2.1 Million Parched: Pakistan's Water Crisis Demands Urgent Action
The World Health Organisation (WHO) emphasises the importance of clean water access as an essential tool for improving public health.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) emphasises the importance of clean water access as an essential tool for improving public health. Unfortunately, Pakistan faces significant challenges in ensuring access to safe water, leading to a water crisis and sanitation issues. Approximately 2.1 million Pakistanis lack access to safe water, contributing to an Extremely High Water Stress classification by the World Resources Institute.  

The consequences of poor water availability are alarming, with around 27.2 million people in Pakistan consuming unsafe water. Waterborne diseases, accounting for 80% of all diseases and 33% of deaths in the country, pose a severe public health threat.  

Industrialization, urbanization, and rapid population growth have strained Pakistan’s water resources. The KPK province, despite having 80% clean drinking water, faces challenges in maintaining water quality due to poor sanitation systems.  

Fecal coliform concentrations in various cities have surpassed safe limits, reaching as high as 1100 CFU/100 mL, as reported in a 2017 Pakistan study. Contaminated water sources are linked to technological development, pesticide contamination from cotton farms in Multan and Punjab provinces, and improper industrial waste disposal.

Islamabad and Rawalpindi experience high levels of contamination, with 94% and 34%, respectively, contributing to a prevalence of waterborne diseases like cholera, dysentery, hepatitis, and diarrheal diseases. A recent flood has worsened the situation by contaminating water sources, impacting over 10 million people in areas that lack access to safe drinking water.

Rajanpur, Pakistan, suffered severe water shortages after the flood, leading to increased waterborne diseases, malnutrition, and child mortality.  

Hepatitis A and E, waterborne diseases causing liver inflammation, are prevalent in Pakistan and are transmitted through contaminated food and water ingestion or direct contact with an infectious person.   The use of untreated water in Islamabad has led to a high incidence of hepatitis E. A study in Khairpur Mirs, Pakistan, from July to September 2022, revealed a high prevalence of waterborne diseases, with hepatitis accounting for 51% of cases.

Poor drinking water quality in Sindh, Pakistan, increases the daily risk of Hepatitis A virus (HAV) in primary schools, with a 66% annual risk.  

A study in Karachi, Pakistan, found 59 confirmed Hepatitis A and E cases among 109 individuals, with a leak in a drinking water pipeline being linked to the highest attack rate. In 2017, a hepatitis A outbreak in Shakrial, Rawalpindi, Pakistan, was attributed to risk factors like raw vegetable consumption, poor handwashing, etc.

Poliovirus causes acute poliomyelitis, a communicable disease in children that is often caused by poor hygiene in underdeveloped countries and transmitted through oral-faecal and respiratory tract routes.   Preventative measures and treatment for waterborne diseases require advancements in water sanitation and hygiene facilities.

Various solutions for water treatment include the Multiple Tube Fermentation technique that detects coliform bacteria in water, with gas presence indicating a positive presumptive test. The hydrogen sulphide test produces a black colour in iron-rich growth medium. Microarrays identify specific genes for waterborne pathogens, including viruses.

Carbon nanotubes provide an eco-friendly, low-cost, and frictionless alternative to reverse osmosis technology for water treatment, offering antimicrobial benefits.  

Pakistan has implemented a full-scale floating treatment wetland (FTW) to improve water quality in a crude oil wastewater pit at one site of OGDCL, removing organics, hydrocarbons, and heavy metals within 6 months. The treatment cost was reduced to US$0.0033 per m3, benefiting local communities and providing a new habitat for native bird species. A study in Faisalabad also found floating treatment wetlands to be an efficient phytoremediation method for treating sewage and industrial wastewater.

Biological treatment methods, including the activated sludge method, bioreactors, and microbial degradation by bacteria, fungi, yeast, and microalgae, offer environmentally friendly and cost-effective alternatives to traditional treatments.

The study of 2018 successfully combined an aerobic granular sequencing batch reactor (SBR) and the photo-Fenton process for cattle manure wastewater treatment.   Furthermore, there are sophisticated treatment methods that can successfully eradicate viruses from water, including membrane filtering, ozonation, and ultraviolet (UV) disinfection. By using these techniques, it is possible to guarantee that water for human consumption is free from viruses.  

In conclusion, the water crisis in Pakistan puts millions at risk with limited access to safe water, leading to widespread waterborne diseases. The integration of biotechnological solutions offers sustainable solutions for waterborne diseases.

Immediate implementation of advanced water treatment technologies, including floating wetlands and biological methods, is essential to address health challenges and uplift water quality.