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Water Quality in Pakistan
Recent research published in the journal Science Advances has serious implications for up to 60 million Pakistanis—groundwater in the Indus Valley has been found to contain arsenic that likely exceeds a level safe for human consumption. The poor water quality in Pakistan puts many at risk of arsenic poisoning.

The published research comes from the World Health Organization (WHO), which took 1,200 groundwater samples throughout the Indus Plain. Scientists then used this data to create a “hazard map” to determine how many people would be affected by this contamination.

What they found was that 50 million—maybe even 60 million—people would be affected by contaminated groundwater, a number far greater than previously calculated. This estimate was given considering that 60 to 70 percent of the population in Pakistan relies on groundwater.

While the WHO has established that 10 micrograms of arsenic per liter of water is an acceptable concentration, the Pakistani government has always permitted a higher concentration of 50 micrograms per liter.

Although arsenic is naturally present in the ground, researchers suggest that human activities may have exacerbated the amount present in the groundwater in the Indus Plain. Lubna Bukhari, the head of Pakistan’s Council for Research in Water Resources, notes that, due to a lack of regulation, humans have exploited the groundwater, leading to an increase in arsenic.

There are no immediate effects of arsenic poisoning; however, the long-term health effects are severe. Long-term exposure to arsenic-laced water can cause skin lesions, damage to organs and even heart disease and cancer.

A statement by the WHO pressed the need to test “all drinking water wells in the Indus Plain.” With roughly a quarter of the population at risk for arsenic poisoning, the need to address water quality in Pakistan is urgent. Researchers also suggested health intervention programs for those impacted by the contamination.

For those that rely on groundwater for drinking, cooking and farming, the discovery of the contamination could severely impact their livelihoods. The Pakistani government must work to ensure that those impacted by the contamination—no small figure—are offered consumption-worthy alternatives to arsenic-tainted water.

Jennifer Faulkner

Photo: Flickr

WaterAid
Safe water is essential to the survival of people across the world. Clean water is crucial — not only for drinking but cooking, washing and bathing as well. For these reasons it is particularly essential for developing countries to have access to clean water.

Pakistan is a developing country with a population of more than 188 million people. Water quality in Pakistan is ranked 80 out of 122 nations. Nearly 16 million people in Pakistan do not have access to clean water and 68 million do not have access to adequate sanitation services.

The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources published its final report in 2007 on national water quality in Pakistan. The study examined the condition of 357 water samples from 23 major cities and 22 bodies of water. Water samples in every major city evaluated were declared unsafe.

Drinking contaminated water can result in numerous diseases including diarrhea, bacterial dysentery, cholera and typhoid. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 25 and 30 percent of all hospital admissions in Pakistan are related to waterborne bacteria and parasitic conditions.

It is estimated that 250,000 Pakistani children under the age of five die every year due to waterborne diseases. Diarrhea is the second highest cause of death among children ages 1 month to 5 years.

Poor water quality in Pakistan is primarily due to population growth, urbanization and political instability. Due to these challenges, Pakistan has experienced critical water shortages, droughts and flooding which have been steadily decreasing agricultural production.

However, international non-profit organizations like WaterAid are working to transform the lives of Pakistanis by providing them with access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. Water quality in Pakistan has improved greatly within the past 10 years of WaterAid’s involvement in the country.

A few of the WaterAid projects in Pakistan include:

  • Improving WASH services in schools
  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Water services for poor urban communities
  • Improving urban sanitation

Between 2015 and 2016 alone, WaterAid reached 230,000 people in Pakistan with safe water and over 520,000 people with improved sanitation. According to the World Bank, the population of rural Pakistanis with access to improved water sources has increased to 90 percent.

Water quality in Pakistan is improving due to the efforts of organizations like WaterAid. WaterAid’s focus on innovative approaches, water monitoring and sustainability have saved the lives of thousands of Pakistanis.

Kristyn Rohrer

Photo: Flickr