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ISLAMABAD: Facing a grim water situation, Pakis­tan plans to adopt the United Nations’ Decade (2018-28) of Action: Water for Sustainable Development programme envisaging integrated water resou­rces management including seawater treatment for Karachi, Gwa­dar, Pasni, Jiwani, Keti Ban­dar and other coastal areas.

This was the crux of a consultative session attended by local and international consultants and representatives of the federal and provincial governm­ents and companies, arranged by the Pla­nning Commission as part of its efforts to implement the country’s first Natio­nal Water Policy recently approved by the Council of Common Interests (CCI).

The conference was told that Pakistan was a water-scarce country and its availability was likely to further reduce and make it more vulnerable on supply side due to upstream water use by India, Afghanistan and China. Moreover, Pakis­tan’s water scarcity will inc­rease due to climate change and enhanced demand due to urbanisation, industrial dev­e­­lopment, population inc­rease, changes in life patterns and food consumption patterns, increased GDP and higher irrigation requirements due to global warming.

The session was told that groundwater aquifers, due to unsustainable withdrawal of water, had dangerously declined in Quetta and Lahore while out of 43 canal command areas, 37 had shown drastic decrease in groundwater level, with alarming consequences.

Groundwater quality has been deteriorating due to excessive mining, causing aquifer mixing of saline water and pollutants, including heavy metals like arsenic, lead and fluoride, while surface and ground water are also contaminated by pathogens due to mixing of sewerage and industrial wastewater contamination.

The conference noted that water borne-diseases generally included conventional diseases like malaria and typhoid, but now hepatitis was also increasing as reported from the districts of Gujranwala and Bahawalnagar, Rivers of Ravi, Sutluj, Malir and Lyari are now filled with sewage whereas Islamabad’s fresh water streams are now causing health hazards. Likewise, the greater Karachi area has damaged aqua life and water quality in the coastal areas.

The session recognised that the cosmopolitan city of Karachi and the emerging commercial hub of Gwadar required seawater treatment to meet their growing water demands for which innovative models should be devised for financial sustainability of the system.

It noted that solar desalination was highly suitable option for Keti Bandar, Tha­tta and Badin in Sindh and Ormara, Pasni and Jiwani in Balochistan and suggested that measures should be adopted to promote this technology in these areas.

Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2018