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April 18, 2011

82 percent water sources ‘unsafe’


April 18, 2011

ISLAMABAD: An extensive study of water quality in the country’s rural areas has revealed that as many as 82 percent water sources in 24 districts provide unsafe water to the people of Pakistan. This is well below standards set by the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) and a major cause of diseases and deaths.
Safe drinking water is the most basic service a government can provide its people. In Pakistan, even this fundamental provision remains elusive. The Science and Technology Ministry’s Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources’ (PCRWR) report, prepared after a five-year study, noted that water-related diseases cause annual losses of at least Rs25 billion and that 250,000 children in Pakistan die every year due to diarrhea-related diseases alone. The information gathered by the study has verified research studies done earlier by international agencies and concluded that only 25.61 percent of the country’s 159 million inhabitants have access to safe and sufficient drinking water.
The water monitoring study selected 14,000 water sources from as many as 2,807 villages of 1,567 union councils from 80 tehsils of 24 districts. PCRWR chairman Dr M Aslam Tahir declined to comment on the findings of the study, saying it was comprehensive and that he didn’t need to make further comments.
Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) is one of the 24 sampled areas and faces severe water quality problems. ICT is spread over 906 kilometres, of which 466 kilometres comprises rural areas. Data from the recent study shows that 40 percent of the collected samples were contaminated with total coliforms, 33 percent with nitrate and 11 percent had high levels of total dissolved solids (TDS). Hence, 59 percent water samples from rural areas in the federal capital were found unsafe and only 41 percent were found safe for the purpose of drinking water.
In Rawalpindi, the situation was even worse: 73 percent water samples were contaminated with

total coliforms, 29 percent with nitrate and 15 percent with TDS well beyond PSQCA standards.
Attock, Bahawalpur, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Kasur, Lahore, Multan, Sialkot, Sheikhupura, Sargodha and Rawalpindi were selected for sampling in Punjab; Abbotabad, Mangora, Mardan and Peshawar in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa; Hyderabad, Karachi and Sukkur in Sindh; and Khuzdar, Loralai, Quetta and Ziarat in Balochistan.
A copy of the 309-page study, which The News obtained from a member of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Science and Technology who recently visited the PCRWR along with other panel members, points to five main water quality problems in collected samples: bacteriological (64 percent), total dissolved solids (25 percent), turbidity (14 percent), nitrate (nine percent) and fluoride (7 percent). Bacteriological contamination in the samples ranged from 16 percent to 100 percent.
Water samples for physicochemical analysis were collected from taps, tube wells, distribution networks, hand pumps, dug up wells, streams, springs, dams, lakes and rivers. The water was collected in polythene bottles of 0.5 and 1.5 litre capacity. Before collecting the samples, bottles were washed properly and rinsed several times, first with water and then with distilled water. For bacterial analysis, samples were collected in pre-sterilised bottles of 100 ml volume. Nitric acid and boric acid were used as preservatives in sampling bottles for trace elements and nitrate before going into the field.

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