AS tap water in Pakistan is of poor quality, many citizens — cutting across economic lines — opt for bottled water. Some estimates suggest 50 per cent of Pakistanis don’t have access to clean drinking water. Catering to this demand there has been considerable growth in the number of companies selling bottled water in the country. However, government regulation of the industry is, by all accounts, weak. As reported, high levels of arsenic have been found in samples of 10 brands of bottled water. According to the quarterly report of the Pakistan Council for Research in Water Resources, some of the samples contained levels of arsenic way over the allowable limit. Other samples were found to contain high levels of sodium and potassium. PCRWR officials say that after the errant brands are identified and their names made public, they shut down operations only to resurface after an interval with new names. Data collected by the PCRWR shows that over the past decade, every year the number of water brands declared unsafe remains consistently high; the fact the number is not going down means that while the reporting authorities appear to be doing their job, the state’s surveillance and enforcement mechanism is failing.
The number of brands declared unsafe may only be the tip of the iceberg, as in Karachi alone there are countless factories churning out substandard bottled water. Reports of corruption within the state’s quality-control mechanism persist, as it has been alleged that some brand owners pay off the inspection authorities. The Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority needs to improve its performance while those officials involved in fudging reports or not taking action against unsafe water brands need to be removed. Considering the risk contaminated water brands pose to public health, the state cannot afford to be complacent in this regard.