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Not a drop to drink!

By Dr. Asim Hussain

Seemingly our country is slowly but steadily heading towards water catastrophe which can be gauged from the two-thronged phenomenon. Yes on the hand, we are facing shortage of while on the other hand, the serious issue is that water pollution, which not only render our waters unfit for human consumption but also dangerous for animals lives. Leading experts on water resources are of the view that there is an in-sufficient awareness among the policy-makers of the impending water crisis in Pakistan, which is posing a threat to the country’s security, stability and environmental sustainability as well besides taking toll on the lives of the citizens and natural habitat. This impending water security issues was discussed in a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report, ‘Development Advocate Pakistan’. Pakistan’s water policy does not exist and key policy-makers unfortunately allocated the time for its review and approval. Pakistan is expected to face shortage of 31 million acre feet MAF of water by 2025 which would pose a grave threat to Pakistan’s economy and stability. Indian plan to build a dam on Wulur lake would affect the flow of water in Pakistan. Experts also point out the extreme variability of river flows season-wise- 84 per cent of flows in summer and only 16pc in winter-as a major problem. According to the report, with a Kharif to Rabi ratio of two to one, the seasonal needs were about 66pc in summer and 34pc in winter, showing surpluses of 18pc in summer and shortages of 18pc in winter. The surpluses of summer create floods, inflicting major damages to the infrastructure in the Indus plains and shortages in water disable Rabi crops from its optional yields. Owing to the lack of a strong government, this disability continues to hurt Pakistan and its economy. 18 million acre feet (MAF) of rainwater or hill torrent potential have not been realised in the overall policy framework. It is imperative that a comprehensive policy framework inclusive of river basin, groundwater and rainwater and hill torrents be developed and adopted to ensure sustainable use of scarce water resources. According to all indicators, Pakistan was rapidly becoming a water-scarce country, said Chairman of Pakistan Council of Research in water resources. However, there is little awareness of this looming disaster amongst stakeholders, particularly policy-makers and they cannot foresee the real picture of its repercussions on social and economic fronts. A report says that the draft ‘National Water Policy’ should be approved which provides policy guidelines for sustainable management of water resources, adding that provinces should develop their own strategies within the framework of the national water policy. On the other hand, Pakistan is not only short of water but the main issue is also that of water pollution which is becoming severe with the passage of time. As a matter of fact, water pollution has become a country-wide issue particularly in big cities. The two recent reports one regarding Karachi’s water and the other about Rawal Dam’s water situation are the cases in point. The reports have sparked heated debates in the public who are already having multitude of problems. The deplorable situation is the cause for disease outbreaks across the country. The reports are enough for declaring a health emergency. There seems to be no alternative to relaying the entire water supply system, something we may only dream of. The shocking truth about Karachi’s water supply is even worse than anyone could have expected. Over 90 percent of the city’s water supply is unfit for human consumption. The rather sickening fact that most of the city’s water supply is contaminated with human waste was revealed to the Sindh High Court (SHC) during a hearing on the continued failure of the Sindh government to provide clean drinking water. The situation in the rest of the province of Sindh is not much better, with over 70 percent of the water supply contaminated. The fact that it is the metropolis of Karachi that has the worst water supply is counter-intuitive, since it is supposed to have the most advanced and developed system of water supply. The situation is the water reserves. Human involvement in water supply design and maintenance has actually made it worse. What is likely is that the blame will continue to be shifted across departments. How can lethal bacteria be allowed to mix with drinking water? How can human waste be allowed to float in the water we use for cooking? The KWSB has dithered in its explanations – making statements that do not make sense such as the water quality being particularly poor in a particular area. Moreover, it must be reminded that basic chlorination is only one part of what needs to be done. The scale of the water problem needs to be investigated in full. More than that, a solution needs to be found. Now coming to the Rawal Dam, a report says that the sudden deaths of about 14,000 Sunehri fish in Rawal Dam last week raised the possibility that the largest supplier of water to Rawalpindi may pose a hazard to the health of its residents. The results from the first reports have not been encouraging. The Capital Development Authority laboratory tests found higher than normal levels of waste contamination in the water. The Chemical Oxygen Demand levels in Rawal Dam were found to be over 200 mg/litre – well above the acceptable international levels. However, it is the provincial government and not the CDA which is ultimately responsible for water safety in Rawal Dam and it has not yet reported the results of its own tests. The provincial government sent samples of the water and poisoned fish to laboratories across the country and restored the supply of water to Rawalpindi after getting an all-clear from the Water and Sanitation Authority, the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources and the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency. The Punjab government now needs to release the full results of all the tests it carried out so that it can be reconciled with the worrying findings of the CDA. We already knew that the water in Rawal Dam was not fit for human consumption until it had been further treated or boiled. But the poisoning of the fish raises the danger that it may still be deadly. The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources has previously found that only 72 percent of water supply schemes are functional and out of those 84 percent supply water that is not fit to be consumed. The water is frequently contaminated by agents like arsenic and so more than 40 percent of the population does not have access to clean water. The problem is particularly acute in rural areas and smaller provinces. Needless to say, the blame for this can be placed squarely on a state which has never taken seriously its duty to provide the public with essential human rights like clean water. The problems at Rawal Dam are a mere drop in the ocean. Certainly, we need to get to the bottom of how it got so polluted that thousands of fish were killed but doing that will only be a start. We need to overhaul how regularly water is tested and, above all, need a change in the mindset of a government that is not used to the idea that it exists to serve the people. It is unlikely that other provincial governments are doing much better to clean up their water supply. To conclude one may say that Pakistan is not only turning into a water-scarce country, but also a country with bulk water not fit for human consumption and also determinate other living beings particularly the water species and flora and fauna. To be very specific, water crisis is one of the biggest issues of Pakistan. Pakistan is at the 17th position in the list of the countries, which are facing water crisis. Some people do not have water to drink and they are compelled to drink unsafe water, which is full of darts. These small dangerous bacteria make the people sick and it is more painful to say that if some people in Pakistan have a small amount of water they start wasting it; they do not bother to save water for the poor. Just imagine, in some areas people are dependent upon rains and monsoon downpours when water flows down the rivers and also goes down the land surface to raise the underground water level utilised for irrigation and drinking purposes. According to Pakistan Water Partner(PWP), the total available surface water is about 153 million MAF and the total ground water reserves are approximately 24 MAF, of which a substantial part is pumped out without allowing for a natural research. The population of Pakistan will be doubled by the year 2025 and hence the consumption of the underground water will also add to the problem further aggravated by the factors of the global warming and the climate change. Today in the modern world Pakistan has the largest contiguous irrigation system in the world. 68 MAF is potentially usable water. If the canal system is adequately repaired and maintained, sweet water availability of approximately 144 MAF and 97% is already being used in agriculture and agricultural owners demands for more and more water to grow sugar cane and rice crops. In the monsoon season in 8% plants will be cultivated but that is without irrigation.

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