Here in Pakistan I hear constant talk of people falling sick with hepatitis C, hepatitis B and tuberculosis from drinking contaminated water. The rate of diseases is also on the way up simply due to the dire lack of clean water. Recently I read a World Health Organisation (WHO) report which said that many other diseases like hepatitis types A & E, diarrhoea, and dysentery are also increasingly widespread. The reasons for such high incidences are readily discernible: faulty sanitation systems, inadequate post flood management, and the unregulated dumping of industrial waste in canals, rivers and the sea. As the WHO has shown in a fact sheet that Karachi’s untreated wastewater from domestic sewage and industrial estates is discharged directly into the Layari and Malir rivers that flow into the Arabian Sea.
Water pollution is a serious problem in Pakistan; 60% of the annual infant mortality rate is caused by water-borne infections. And there’s not much being done to control the situation – with no sustainable development/remedial programs from the Ministry of the Environment. Sometimes I see labourers working on the drainage or water systems in the streets but shortly afterwards and inevitably water gushes once more from the very same lines that were supposedly repaired or maintained. And this situation has only worsened after the recent floods in Pakistan. The disaster management taskforce has been trying to rebuild the infrastructure damaged by the floods but access to clean water is still very limited for the people affected. As there are no proper sanitation systems for these people, the water in nearby streams, lakes, and rivers soon becomes contaminated as well. I have been watching a lot of reports on TV about these conditions which cause diahorrea, skin diseases and hepatitis E and A among the flood victims. According to UAC news, “numerous children have died in an eruption of various stomach / intestinal diseases in the flood-hit areas.”
Nevertheless, there have been some efforts on a short-term basis from the people and from banks like the United Bank Limited (UBL) to provide clean water for internally displaced people by providing them with portable water purifiers. Many national and international NGOs are also trying to deal with the situation. Yet all these efforts are only a stop-gap solution. To my knowledge, there is no specific funding available to the Ministry of the Environment to deal with this critical situation. Above all, the Ministry of the Environment has been cut back on by the government, paralysing the whole system. The devolution of the Ministry, coupled with the lack of funding and a worsening environmental situation make for a truly daunting challenge. The government has to give proper financial support and make sustainable plans and policies if it is to address this problem. It would do well to follow Nepal’s lead and purchase the most economical and efficient technology for the long-term enhancement of the infrastructure. In my opinion, Pakistan has long faced a crisis in terms of installing sustainable water sources to ensure a ready supply of clean water to towns and cities. This situation just adds another dimension to the problems government authorities already have to tackle.
Alongside such domestic crises, Pakistan is also facing tremendous pressure from the rest of the world with regard to its environmental balance. Against such a backdrop we need to ask whether a politically, economically and environmentally struggling Pakistan will be able to handle the situation. Will it be a matter of priority or necessity? The only answer is that Pakistan needs to adopt a developmental and sustainable approach to its policy planning. Only then will the money loaned or received via aid be properly channeled into different programs to strengthen its infrastructure.
But to return to the water crisis in Pakistan, having been a frequent victim of one of the diseases mentioned above myself, I can readily understand the sheer plight of flood-affected people who are forced to live in the most unhygienic conditions. It makes me ask whether clean water isn’t an essential necessity for human beings? Isn’t access to water without danger to our health one of our basic rights? But who is there to ensure this right for us? And how can this right become a reality, if there is no proper management and no proper efforts made at government level to implement it?