Islamabad - Pakistan is among the top 10 countries of the world with greatest number of people living without access to safe water, according to a WHO report.

The per capita annual water availability has dropped from 25,600 cubic meters to 1,017 cubic meters.

As many as 16 million people in the country have no choice but to collect unsafe water from unsafe sources.

The residents of Rawalpindi, Punjab are among those who are deprived of clean drinking water and have been suffering many water-borne diseases.

Humaira and her husband, Shahzad Ahmed, residents of Hazara Colony in Rawalpindi, have been very particular about the cleanliness of their children since the birth of their very first child, Kafeel Ahmed, but despite their particularity and sensitivity, the couple is concerned about their children’s declining health.

Humaira’s elder daughter Sadia has been cured Hepatitis B, and her younger son Nadeem, 12, is currently under tuberculosis treatment as he has been diagnosed with the disease. The couple itself has been facing many health related issues.

They hold contaminated water of tube well responsible for the children illness.  

Fever, diarrhoea, joints pain, nausea and vomiting, weakness and fatigue attack and abdominal and stomach pain are some common health problems that not only Humaira’s family but the residents of the entire Hazara Colony has been facing.

The residents of the colony have the view that the contaminated water of the nearby nullah mixes in the tube well water, which causes their suffering. 

The couple is not alone; every third person of this poverty-stricken colony faces health problems and spends thousands of rupees to visit doctors.

Likewise, there are many other cities of Punjab where the residents are suffering from water-borne diseases caused by contaminated water.

According to a recent policy review, conducted by Punjab Urban Resources Centre Director and Assistance Professor at Centre for Public and Governance, Lahore Dr Imdad Hussain, the water resource in Punjab is going down by two to three feet a year.

Dr Hussain in his policy review titled ‘Advocacy and Lobbying Gaps in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Policies in Punjab’ said that the province has no law to regulate municipal water.

He said the Punjab Municipal Water Act was introduced in 2014 to recognise, regulate and manage municipal water in Punjab. However, it has not been implemented.

As for as wasting of clean drinking water is concerned, he said, “Poor water distribution system is the main reason behind water-borne diseases.”

He said contaminated water enters into the water supply lines, which causes various diseases. He further said about 40 per cent of drinking water in Punjab go waste due to the poor condition of water distribution channels.

The Punjab government has drafted some water-related development projects but many of them are yet to approve from the provincial assembly, he said.

“There will be a shortage of water, particularly in Lahore, if the government is not taking y measures on an emergency basis,” he said.

The policy report stated that the Punjab Cabinet had approved the Punjab drinking policy in 2011. However, after that, no consultation meeting could be called as the elected representatives were not available for a meeting due to their other engagements.

The approval of these policies needs sustained advocacy and lobbying by concerned stakeholders, Dr Hussain added. According to a WHO report, as many as 25 million people defecate in the open both in urban and rural areas.

Pakistan ranks 4th among countries with most improved access to sanitation between 1990 and 2015. Similarly, it ranks 6th among countries with longest queues for a toilet as two out of every five schools are missing a toilet.

About 46 percent of the population does not have a hand-washing facility at homes with soap and water and only 23 per cent households have a garbage collection system. About 88 per cent diarrhoeal diseases are attributed to unsafe water supply, inadequate sanitation, and hygiene, the report revealed. In Pakistan, every year 39,000 children under the age of five die due to diarrhoea, it added.

Improvement of drinking water quality, such as point-of-use disinfection, can lead to the reduction of diarrhoea, health experts said. According to WHO estimates, 50 per cent malnutrition is associated with repeated diarrhoea or intestinal worm infections as a direct result of inadequate WASH.