Yawning need for water quality

WATER IS an essential element for our survival. Unfortunately, Pakistan despite having blessed with adequate surface and groundwater resources is experiencing deteriorating water quality as well as quantity chiefly due to the rapid population growth and urbanisation. Contamination of lakes, rivers and groundwater has consequently increased waterborne diseases and other health impacts. According to the statistics, per capita water availability in the country has slashed from 5,000 cubic meters per annum in 1951 to 1,100 cubic meters currently, which is just above the internationally recognized scarcity rate. Water experts project that water availability in Pakistan will be less than 700 cubic meters per capita by 2025. Groundwater is the major source of drinking water in the country. About 80 per cent of Punjab has fresh groundwater, but in Sindh, less than 30 per cent of groundwater is fresh. In NWFP, increasing abstraction has resulted in wells now reaching into saline layers, and much of Balochistan has saline groundwater. The dominating factor of deteriorated water quality is the very little separation of municipal wastewater from industrial effluent as both elements flow directly into open drains, which then flow into nearby natural water bodies and ultimately stream into agriculture lands. About 40 million residents depend on irrigation water for their domestic use, especially in areas where the groundwater is brackish. The associated health risks are grave, as bacteriological contamination of irrigation water often exceeds WHO limits even for irrigation. Major industrial contributors to water pollution in the country are the petrochemicals, paper and pulp, food processing, tanneries, refineries, textile and sugar industries. About 5.6 million tons of fertilizesr and 70,000 tons of pesticides are consumed every year. Pesticides, mostly insecticides, are sprayed on the crops mix with the irrigation water, which reach through the soil and enters groundwater aquifers. A comparison of the quality of surface water with the effluent discharge standard clearly demonstrates the extent of pollution in the water bodies due to the discharge of industrial and municipal effluent. Presently, there is no regular monitoring programme to assess the water quality of the surface and groundwater bodies. There is no surface water quality standard or drinking water quality standard and the relevant authorities should develop policies and approaches for bringing water withdrawal into balance with recharge. The provision of water and sanitation services especially in urban areas is inadequate, inequitable, and highly inefficient and generally failed to meet water quality standards. The government needs to come up with defining the policy, aims and objectives besides, strengthening of institutions and capacity building. Until and unless better water management practices especially reuse and conservation are adopted, the dream of water quality as well as quantity would remain a distant dream.

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