HYDERABAD: As the world observes World Water Day today, millions of people in most flood-affected cities and towns of the province are forced to use underground brackish water because flood has rendered water supply system non-functional.
This year the day's theme is 'Water for cities: responding to the urban challenge” and its objective is to focus international attention on impact of rapid growth in urban population, industrialisation, uncertainties caused by climate change, conflicts and natural disasters and their impacts on urban water systems.
The theme looks more relevant as one looks at the situation in the nine cities worst hit by last year's flash floods. Govern- ment functionaries face a serious challenge to meet water needs of the population of these cities where floods have washed away 77 per cent of 451 water supply schemes.
Of the 451 schemes, 65 are in Dadu, 24 in Ghotki, 69 in Jacobabad, 57 in Kashmore, 8 in Qambar-Shahdadkot, 21 in Shikarpur, 20 in Larkana, 58 in Thatta and 69 are in Jamshoro, according to a study conducted by the Drip and Reclamation Institution of Pakistan (DRIP), which works under the Ministry of Science and Technology.
In-charge of DRIP's office in Tandojam, Mohammad Khan Mari, said that DRIP study carried out between December 2010 and January 2011 found that a water supply scheme, especially in rural areas, catered to need of 10,000 to 20,000 people and in urban settlement it reached 50,000 to 100,000 people.
The schemes which were completely uprooted would have to be rebuilt and the remaining however could be made functional, said the study.
According to a relatively old study referred to date by experts, 85 per cent of underground water in Sindh has turned brackish or saline.
Sweet water can be found only in 15 per cent area close to the river or located near old river course on the Indus' left bank.
Scarcity of sweet water, according to experts, is called 'confined aquifer' which recharges with rains and floods. Usage of water in agriculture sector contributes only two per cent to recharging aquifers.
In Sindh water table has dropped drastically due to excessive application of tube-well system, posing a serious threat to shallow water that may turn brackish if it is not recharged regularly with rains or floods.
Besides, river flows have not been adequate over the years.
“Sindh's water table has improved after floods and it has come up to 12 to 13 foot. Before floods, it had sunk down to 30 to 35 foot,” said Mr Mari.
He warned that once this sweet water became saline then it would remain saline or brackish and referred to the area around Thatta-Sujawal bridge where, he said, seawater had seeped to a depth of 30 foot.
“We will not be able to have any vegetation when the sea water will completely affect the area's land,” Mari remarked.
That was the reason, he said, the demand was made that 10MAF water should be released downstream Kotri barrage in order to repulse seawater intrusion and recharge aquifers.
Environmental expert Naseer Memon believes that 60 per cent of cultivable land in Sindh had been hit by twin menace of water-logging and salinity.
About 80 per cent groundwater in Sindh was brackish, which rendered it unfit for human consumption and at times for agricultural use too, he said.
Safe drinking water is a sub-indicator of millennium development goal (MDG) No-7 that pertains to environmental sustainability.
According to Memon, the country may miss this vital target which calls for provision of safe drinking water to 93 per cent of people by 2015 and government claims that 65% of population has already access to safe drinking water.
Water issue is attaining increasing significance in local and international relations. Whether it is inter-provincial discord or dispute between India and Pakistan water is the core issue.
Besides, there are worrying reports that next world war will be fought over water and the fear has perturbed peace activists in Pakistan and India. Therefore, they seek solution to all contentious issues between the tow neighbours.