ISLAMABAD: All bottled water companies operating in Pakistan are selling “artificial” water instead of natural water, the head of the Pakistan Council for Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday.

PCRWR Chairman Dr Mohammad Aslam Tahir also told the National Assembly Standing Committee on Science and Technology: “No other country allows bottled water companies to sell artificial water to its people.”

He was using the term ‘artificial’ water to describe water to which minerals are artificially added.

The committee met for a briefing on the PCRWR’s performance.

The council conducts research into various parts of the water sector, including quality and management.

Science and Technology Secretary retired Capt Nasim Nawaz remarked that bottled water companies had played it smart by not calling their products mineral water.

Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry told the committee that the government is spending $800 million, or 1.4pc of the GDP, to treat patients of waterborne diseases.

He told committee members that the water in the Ministers Enclave and Parliament Lodges is also contaminated.

The committee took up several matters pertaining to poor water quality and water waste, particularly in the agriculture sector.

Dr Tahir said that 55 million acre feet of groundwater is extracted nationwide, while the aquifer is recharged at 45m acre feet, creating a deficit of 10m acre feet.

“In 1961, residents of Islamabad could draw water roughly 15 meters deep. Today, people have to bore 600 meters to pump ground. Similarly, in Lahore, the aquifer has depleted to such deep levels that water is contaminated with arsenic,” he said.

He emphasised water storage, saying: “Pakistan has a storage capacity of 14m acre feet or the capacity to store water for 30 days, well below the international standard of 90 days. India can store water for 130 days, well above international requirements.”

India is building 11 more dams, while Japan is building 45 and Iran and Turkey 60 each.

“This comparison is necessary to draw attention to the importance other countries give to increasing water storage capacity,” Dr Tahir said, adding that Pakistan lost 54m acre feet of water in the 2010 floods because of a lack of dams.

Both the minister and the PCRWR chairman urged the committee to recommend greater funding for research. Dr Tahir told committee members that his office did not get any research funding in the 2018-19 budget, and “we did not get any budget for research in this financial year either.”

He said that the entire budget for the research and development (R&D) under the science and technology minister is 0.3pc of the GDP.

“Israel dedicates 4pc of its GDP for R&D. Israel’s investment into R&D is more than the entire budget of the country,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2019