for agricultural use too. Safe drinking water is a sub indicator of MDG that pertains to environmental sustainability. Water issue is attaining increasing significance in local and international relations. Whether it is inter-provincial discord or dispute between India and Pakistan water is the core issue.

Besides, there are worrying reports that next world war will be fought over water and there is a fear that Pakistan and India would also have great conflicts in water sector. Therefore, they must seek solution to issues like water between them.

Water has become politics as well as economical issue. Experts say that due to global warming climate changes are taking place that will alter weather patterns and would shrink the glaciers and further create water shortage.

Moreover, the violation of Indus Water Treaty, taking away water from the three rivers, on the part of India compelled Pakistan to fight for its rights. The international dispute settlement agencies are not taking interest and Pakistan has little option but to fight for its rights.

India is building about 60 projects along the rivers that violate Indus Water Treaty. Moreover, few of these projects, envisaged or currently under execution stage, can be an ecological disaster for the area. These dams are likely to be built by cutting thousands of acres of forests in occupied Kashmir, which could affect the rainfall in Pakistan.

The water dispute between the provinces of Pakistan also exists. The violation of water accords was observed. Punjab abuses its dominance at the time of water shortage.

The 1991 Water Accord signed under the Pakistan Muslim League government establishes clear entitlements for each province to surface water. With this system, Pakistan can now focus on applying similar methodology for surface systems that do not have established entitlements, for new mobilised water, for environmental flows, for ground water while administering the system in a more transparent and participatory manner. The question is how they plan to deal with the overall water shortage in the backdrop of global warming and the Indian violation.

It is clear that water is the next blue gold. Water has become a global issue. China, India and oil rich countries are acquiring farming lands in African and Asian countries. Although these steps look simple economic transactions, but can termed as land grabbing.

Similar issues have propped up in Pakistan, especially after Saudi Arabia started negotiating with Pakistani authorities to lease agricultural land of about 500,000 acres in order to hedge food security in the future. Given water shortage, it is probable that if lands are leased to foreigners, they will be provided water on a priority basis, as a part of the agreement, deserting local farmers and the poor people.

These are alarming developments that can add woes to water problems. India’s recent statement that ‘there is no possibility of war between Indian and Pakistan on water’ may not be a reality. Therefore, Pakistan should better be prepared for it.

South Asia Pakistan is continuously protesting crying foul over India’s construction of dams, which have drastically reduced flows downstream. This clear violation of the UN-brokered Indus Water Treaty has dealt a severe blow to a largely agrarian country – Pakistan - where over 60 percent of the population is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture and its subsidiary industries.

And then there is the history of conflict between the two countries, making water a potentially explosive issue in the years to come. Pakistan, India and other South Asian countries that depend on Himalayan waters must begin discussions on joint watershed management.

It may be mentioned here that Pakistan is included in the list of those countries where innumerable resources of soft and pure drinking water are found but water supply schemes in cities and towns are in a very bad condition. Most of the pipelines pass through heaps of garbage lying in streets. Thus, sewerage water gets mixed with clean water of the pipelines, causing deadly and fatal diseases.

Pakistan’s current problems are the growing pollution of watercourses and aquifers. The effects of acute water scarcity are already visible across the country, therefore, comprehensive effort is required to meet the challenges that are looming ahead.

The Report of Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan suggested that in order to prevent water borne infectious diseases, people should take adequate precautions. The water supply to cities should be properly checked and necessary steps should be taken to purify it. Water pipes should be regularly checked for leaks and cracks and should immediately be repaired. At home level, the water should be boiled, filtered or other necessary steps should be taken to ensure that drinking water is free off bacteria.