“The contaminated water from the main line makes me feel sick,” says Shamim Kausar, a resident of Hijrat Colony in Karachi. “It is affecting my seven-year-old daughter’s health as well.”
The contaminated water in the country worst affects Karachi’s population. Karachi Water and Sewerage Board Vice Chairman Najmi Alam said that the main reason for the supply of contaminated water to Karachi is the breakdown of the 50-year-old water distribution lines and the leakage of underground sewage lines — “There are about 12,000 kilometers of small and large size pipes laid for the distribution of water in the city. Besides, some people block the official main line, which is illegal.”
Various bacteria are found in Karachi’s drinking water, of which Naegleria Fowleri causes the worst kind of infection. The brain-eating bacterium, Naegleria Fowleri, is found in freshwater bodies, such as lakes, ponds, rivers, hot springs, swimming pools and water pipelines. The bacterium enters the human body through the nose, and causes an infection in the brain, called Nigellariasis, which is often fatal.
According to Dr. Shakeel Ahmed, a member of Sindh Health Department’s Naegleria Monitoring and Inspection Team, the first case of Nigellariasis was reported in Karachi in 2008 and so far it has killed 100 people, 44 of them in the last six years.
According to the in-charge of Karachi Water and Sewerage Board South District, water is supplied to Karachi from Keenjhar Lake and Hub Dam — “Six hundred million gallons of water are supplied daily through Keenjhar Lake, while 30 to 75 million gallons of water are supplied daily from the Hub Dam. Since Hub Dam is dependent on rainfall, the supply of water fluctuates.”
The issue of clean drinking water came to the attention of the court when advocate Shahab Awastu filed an application in 2016, seeking a solution for the drinking water and sewage crisis. It was heard in the court of Justice Iqbal Muhammad Kalhoro of the Sindh High Court.
After lengthy court hearings, Awastu decided to take the case to the Supreme Court, where he also challenged the workings of Sindh Environmental Protection Agency and Karachi Water and Sewerage Board.
“We often ask patients to bring a sample of drinking water from their homes for us to test. Often, the laboratory reports show bad bacteria in water. The poor quality of drinking water is weakening our immune system,” says Dr. Sonil Kumar.
The Supreme Court constituted a Judicial Water Commission based on Awastu’s petition. The same commission issued instructions to the Pakistan Council of Research and Water Resources (PCRWR) on January 4, 2017 for biological and chemical testing of water supplied to people of the province. The PCRWR reported on March 4, 2017 that the drinking water provided to citizens in 13 districts of Sindh is harmful to health.
Pakistan is among the countries where the lowest share of gross national income is spent on clean water supply and drainage. According to the Ministry of Planning Development 2021 survey data, a household spends five percent per month on obtaining clean water. The World Health Organization findings revealed only 15 percent of Pakistan’s population has access to clean drinking water.
Further, in January 2022, the PCRWR report revealed that only 15% of Pakistan’s population has access to clean drinking water — as per standards set by the World Health Organization. The data released by Water Aid Pakistan in 2018 showed that 16 million people in Pakistan do not have access to clean and safe water.
According to the latest report, the situation in Sindh is alarming in terms of water pollution, where despite all efforts, 85% of the water is still not fit for drinking. Hundred percent of water in Mirpur Khas is contaminated — while 94% of Multan, 93% of Karachi, 92% of Badin, 80% of Hyderabad and 7% of Bahawalpur water is not safe to drink.
A report by the Ministry of Science and Technology states that the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources has been working to monitor the quality of drinking water across the country since 2001. In 2020-21, the council conducted tests by taking samples from various sources of drinking water in 29 major cities of the country and found that 61 percent of the country’s water is contaminated.
Research suggests that the number of bacteria in water multiplies much faster in dry water supply lines. Also, sewage leakages pollute underground reservoirs and render water unfit for consumption.
Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplant (SIUT) Infectious Disease Specialist, Dr. Sonil Kumar, said kidney and stomach ailments are most common. “The reason is contaminated drinking water. We often ask patients to bring a sample of drinking water from their homes for us to test. Often, the laboratory reports show bad bacteria in water. The poor quality of drinking water is weakening our immune system.”