RECENT analysis by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources of surface and groundwater samples from across Sindh reveals that water quality in the province has worsened — 80pc (from 75pc a few months ago) of sampled sources, including at educational institutions and tertiary-care hospitals, is now contaminated with pathogenic bacteria and unfit for human consumption. Add to this the extent to which the creeks of the Indus delta have been polluted with heavy metals and emerging cases of multidrug-resistant typhoid, and we have before us an environmental and public health crisis of devastating proportions. Unsafe water supply and inadequate sanitation are responsible for substantial economic and human losses. Children are the most vulnerable to preventable water-related diseases such as cholera, typhoid, hepatitis and polio; diarrhoeal diseases are the leading cause of infant and child deaths in the country. Sindh leads with the highest number of cases of diarrhoea as well as the highest number of deaths of children under five. This has placed a tremendous burden on the province’s already under-resourced public health sector.

Water pollution in Sindh appears direr than in the rest of the country, with the provincial government and administrative authorities largely responsible for the near total collapse of water and waste management systems. But this is just a microcosm of a larger issue: the state’s abdication of its obligation — as mandated by its commitment to the UN’s SDGs as well as the Supreme Court — to provide safe drinking water and sanitation facilities to all its citizens. The PCRWR estimates that 84pc of the country’s population lacks access to clean water. The concomitant disease burden is already more than the country can bear. Clean water is a fundamental prerequisite for Pakistan’s progress; no scheme to eradicate disease, ensure food and water security, improve livelihoods and boost the economy can succeed without a multidimensional policy to address environmental degradation, particularly the contamination of our most precious natural resource.

Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2017

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