Experts have warned of a Karachi-like water scarcity in Lahore due to over-abstraction of the water and the inordinate delay in implementing Punjab Municipal Water Act. To augment the water supply, the provincial government planned to introduce the Punjab Municipal Water Act and Punjab Drinking Water Policy in 2013.

The Punjab Municipal Water Act and Punjab Drinking Water Policy, a copy of which is available with Pakistan Today, aimed to recognise, regulate and manage present and future municipal water in Lahore and Punjab. The bill even mentions a strict penalty for the violators of any standard of municipal water use and fine in case of usage of ground water for domestic use without registration with the local government.

But the work on the bill is going at a snail’s pace. “The bill and policy are licking the dust in the department. No one is serious about the issue.  The authorities will wake up only when people will be crying for water in Lahore like Karachi,” said a source in Housing, Urban Development and Public Health Engineering Department, who wished not to be named.

However, Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) Deputy Managing Director Qadeer Khan said that the draft of Punjab Municipal Water Act is ready and will be presented before the Punjab Assembly for legislation. After the signature of Punjab governor, it will become law for effective use of water.

In an interview with Pakistan Today, he admitted that a Karachi-like water shortage may hit Lahore if concrete steps are not taken in this regard.

“There is more water abstraction in Lahore than ground water recharge. It is not possible to recharge ground water easily.  We had requested the Punjab Irrigation Department to assist us and conduct a study. The study was initially delayed for two years.”

But, Qadeer added, “we are taking steps to utilise surface water instead of ground water and the Punjab Irrigation Department is conducting a feasibility report on our request. Consultants have been hired for this purpose. The study will be completed in August and will guide us how to utilise surface water”.

A World Wide Fund-Pakistan (WWF) report on water resources in Lahore highlighted that the groundwater is depleting by about 0.55 m (1.5 ft) per annum due to excessive extraction.

Renowned water expert Dr Munawar Sabir, also a professor of Geology at the Punjab University, criticised the authorities concerned for not enacting the Punjab Municipal Water Act. “The water situation is ultimately worsening in Lahore. The authorities committed same negligence in Karachi. Industries are also polluting the groundwater [which is a] serious issue and should be taken up at the earliest,” Dr Munawar said while speaking to Pakistan Today.

Dr Munawar suggested shifting all soft drinks and water supply companies outside the city. “Soft drink companies and so-called mineral water supply companies are pumping huge ground water and supplying it in different cities.” Likewise, he further said, all industries, especially tanneries, should be shifted outside Lahore.

“Today, more than half population of Lahore is consuming contaminated water and is at the risk of hepatitis, cholera, and typhoid,” he added.