ISLAMABAD: In a shocking revelation, the government on Monday disclosed in the National Assembly that an overwhelming majority of the cities, including the mega cities, in Pakistan do not have safe drinking water for citizens.
The data presented by federal Minister for Science and Technology Shibli Faraz on the floor of the house in response to a question asked by Mussarat Rafiq Mahesar of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) shows that out of the 29 cities where underground water was tested by the Pakistan Council of Research of Water Resources (PCRWR), there are 20 cities where more than 50 per cent water obtained from various sources was found to be unsafe.
The PCRWR has declared 100pc underground water in three cities — Mirpurkhas and Shaheed Benazirabad (Nawabshah) in Sindh and Gilgit — as unsafe for drinking.
The data surprisingly shows that the underground water obtained from nine sources each in Sialkot and Gujrat is 100pc safe for drinking purpose.
The other cities having more than 50pc of its underground water contaminated, according to the PSCRWR, are Multan (94pc); Karachi (93pc); Badin (92pc); Sargodha (83pc); Hyderabad (80pc); Bahawalpur (76pc); Muzaffarabad (70pc); Sukkur (67pc); Faisalabad (59pc); Peshawar (58pc); Tando Allah Yar (57pc); Sheikhupura, Abbottabad and Khuzdar (55pc); Loralai (54pc); Quetta (53pc) and Gujranwala (50pc).
The underground water was found to be contaminated with arsenic, iron, fluoride and bacteria. The minister said the water quality monitoring (2020-21) of other 29 cities of the country had revealed the prevalence of bacteriological contamination (39pc), followed by arsenic (8pc), nitrate (4pc) and fluoride (4pc) etc. Overall, he said, 38pc of the monitored water sources were found safe for drinking in 29 main cities.
“The first symptoms of long-term exposure to high levels of inorganic arsenic are usually observed in the skin, and include pigmentation changes, skin lesions and hard patched on the palms and soles of the feet (hyper Keratosis). These at later stages may result in developing skin cancer. Long-term exposure to arsenic may also cause cancers of the bladder and lungs,” said the minister.
When the questioner asked Mr Faraz to explain what steps the federal government had taken to provide safe drinking water to the citizens, the minister said water was a provincial matter after the passage of the 18th Amendment in Constitution. He said the job of his ministry was only to carry out tests of water through the PCRWR. He said the periodic water quality monitoring reports of the PCRWR were published and shared with the provincial and local governments for undertaking improvement measures at their end.
Mr Faraz said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab governments had approved water policy and laws related to improve water quality making it mandatory to check water once in a year. He advised the other provinces to also do the legislation in this regard.
Terming the situation worrisome and critical, the minister said the polluted water was the main cause of many diseases, including cancer, in the country. He said long-term consumption of arsenic beyond the safe level may result in various health implications. He asked the provincial authorities to take the matter seriously, saying that not everyone could afford mineral water for drinking.
The questioner has specifically asked the question about the presence of dangerous chemicals in underground water in Bahawalpur and whether the same water was being used by the people of Bahawalpur which was causing many diseases. In the second part of her question, she has sought details of other areas and cities of the country and the details of total projects of clean water launched by the government in different areas in this year.
The minister in his written reply stated that the PCRWR had been undertaking the periodic water quality monitoring of major cities of Pakistan since 2001. In 2020, he said, there was some improvement in drinking water quality due to installation of filtration plants in Bahawalpur, he said.
Earlier, opposition members — Naveed Qamar of the PPP and Murtaza Javed Abbasi of the PML-N — protested over the delay in the reply of the questions and asked the speaker to take notice of the situation, saying that it was a matter of the parliament’s prestige.
Mr Qamar particularly mentioned the question that had been asked by PML-N’s Tahira Aurangzeb in which she had asked about the name of cities where model courts were working at present.
In a written reply, Law Minister Farogh Naseem said, “the information is not available in the ministry as setting up of model courts is not the initiative of the federal government .... these courts are administered by the Supreme Court.” He said the registrar of the Supreme Court and the Federal Judicial Academy had been requested to provide the requisite information through many letters, but the information had not been provided yet.
Speaker Asad Qaiser declared that he would take up the matter with the registrar of the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the National Assembly once again failed to take up majority of the agenda items due to lack of quorum. As the speaker started taking up the legislative agenda, opposition MNA Shazia Sobia pointed out lack of quorum. After a head count, the speaker declared that the house was not in order and adjourned the sitting till Tuesday morning (today).
Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2021