Potable water back then

June 04, 2023

Could we predict then that one day we would be buying water from a shop?

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Safe drinking water can save people some money they might to spend otherwise on health related issues. — Photo by Rahat Dar


o we drink water directly from a tap, like many of us would do in our homes and schools when we were kids? Clean drinking water was never an issue back then, at least for us thirsty pack of boys returning from school a few days before the summer holidays or playing football under the scorching sun of June.

I cannot recall any of us carrying a mineral water bottle or one taken from the refrigerator. As soon as we felt thirsty, we would rush to the nearest water tap available. The more adventurous among us would not mind taking a gulp or two from the hose pipe amid a short break in our cricket match.

I think our parents, too, were never particularly worried about where we would be getting water from when we got thirsty.

Was water that safe to drink back then? Could we predict then that one day we would be buying water from a shop? Lack of availability of clean water was not conceivable at that time, in the late 1980s, to be precise.

Fast forward to the present day. Our kids take filtered water to school or a playground with them. Today, it has to be either bottled/ mineral water or water bought from the filtration plant — ie if there is one located nearby. Companies that deal in bottled water have a field day. Their businesses have thrived due to the unavailability of safe tap water.

One reason for this scarcity of safe drinking water is that the city has expanded horizontally and at a fast pace. While the population has increased, the water table has gone down.

The old and damaged water and sewerage pipes have made matters even worse. Unsafe drinking water causes diseases, such as diarrhea, typhoid, intestinal worms and hepatitis that can result in deaths. Safe drinking water can save people some money they might have to spend otherwise on health related issues. It can save lives.

Local governments have claimed and will continue to claim that they are very serious about providing safe drinking water to the citizens, citing the number of filtration plants installed in the city. But there doesn’t seem to be a mechanism to monitor the plants, to inform the tax-paying citizens when the filter of a plant in their area expires and is replaced with a new one.

Cleanliness of a filtration plant is another issue. Stray dogs and cats are often seen using the premises.

Interestingly, the word potable comes from the Latin potare, meaning “to drink”. It is said that the Romans came up with the word and built some of the world’s first above-ground channels that brought potable water from the mountains to the cities.

Some countries or cities of the world don’t seem to take the matter seriously. Lahore is one of them. A Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) report, titled Water Quality Status of Major Cities in Pakistan (2015-16), warns: “By all indicators, Pakistan is fast becoming a water-scarce country. In Pakistan, more than 90 percent of the drinking water is ground water, which is being recharged by extensive irrigation network of the Indus basin. However, rapid increases in population, urbanisation, industrialisation and agriculture related activities have imposed great pressure on the existing water resources, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The quality of surface and groundwater has a direct impact on the health and well-being of the people...”

The report concludes, “To achieve the Sustainable development Goal 6 (Target 6.1) we have to reach up to the provision of 100 percent safe drinking water by 2030.” It says that to achieve the goal, the pace of improvement should be three times faster.

That’s a huge task indeed. Not impossible, though; if there’s a will. For one thing, the local governments must prioritise the availability of safe drinking water, one of the basic necessities of modern, healthy and sustainable living. Maybe one day, we can go back in time, turn on the tap, and drink from it without a worry, the way we used to, back then. Water would not be an issue any longer.

The writer is a staff member

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