Water is a basic necessity of life. Since access to water has been recognised as a human right, the obligation to provide clean and safe drinking water across the globe has fallen on various government agencies.
However, over one billion people across the globe do not have access to basic water supplies. Nearly half of the developing world’s population suffers from an assortment of diseases because water supply remains contaminated.
The growing population across the world has lowered the level of ground water – particularly in the densely populated parts of the world like South Asia, Africa and China. Several policy efforts have been made at the global level to address the plight of the vulnerable sections of society. But these efforts have yet to yield the expected results. Since the mid-1990s, the privatisation of water services has been billed as the solution to providing water to people who do not have access to potable water in developing countries.
Consequently, public resistance has been witnessed towards the initiatives taken for the privatisation of water. One such example is the movement against water privatisation in Bolivia. The privatisation of water services has failed to bring water to the people in the impoverished city of El Alto, Bolivia where people have been charged for a basic water connection. After a failed attempt at privatisation in Bolivia in the late 1990s, the Cochabamba Declaration was introduced in 2000, in which the emancipation of water was declared an inviolable right.
While Pakistan is not a water-scarce country, poor management, the improper water infrastructure and an inequitable access to water have created problems for an ever-increasing population. According to a World Bank Report, Pakistan currently ranks among the top 17 water-scarce countries and this shortage is rapidly proliferating. Around 38.5 million people do not have access to clean and safe water and potable water is becoming a rare commodity across the country. This implies that the lack of water availability is not the only concern for the country. Instead, inefficient water management is at the core of Pakistan’s water crisis while the government is oblivious to this issue.
Under limited funding constraints, the government has failed to provide its citizen with better water and sewerage facilities. This has left people with no option but to buy water at exorbitant prices. Multinational companies have come up with bottled water that is targeted at a large section of the population – particularly the middle and upper class. These privately-owned companies are actively involved in extracting water from local underground springs and thereby draining water supplies. Most of these companies have been extracting water from a local aquifer either free of charge or at lower rates and are selling bottled water to consumers at relatively higher prices.
On the other hand, less affluent communities who can’t afford bottled water are consuming water directly from the ground through hand pumps and motor pumps. According to a report by the Pakistan Planning Commission, 61 percent of the households extract groundwater for domestic purposes with electric pumps and hand pumps. This exceeds up to 70 percent in rural areas.
The presence of salinity and the high concentration of arsenic in groundwater and rapid groundwater depletion have raised the levels of microbial contamination, which is causing various chronic diseases in consumers such as malaria, hepatitis and other skin diseases. While water is considered to be essential, the continuous consumption of contaminated water is likely to have an adverse effect.
Since there is no legal mechanism to regulate groundwater, people can extract as much water as they need owing to land ownership and sufficient financial resources. The unplanned pumping of groundwater has posed serious management and equity challenges. The government should play an active role in ensuring citizens get access equitable, clean and safe water. There is a need to build local community and institutional capacity based on indigenous and local research. Productive and rigorous arrangements should be made by the government to educate people about the harmful effects of the intake of contaminated water. Similarly, water purification plants should be installed to ensure regular water quality testing. Furthermore, the government should introduce a moratorium for a definite time period to stop private firms from extracting ground water at an unsustainable rate. A proper monitoring system is required to monitor the reduction of ground water through a metering system.
Undoubtedly, water is a blessing to all. Access to clean and safe drinking water is not only a necessity but is also a fundamental human right. However, the scarcity of clean water poses a massive threat to Pakistan’s survival and must be resolved with immediate effect.
The writer is pursuing an MPhil in
development studies at the Lahore
School of Economics.