Thursday May 30, 2024

Access to clean drinking water in twin cities remains grim

By our correspondents
July 21, 2016

TheNetwork report shows way forward for CDA, Wasa


Despite significant spending in social sectors in recent years by the government, the state of access to safe and adequate supplies of clean drinking water in twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi remains grim. Up until now, there has been no significant progress in the enactment of Pakistan Safe Drinking Water Act, which clearly means that standards exist but there is no means to actually hold the institutions accountable.

This is one of the key observations contained in ‘A Critique of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) Adopted for the Maintenance of Water Filtration Plants,’ which is basically a recommendation report on how to effectively manage and maintain water filtration plants installed in Islamabad and Rawalpindi by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and the Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa). 

The report was launched by the TheNetwork for Consumer Protection here Wednesday with an aim to improve drinking water quality and bring it in line with international standards. To further highlight the issue, a comprehensive media campaign and a documentary was also screened at the report launching ceremony.

The ceremony was addressed by officials from Pakistan Council of Research in Water Recourses (PCRWR), Wasa, CDA, National Institute of Health, as well as the mayor of Islamabad Metropolitan Corporation and representatives from academia and civil society, professors and students of NUST and Bahria University, and media personals.

In October 2015, TheNetwork collected samples from 35 water filtration plants in Islamabad and randomly selected 44 water filtration plants in Rawalpindi. A comprehensive microbiological analysis was performed on samples submitted to four different laboratories. According to PCRWR results, 5 out of 35 samples were found unsafe for human consumption. According to results obtained from the NIH laboratory, 9 out of 35 samples were found unsafe, while the CDA laboratory also found 11 water samples unfit. TheNetwork undertook social, legal, technical and economical assessment of the filtration plants and made recommendations for improvement in the drinking water delivery system through filtration plants in Islamabad.

According to the report, filtration plants installed in Islamabad are 10-15 years old and have aged out. The CDA is putting its efforts to keep these plants operational and deliverable but it would be an extremely challenging task to make them desirably operational for a longer period of time, it believes.

According to the report, the condition of the filtration plants in Islamabad was unhygienic and unclean in general as muddy water was on the water disposal points all the time, mainly because of carelessness by the plant operator and by users. No tube-lights or proper lighting arrangement was found at the filtration plants since the service is provided round-the-clock.

Though CDA claims to have spent Rs16.7 million to fully renovate these plants, tiled flooring was found broken and poor quality civil works were observed. Water taps were found missing on some plants, which shows lack of proper supervision at the filtration plants.

Ultra Violet (UV) lamp, which is vital to purify the water, was found in unworkable condition at few filtration plants. Dangerously placed or installed electricity cables were observed at the premises, which is highly hazardous not only for supervisory staff but for users as well. Pipes installed inside and outside these plants were found rusty, while water seepage was also common at some filtration plants.

Moreover, since users usually fetch drinking water in non-standardised or substandard jerry cans, pots, and plastic cans, they tend to contaminate comparatively safe drinking water to the citizens abruptly at the time of filling. Water wastage is rampant at the filtration plants and users do not care of this precious commodity.

The report calls for efforts to make tap water safe for human consumption. “There should be no round-the-clock service delivery of water from filtration plants. It should be twice a day with 8 hours in the morning and 8 in the evening,” it states. The report also underlines the need for a public awareness campaign on appropriate use of water from filtration plants. “Newly-elected public representatives should be involved in policy making, legislation and implementation levels for better service delivery and improved quality of water, and CDA should renovate all filtration plants with proper civil work standards and required lighting,” the report adds. It also calls upon the CDA to ensure provision of water as per approved National Drinking Water Quality Standards.

With reference to the water filtration plants in Rawalpindi, laboratory results showed that 17 samples out of 44 filtration plants were contaminated with bacteria and were thus found unfit for drinking purpose. Of the 44 samples, Wasa laboratory found 8, PCRWR found 5 and NIH 9 samples unsafe for human consumption. There were only two samples that were found unsafe by all the three laboratories. Another two samples were found unsafe by two laboratories.

The physical condition of the filtration plants in Rawalpindi was no less dismal than those in Islamabad. The report called upon Wasa to increase the time of operation of the filtration plants from the 4 hours to at least 8 hours. It recommended that the water testing laboratory established by Wasa should be accredited with Pakistan National Accreditation Council.

Highlighting the importance of the project, Nadeem Iqbal, executive coordinator of TheNetwork said, the objective is to bring different government departments responsible for ensuring safe drinking water on one table to develop much-needed synergy and to help consumers develop understanding of safe water, its testing and how standards are enforced with their active participation.

The objectives of the project are to create understanding and consensus among concerned players about the nature of the issue and the measures that need to be taken for its effective resolution; raise awareness; and build advocacy for early promulgation of the legislative framework that will ascertain consumer’s access to safe drinking water by relevant authorities.