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Apathy at its best

By Huma Khawar


Contaminated or polluted water contains harmful germs or chemicals. The water that does not contain any parasites or poisonous chemicals is known as safe water. Water that looks clear is not always safe as it may contain thousands of germs. It is important, however, that water should not only be safe but also acceptable in terms of taste, appearance and odour, says one of the definitions of ‘contaminated water’.

According to a report on Drinking Water Quality Monitoring in the Rural Areas of Islamabad Capital Territory, water samples collected from different rural localities around Islamabad did not contain any harmful chemical constituents, but showed a high content of microbiological organisms.

According to a Water Supply and Sanitation in Pakistan report, “Islamabad is a classic example of an indifferently managed system. The per capita availability of water in this city is one of the highest in the region. However, the distribution system operates intermittently.”

It goes without saying that a system operating irregularly will not deliver safe water to the consumers. During shortages, tankers draw water from the system and supply it to consumers who are connected to the same system. There could be no better example of a poorly managed utility.

Water supply in the Islamabad Capital Territory is based on four different sources. Small water works in Saidpur, Korang, Shadhra, and Nurpur, supply from Simly Dam and Khanpur, shallow wells, and tube wells. Jamil ur Rehman, Director Water Supply, Capital Development Authority, Islamabad rules out any possibility of contaminated water being supplied to Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).

“Our water sources are in very good condition. The people of Islamabad, living in the sectors under CDA’s responsibility, are receiving water that satisfies WHO guidelines. We maintain 1400 kilometres long water pipe line across the capital. I cannot claim that all of them are watertight, but at least 13.5 kilometres of the line are watertight,” says Rehman.

“The filtration plants installed at water sources are doing brilliant work. Their performance is monitored on hourly basis according to WHO guideline and periodic checks are carried out. Water supply line is sterilised, so is the water running inside it. There are sometimes accidental damages. There can be many reasons for that as there are many agencies working in the streets for electricity, gas, street light, or cable etc.

“This is nobody’s fault but a part of the development process. The more important thing is what happens after the contamination. Does it go on? There can be lapses and failures there. That has to be checked immediately. Whenever a water line is damaged there are chances of contamination. If we come to know of any complaint, we immediately disconnect it from our network and supply water from tankers. We have a good tanker system,” Rehman adds.

“No doubt the filtration plants are being maintained properly and hygienically, but our concern is when water goes into the system,” states Mohammad Javed, a resident of Islamabad.

Is the water enough for the residents of Islamabad? “Water shortage is beyond our control. Islamabad is rain fed. If there are adequate rains, we get sufficient water for the whole year. However, the problem is there, whether we acknowledge it or not. Currently, the available water is enough for Islamabad. The areas around Islamabad take care of their own requirement by installing tube wells and water pumps etc,” says Jamil ur Rehman.

“An average production is 64.5 mgd and normally this is our requirement. In summers we get a shortfall of 25 to 30 mg a day. The deficit is not that pinching in the winter months. The requirement is around 80 mg which matches the demand,” Rehman adds.

According to the Indus Water Plan, Islamabad will be getting additional 400 mgd water, which will be far more than the requirement of this capital city. The plan may take another two to three years to materialise.

Reports prepared by Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency, an attached department of the Ministry of Environment, show that many natural streams are polluted starting from Margalla Hills down to Pir Wadahi, where waste is directly discharged in these streams. Besides, there are a lot of tube wells all along these water streams.

It is very important to let the community know what the quality of water pumped in their houses is. Zia ul Islam, Director Monitoring Pak EPA feels that the public should question the efficiency of the service provider and create a pressure group.

“Unfortunately, our public is very ignorant when it comes to judging the quality of water. They still perceive running water as clean water. People only talk of water shortages; they never talk about the quality of water. But I think before taking a sip from a glass of water they should question themselves whether the water is safe or not,” he adds.

There are a number of agencies in Islamabad that are concerned with water monitoring such as Pakistan Council for Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), National Institute of Health (NIH) Pakistan Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR) and Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. However, lack of coordination and resources obstruct them from making full use of their expertise. “We have water quality standards but the issue is enforcement,” says Nadir Abbas, water and sanitation expert, based in Islamabad.

“At the moment no regular programmes for monitoring of water quality are implemented on a regular basis. Most quality testing is done at the planning or inception stages. Subsequent testing is limited to cases where problems are reported.” He believes rather than separate departments, water supply, solid waste and waste water should all be in one department. People don’t realise the need of linkages.

Abbas is convinced that provision of water to rural areas should be accompanied with a good sanitation system. Whenever water supply is improved, it becomes critical to check the sanitation and hygiene conditions of that area. People are ready to pay the cost of water but not a fraction of the cost on sanitation.

“To address poverty and increase productivity and to minimise social exclusions, Pakistan needs a coherent policy framework relating both to planning and investment in water and related areas of sanitation and drainage,” he adds.

Keeping in view the expansion plan, Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency has been raising the concern of water availability and scarcity. Although they are confident of the development activities under CDA, the major concern for the Agency is the mushroom growth of private housing schemes around Islamabad.

When questioned, the builders and owners of projects say they will be relying on ground water extraction. They have not done any ground work to assess the requirement or the quality; it’s not simply their concern. Pak EPA foresees that the inhabitants of the private housing schemes will face water problems as no feasibility study has been done as yet. They think that just digging a well will solve their problem.

The catchment area of this region is shrinking. Due to the activity going on here, the recharge is also going down. The aquifers are quite deep and receding with the passage of time. CDA has the ability and expertise to bring water from other sources, but what about others? What will be the catchment area? It’s just absurd. It’s not possible. An agency official expresses concern, “All these factors are of concern and we need to sensitise the community to question the authorities before getting a house or land there.”