Samiya a 47-year-old resident of settlement Khalid Lund Hari, union council Dad Khan Jarwar, district Tando Allahyar, says, “We fetch water from a hand pump that is situated almost at a distance of one hour from our house.” She adds further, “My daughters and I fetch water from the handpump that we share with 200 other households. I wait approximately two to three hours for my turn – it is very time-consuming.”
Access to safe drinking water is a fundamental human right as recognized by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Though significant progress has been made towards addressing this challenge, still, there are nearly one billion people world over who lack access to safe water. As per WHO standards, the quality of drinking water is determined by the quality of the water source, the level and treatment efficiency, and the condition of water supply lines. As per WHO & UNICEF’s latest JMP report of 2021, roughly one in four people lack access to safe drinking water in their homes. The situation in rural areas is even worse; eight out of 10 people in rural areas are deprived of the basic facility of water. The report also estimates that at present rates, by 2030 the world will only reach 81% coverage, leaving 1.6 billion people without safely managed services of water and sanitation.
Access to safe drinking water in South Asian countries, is very low and at 36%, the situation is no better in Pakistan. Breaking it down further, only 33 percent of rural and 40 percent of the urban population in the country has access to clean water, with vast discrepancies across provinces as well. The overall water quality situation of the Punjab province shows an improvement while in Sindh only 15% had access to safe water in 2020. District Tharparkar has the highest percentage of households 89.7 percent without drinking water on-premises.
An estimated 70 percent of households still drink bacterially contaminated water in the country. Around 53,000 Pakistani children under the age of five die from diarrhea resulting from low water quality
Culturally, women and girls are responsible for collecting water for daily household needs, usually covering long distances every day to fetch water. Typically, these trips lead to insufficient water even to meet basic needs. Most of the time water available at the source remains or becomes polluted in the process of transport. Even if a source is close to the house, there are often long lines to struggle with.
“There is no water hand pump in the whole settlement, so I go to Dado Mori. This trip takes about 40 minutes on a round trip to fetch drinking water from a water hand pump. Sometimes I have to make multiple trips. To collect water for regular usages, such as washing my family’s clothes, I resort to the banks of Dado Mori canal” says Jamna, resident of Mubeen Burfat village, District Tando Allahyar, Sindh
Unfortunately, where water is available, quality remains a big issue. Pollution in the form of waste coming from domestic, agricultural, and industrial sources, combined with sewer lines flowing into drinking water supply lines, is not unheard of. In most rural areas of Pakistan, surface water is used for drinking without chlorination and filtration. Consumption of such water may pose a serious public health risk due to waterborne diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid, hepatitis, skeletal and dental fluorosis, methemoglobinemia, and cancer. An estimated 70 percent of households still drink bacterially contaminated water in the country. Around 53,000 Pakistani children under the age of five die from diarrhea resulting from low water quality. This number is alarmingly high and demonstrates the urgent need for verification and testing of all drinking water sources, followed by appropriate mitigation measures.
Shama narrates, “My elder son remains sick; he is suffering from a stomachache”. Upon asking. she further explained, “NRSP staff has tested the water and informed us that the water of our hand pump is unsafe for drinking. We are using this water and maybe this is the reason behind his stomachache. from now we will fetch water from the nearby hand pump which is potable (safe for drinking) as per the testing result.”
For Pakistan to achieve Sustainable Development Goal six of clean water and sanitation for all may remain a challenge by 2030. However, we may come close if the government and non-governmental organizations collectively work towards and mobilise resources to improve access to safe water and sanitation. One such example is that of the ongoing Sindh Union Council and Community Economic Strengthening Support (SUCCESS) Programme, funded by the European Union and implemented by local Rural Support Programmes (RSPs) in eight districts of Sindh. One of the main components of this programme is to provide Community Physical Infrastructure schemes and to raise awareness on key issues, including safe drinking water, health, and hygiene. Under the programme, around 345,185 women have thus far benefited from these awareness sessions.
Through a participatory approach, in areas where communities identified the need for a drinking water scheme as the required physical infrastructure, hand pumps, water pipes, wells, and water reservoirs, etc were installed. A total of 278 drinking water supply schemes have been launched in the program districts and approximately 24,109 households benefit from them. The schemes have not only contributed to reducing the burden of fetching water and reduction in health expenditures, mainly due to a decrease in ailments and transport expenditures, but also provide a positive impact on household earnings, as the time saved can now be utilized for productive purposes.
Now, as water is available at our doorsteps, it is saving a lot of our time. We are utilising the saved time in cleaning our houses and doing some work for earning. Usually, we get work like loading vehicles with stones, and a family can earn around PKR 4,000 per week,” says Shugi, a resident of village Thoro Baloch, Jamshoro.