Dirty water: Punjab’s contaminated supply
By Khawaja Naseer
LAHORE: World Water Day is being marked today to build efforts to better manage global water supplies. Local efforts will focus on six districts that have long suffered from unsafe water – Lahore, Faisalabad, Kasur, Rawalpindi, Dera Ghazi Khan, Bahawalpur – though other areas are also in need.
Sources in the Punjab Environment Department told Daily Times on Sunday that during last year two-thirds of the samples collected from 14 districts in the Punjab during a geological survey showed the water damaging to health.
64 per cent showed a high concentration of bacteria, 10 per cent contained fluoride while one per cent contained arsenic. 20 per cent of the samples were brackish, nine per cent tasted unpleasant, three per cent emanated a foul smell and four per cent were discoloured.
One senior doctor Aftab Mohsan, claims that 99 percent of reported cases of hepatitis A and E are due to the arrival of polluted water into affected drinking and sanitation systems.
Provincial environment minister Mukhdoom Ishfaq Ahmad blamed industry, accusing businesses of discharging waste into rivers and streams, eventually contaminating drinking water.
Pervez Iftikhar, deputy managing director of the Lahore Water and Sanitation Authority (WASA), said that a Rs six billion repair package for the city has been approved, to replace the current 100-year-old system.
Environment Department officials say that the contaminated districts are suffering because of water shortages, an insufficient pipe system to deliver water, leaks, and contaminated supplies.
The Environment Department study began last year, and covered a cross-section of provincial districts, 20 samples being collected from each. Following the study, the EPD the health department act to determine how many people are suffering from the effects of drinking contaminated water.
It has also recommended that all water supply agencies should adopt measures to provide clean drinking water to people. The department has also proposed a ban on industries that pollute water.
Another recommendation was that all tehsil municipal administrations (TMAs) should prepare an action plan for effective drainage and clean water supply in the area within their jurisdiction.
Also proposed was a government move to develop standards for measuring pollution locally rather than adopting the WHO standards. Environment Department officials said that the department would conduct a water sample survey in the remaining districts from July 2004.
In some areas, they said, sewage mixed with drinking water or seeped into leaks in supply pipes. However, people often contributed to the problem by neglecting to replace old water pipes in their houses and clean their water tanks.
According to a study by the Water Resource Strategy, over 25,000 people are suffering from various diseases in Lahore because of contaminated water.
However, despite these surveys, Mr Iftikhar denied that Lahoris were suffering from polluted water supplies, though he did confirm that a few areas experience problems in water quality. Mr Iftikhar put the problem in Lahore at consumer level.
Asked about the 20 to 25 daily complaints about water quality that WASA receives, Mr Iftikhar replied that the authority had set up several scouring points around the city to resolve the complaints urgently.
Defending the efficiency of his department, the provincial minister said the problem was the responsibility of the district governments and the Environment Department was monitoring the issue continuously.
He also blamed the leather and textile industries for contamination. Giving a provincial breakdown of polluted water areas, Mr Iftikhar said that in the Punjab Faislabad, Kasur and Lahore faced serious threats due to their industrial areas.
No especial arrangements has been made at government level to celebrate World Water Day. Instead, the Lahore Chamber and Commerce and Industry arranged a seminar.