As Pakistan is one of the most disaster-prone countries in South Asia, the recent monsoon spell has tested Pakistan’s physical resilience to natural calamities. Fortunately, our public sector today is more vibrant, tech-savvy and research-oriented than it was three decades ago. With a focused approach, the sector is in process of pepping itself up to turn calamities into opportunities. The reboot, I am referring to, is already taking place in Punjab’s Housing, Urban Development and Public Health Engineering Department and its allied agencies. Punjab is first to have planned and executed a large scale rainwater harvesting project in Pakistan. 

The entire country has witnessed the damage monsoon spell did to the biggest city of Pakistan butas far as Punjab’s resilience plan is concerned, the developments as shared by HUD & PHE Department Secretary Nadeem Mahbub are worth mentioning. Through WASA Lahore, under the guidance of Water Commission, HUD and PHE Department operationalised Pakistan’s first underground water storage tank in provincial metropolis at Lawrence Garden. The initiative was well received by the citizens of Lahore, especially during the recent spell of downpour. Government is utilizing all available resources to address the issue at urban and rural level simultaneously. In this regard, a large-scale rainwater harvesting project for tribal areas of Isakhel has also been initiated. This Khattak Belt project shall be one of the most economically sustainable projects for draught management in the history of Punjab due to gravity flow and minimum mechanical input. Once the project is complete, it would lower the stress on groundwater instead of lowering down its surface level. The project shall have Reservoir 1 (234 MG) and Reservoir 2 (105 MG) attached to it. Government has expedited the work for early completion of its first phase, which shall have the capacity to cater to the needs of 228,221 people living in 87 villages spread across 8 UCs, as projected by population estimates. In the second phase, 55,308 people living in 44 villages across 2 UCs shall be benefitted.

Chief Minister Punjab also appreciated the efforts put in to make Lahore project a huge success. These projects shall also slow down lowering of underground water level. With provincial government’s ownership, it is going to be replicated in other cities as well. As far as Lahore is concerned, LDA and WASA have identified 10 more spots in the city including Waris Road, Qaddafi Stadium, Ali Zeb Road, Kashmir Road, Tajpura, Rasool Park, Fruit and Vegetable Market, Karim Park, Railway Station and Chowk Nakhuda whereas government has expedited work on Tajpura and Sheranwala gate tanks. 

That’s not it. Departmental leadership is very keen to deploy multi-pronged strategy and their understanding of the root cause was on on-point. While discussing Pakistan’s existing strength and it’s strategy to deal with the climate change, Nadeem Mahbub was of the view that it’s an international challenge and the way governments and public treated mother nature during the last five decades, what happened recently was inevitable – not just for Pakistan but for the entire world. Government is utilizing all available resources to address the issue at urban and rural level simultaneously. In this regard, a large-scale rainwater harvesting project for tribal areas of Isakhel has also been initiated. This Khattak Belt project shall be one of the most economically sustainable projects for draught management in the history of Punjab due to gravity flow and minimum mechanical input. Once the project is complete, it would lower the stress on groundwater instead of lowering down its surface level. It would benefit over two hundred thousand people living in 8 Union Councils of Khattak Belt. Furthermore, water recycling plants have also been installed at 310 service stations across Lahore. These units collectively save 350,000 gallons of water every day. Department has directed all Development Authorities and WASAs across Punjab to replicate the project in their cities. Coca Cola Pakistan and US Denim have also been taken on board; they shall be providing their re-usable water to PHA for watering the greenbelts and public parks. These soft interventions shall have a long-lasting impact on the groundwater level in Punjab.

PHA and WASA Lahore have set up ablution water recycling units at 51 mosques across Lahore. Ablution water is stored in an underground tank and then reused to water the nearby public parks. Considering the significance of water management, water metering is also being introduced in the provincial capital by WASA Lahore and a plan has been approved for other cities as well. Previously, there was no mechanism to gauge water supply and demand in the cities, there was no system to assess the water theft or line losses. Once these meters are installed on public private partnership mode, government would be able to prevent water losses and water wastage by holding those who are responsible, accountable. It would also raise awareness among domestic, commercial, institutional or industrial consumers to have a check on water abuse. On one hand, government is dealing with water scarcity challenge and on the other, it is addressing water contamination issues. In this regard, Public Health Engineering Department has made home connection clamps mandatory. In smaller cities, people use rubber tubes for joining main supply connection instead of clamps to save cost, which after a couple of months start leaking. This routine practice resultantly, adds to urban water connection contamination issues. These rubber joints suck sewage water into the main supply line, which is actually avoidable if proper clamps are used. As part of the scheme, department shall be providing high quality clamps to keep water lines free from contamination. Just like every little drop of water counts, every little effort matters equally. Department is also observing “Fix A Leak” Week, purpose of this exercise is to sensitise public about one of the key components of water conservation. We all must realise the severity of global water crisis, we should support government’s drive by fixing all household leaks and avoid water abuse for our generations to come.

Mohsin Seyal 

The writer is a freelance contributor.