Safe drinking water plan is a pipe dream


LAHORE – Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has called for the inclusion of legislators to mature the Punjab Drinking Water Policy, further delaying its implementation, amidst alarming levels of water pollution in the province.
The first ever Punjab Drinking Water Policy, which has been pending over the last six months, is supposed to regulate quantity and quality of drinking water by addressing the institutional, administrative, legal, regulatory, fiscal, social and environmental issues faced by urban and rural population.
According to a senior official in Housing, Urban Development and Public Health Engineering Department, the policy had to take effect after its approval in October 2010. However, the Punjab CM delayed its implementation and directed the officials to take on board MPAs and MNAs in policymaking. He said that around 40 parliamentarians were being consulted on the policy.
“They seldom appear in the discussions and those who show up in the meetings either have scanty knowledge about drinking water or have least interest to talk on the issue,” he said. Terming the parliamentarians as a stumbling rock in the approval of policy, he said that the department conveyed to the Punjab CM and his senior adviser Sardar Zulfiqar Ali Khosa about lacklustre attitude of the legislators, but they ignored all concerns.
Public Health Engineering Department Deputy Secretary (Technical) Salman Yousaf told Pakistan Today that the policy was being drafted in the light of National Drinking Water Policy 2009. He said that policy had been prepared in consultation with agencies such as the WHO, UNICEF, NRSP and NGOs. Secretaries of various departments also joined in drafting the policy and the department also sent the policy to the CM for its final approval but he ordered inclusion of parliamentarians in the policymaking, he said, hoping that the policy would be approved soon.
REPORTS: A study of the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) revealed that the water quality problems were caused by the contamination of hazardous industrial wastes including persistent toxic synthetic organic chemicals, heavy metals, pesticides, municipal wastes and untreated sewage water into natural water bodies. It said higher arsenic contents (WHO limit for arsenic is 10 ppb) were found in some samples collected from eight cities.
Sixty percent of total samples were obtained from Bahawalpur, 7 percent from Gujranwala, 30 percent from Kasur, 31 percent from Lahore, 75 percent from Multan and 45 percent from Sheikhupura. It recommended installing ozonators on each tubewell for decontamination. Similarly, use of lead pipes or plastic pipes having lead contents must be discouraged, it added. According to the report, ‘Pakistan’s Water at Risk’ released by World Wide Fund, water supply system in Punjab had dangerously high levels of arsenic and fluorine.
The report said only one percent of wastewater was treated by industries before being discharged into rivers and drains. Major industrial contributors to water pollution were petrochemicals, paper and pulp, food processing, tanneries, refineries, textile and sugar mills, the report said.
MPAS’ MEETING: Sources in the CM secretariat told Pakistan Today that recently an important meeting of members of the Punjab Assembly was held in chair with the Sardar Zulfiqar. The meeting said policy would ensure provision of safe drinking water to 80 percent of urban and 64.65 percent of rural population in Punjab.
During the meeting, it was revealed that 44 million of total 90 million population in Punjab, was consuming bacteria-contaminated water. The meeting disclosed the presence of excessive arsenic contamination in many cities of Punjab including Sheikhupura, Lahore, Kasur, Multan, RY Khan and Bahawalpur. In addition to this, approximately 116,013 children under the age of five in Pakistan die each year because of diarrhoea.
This translates into 13 children per hour (eight children per hour in Punjab), meeting added.
POLICY DRAFT: As per Draft of Punjab Drinking Water Policy available to Pakistan Today less than 50 percent of population has access to piped drinking water. The percentage of rural population that has access to clean drinking water is even less than 30 percent. The draft observes water level depletion due to excessive mining of underground water and decreasing recharge of aquifers.
The draft says that there is unchecked wastage of sweet drinking water as a result of lack of awareness, absence of regulatory frameworks, non-existence of demand management tools like consumer meters and highly inappropriate tariffs. It said that water recharge was also affected by growing and unbridled urbanization which was resulting in concretization of land.
It questioned the capacity of urban municipal institutions at all level in planning, implementation and monitoring of water supply programmes and sustainable operation and maintenance of water supply systems.