Several localities of Lahore have been reduced to parched land over the past couple of decades
estled on the bank of River Ravi, the old city of Lahore has undergone many ups and downs through its centuries-old history. Since long, the economy of this ancient city has largely depended on activities associated with the river water, such as agriculture which converted it from a tiny village into the megapolis we see today.
Water, the basic need for human race, which was abundantly available to Lahore until a few decades ago, is now increasingly scarce. The months of July-August every year used to be considered as the start of high river flow that would help seepage into groundwater in great amounts, besides rejuvenating the city’s riverside neighbourhoods.
The Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 served to deprive Lahore of the fresh, brimming river. The result has been catastrophic, especially in the past couple of decades, as various localities of the fabled city of gardens have been reduced to parched lands, in the absence of adequate supplies. The city seems to hold no prospect of a bright future without a smooth water supply. In the absence of river flows, Lahore’s dependence on groundwater for meeting their domestic, industrial and other needs has grown. Lacking the main source of recharge from percolation of river flows, this large and badly exploited ‘aquifer’ faces the double whammy of deteriorating quality and diminishing quantity.
The dwindling water-table in the city has been a testimony to the fact that Lahore is losing its grandeur in the absence of ample water availability. Water contamination has been on the rise in the underground aquifer, along with a constant decrease in water levels at various locations. At some places, the water table has gone down to 600-700 feet. It used to be 10 to 15 ft not very long ago. This poses an alarming situation. Its economic cost is increasingly affecting the people of Lahore on countless fronts.
Contaminants such as arsenic, fluoride and copper in high quantities have been found in water being pumped by the tubewell network set up by the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA). Though the water utility has a system of chlorinating the tubewells, the contamination challenge has persisted and continues to aggravate the situation with every passing day, despite the fact that a rare stability in aquifer level beneath the city of Lahore was reported last year.
To resolve the issue, the WASA resorted to a novel way of using surface water after exhausting groundwater in the north of the city, with a view to providing clean drinking water. Under the Lahore Water and Wastewater Management (LWWM) Project, the WASA envisaged the construction of a Surface Water Treatment Plant at Bambanwala-Ravi-Bedian-Depalpur (BRBD) Canal, Near Ravi Syphon, north-east of Lahore.
At some places, the water table has gone down to 600-700 feet. It used to be 10 to 15 ft not very long ago. This poses an alarming situation. Its economic cost is increasingly affecting the people of Lahore on countless fronts.
The project sought to shift reliance from shrinking groundwater supplies to surface water by first constructing a Surface Water Treatment plant of 100 cusec or 54 million gallon per day (MGD) near Bhaini Road and later upgrading it to 1,000 cusec or 540 MGD.
The initial phase is expected to help supply water to the most affected areas of the city including Shadipura, Baghbanpura, Fatehgarh and Mustafabad. However, experts believe that efforts must be focused on replenishing groundwater instead of using canal water, which is also a costly option. The gap between water use and sustainable yield of the aquifer must be filled in order to arrest the aquifer depletion.
The role of the Ravi Urban Development Authority (RUDA) is vital in this connection. As per the Ravi Urban Development Authority Act 2020, the said authority was established “to rehabilitate water aquifer and the dying Ravi River into fresh perennial water body with a state-of-the-art waterfront and urban development on reclaimed and adjoining lands.” However, it seems that the management of the authority is not aggressively pursuing the daunting task of recharging aquifer in the shortest possible time. Work on the mega project is going on at a snail’s pace.
The RUDA CEO says that the “Ravi City is not a housing scheme; rather, it is a project to build a city on the banks of the Ravi which will restore the natural water resources in the region.” No progress to that effect is visible.
However, Mohsin Attiq, the hydrology director at RUDA, is hopeful that work on one of the three lakes to be built under the mega Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project (RRUDP) will commence in the next couple of months. “The RUDA is very clear in its approach to re-establish the broken link between river water and aquifer on a sustainable basis,” he adds.
Attiq also speaks of “an elaborate plan of rainwater harvesting in order to complement efforts of replenishing groundwater in a positive manner.”
TNS has learnt from reliable sources that the plan to execute the first phase of the RRUDP which involves building a lake at Shahdara, may take at least five years. Given the potent challenge of climate change, and considering the city’s projected expansion and persistent issues related to water, the planned riverfront city on a 40km stretch along Lahore district’s northern and western boundaries may not quench the residents’ thirst anytime soon.
The RUDA can play a pivotal role in recharging Lahore’s groundwater in a cost-effective, sustainable and natural way. The sooner it can achieve this, the better it will be for Lahore.
The writer is a senior reporter at The News