Welcome to Pakistan. A slowly progressing South Asian country sitting in a key location within a world increasingly effected by globalization. It has progressed in recent years under the tenure of General President Pervaiz Musharraf in the areas of sports, corporate business, export, agriculture, banking infrastructure, communications. Additionally, the media which will soon have, if all goes according to plan, 52 channels and 120 FM radio stations but in the last decade Pakistan has gone to even such lengths to progress in nuclear technology alongside India that it was willing to risk the repercussions of economic sanctions. What about the basic necessities that the citizens of a country should rightfully have? Significant portions of the federal budget are being spent to develop only a few sectors while others are being completely disregarded. Easy access to clean drinking water is not common in Pakistan. It is in fact a luxury, and most of us who have it, take it for granted. In Dawn’s May 28th 2004 edition, it was reported that:
“The government would allocate a considerable sum for social sector development in the forthcoming budget with particular emphasis on education, health and community betterment, said the chairman of Senate, Mohammad Mian Soomro, on Thursday.
Mr Soomro said the country experienced frequent bouts of water shortage. It also ranked among some of the countries reporting more and more cases of water-borne diseases, with particular reference to cholera and gastro-enteritis which could be cited as an outcome of poor infrastructure as well as negligible level of comprehension among the people about prevention.”
And two years later in the June 12th 2006 edition:
Safe drinking water act, likely to be enacted this year, would set technical and supply standards for municipal bodies and make them accountable to the general public.
The Ministry of Environment has proposed the Act in its National Water Drinking Policy. The Act will declare safe drinking water a fundamental human right and the responsibility of the State.
It is welcoming to hear that government is finally signing deals with USAID two years later, other institutes and organizations to increase the distribution of clean drinking water to a projected 30 million Pakistanis and it is personally a relief to hear that safe drinking water will soon finally be acknowledged as a fundamental human right. Unfortunately till now it appears that such projects have been taking a backseat to investment in road and other basic infrastructure developments. Our education, health and community are more vital factors for our very existence than roads and underpasses, which serve as secondary requirements to society.
After all, water is a basic necessity. It is every human’s right to have access to clean drinking water. Time flies by while people are preoccupied in various worldly affairs. All of a sudden a new study done by ecologists shows that the marine environment will cease to exist by 2048. How far have we progressed since embracing Scientism? Has it comes down to this? In a world of advance technology and modern development, we have forgotten our environment, our very own ecosystem, which encompasses our lives. Things need to slow down and critical organs need to be looked at under the microscope. Let us then examine the actual drinking water conditions in our own country.
Residents living in Karachi’s elite Defense and Clifton districts will vouch at any given opportunity that they are not one bit satisfied with the water they receive. Their complaints vary from household to household. Some will complain of an erratic supply of water while others will complain about the salty taste or the bad odor. Whatever the reason may be, they are not happy and so they have to further burden themselves by subscribing to bottled water on a monthly basis or installing a filter. These are the privileged few sitting in the healthy portion of Pakistan. I say Pakistan and not Karachi for two reasons. The first reason being that they at least have a backup plan, an alternative to choose in the absence of a vital basic necessity. Unlike most of the country, Karachi apart from other developed cities is home to the water-bottled business with companies like AVA, Culligan and Fontalia etc.
The second reason is far more alarming and should definitely give the reader a newsflash on the actual drinking water conditions for Pakistanis. More than 40 % of the 600MGD (water) supplied to Karachi is lost through leaks and theft from the main distribution system. The main water sources for the city are the Kinjher and Halayjee lakes in the eastern part of Karachi that supply the city with water from the Indus River. The second source of water is the Hub Dam that has been designed to capture rainwater. As far as sewage is concerned, there are only three treatment plants for water and sewage in Pakistan. All three of them are in Karachi. I repeat, all three of them are in Karachi.
Only two out of three treatment plants are operational, and it’s a good time to relocate yourself to a more comfortable seating arrangement because there is more bad news.
Pakistan has a growing population of 166 million people and Karachi’s population is nearly one tenth of that with about 15~16 million people. Out of those 15~16 million people only a small portion of people around a million are actually receiving treated drinking water, while everyone else in the country is receiving either no water or poison. This is the ground reality of the sanitation and health conditions within Pakistan.
Of the three treatment plants in Karachi, the first two were built in the early sixties and the third was built during 1994-1998. These treatment plants are operated by the KWSB. The three sewage treatment plants (TPs) are:
1. TP-1 located at S.I.T.E (operational)
2. TP-2 located at Mehmoodabad (not operational)
3. TP-3 located at Maripur (operational)
So not only are there only two workings plants in the entire country, located in the same city but on the top of all those circumstances, they don’t even work up to their optimum capacity. Making sure that we do not to digress the topic off into a tangent and start talking in detail about the situation in Karachi. Let us return to the main point of this article.
We are sitting on a huge crisis. After terrorism and a natural disaster, a water crisis seems inevitable. Basic human rights are openly violated in our county as diseases and other health related issues are slowly wiping out generations. The problem of water affects us all. The future of Pakistan’s children is in jeopardy as they are receiving it in poor quality, which only helps increase the infant mortality rate. Our senior citizens and elderly are consuming it as well at a time when their bodies are prone to illness. Others including ourselves are also caught into the loop in forms of weak immune systems and dependency on off-the-shelf medication.
Taken from the UNCIEF Pakistan website:
• According to Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey 2004-5, 84 percent of people in Pakistan have access to improved drinking water; up from 53 percent in the late eighties.
• The available quantity of water is inadequate and the quality of water is poor due to pollution from chemicals, including arsenic, nitrate, fluoride and bacteriological contamination.
• Only just over a third of households have access to latrines; however this varies greatly between rural and urban areas. Latrine access is 94 percent in urban areas and 60 percent in rural areas.
• Overall, 64 percent of primary schools do not have sanitary latrines and 46 percent of schools lack safe drinking water.
• Girls and women are particularly affected by low sanitation and water coverage. Many households do not have latrines on their premises. Women and girls need to wait for nightfall to relieve themselves in surrounding open fields or forests, a risk for their health and security.
• Because of Pakistan’s unsafe water supply and low sanitation coverage, as well as people’s poor hygiene habits, around 60 percent of children suffer from diarrhea, a disease that is life-threatening if not treated in time.
These are clear indications that important sectors of the country with health in first place, have missed the development train driven by the current government. People in general do have an idea of the awful situation in the country but they don’t have the exact picture. I can only hope such news will shake people enough to think again before they take another sip of bottled or filtered water.