According to a newspaper report, published on last Wednesday, 253 tube-wells in Lahore out of a total of 392 had been found contaminated with arsenic. The Managing Director WASA has confirmed this finding.

According to the report, the permissible limit of arsenic in drinking water as per World Health Organisation standard is 10 parts per billion (ppb) but in Lahore the level is more than 50 ppb.

The most worrisome part of the news is that the said survey was carried by the Environment Protection Department as far back as 5 years ago. Not only little has been done to address the problem during these years, in fact there probably has been an increase in the amount of arsenic in water.

DCO Lahore has directed the city environment officials to carry out water testing of all tube-wells. This environment unit lacks the expertise and equipment to scientifically carry out these tests. So they have outsourced the task to a private firm. How good, efficient and well-equipped this company is remains unknown. WASA says it has installed 100 filtration plants in the city. One wonders how many of these are really functional and how much of contamination can these remove? Again it is not clear how the public is making use of these filters. In the late nineties, the portability and availability of drinking water in Lahore was assessed by committee of experts which found that out of 10 samples taken from different parts of the city, 6 were not fit for consumption. The position in the rest of the province is equally bad if not worse. The quarterly report of the Pakistan Council of Research in water resources for January-March 2015 finds that eight brands of mineral and bottled water being sold in the open market are “completely unsafe” for human consumption due to “chemical and microbiological contamination”. The report says that three of the unsafe brands – Al-Sana, Aqua Safe and Days Pure – have comparatively high arsenic levels, ranging from 11-35 parts per billion (ppb) as opposed to the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority’s definition, should be less than 10 ppb. Excessive arsenic in the water can cause various disorders of the skin, diabetes, kidney problems, hypertension, heart ailments, birth defects, black foot and multiple cancers. Drinking water quality is continuously deteriorating due to biological contamination from human waste, chemical pollutants from industries and agricultural inputs.

Citing reasons for the contamination, the report says that piped water also becomes contaminated because the pipes are laid very close to sewage lines or open drains, which are the cause of several water-borne diseases. It was found that 45 per cent of infant deaths in Pakistan could be attributed to diarrhea and about 60 per cent to overall infectious waterborne diseases.

The question is why has government been so negligent in addressing an issue, which directly affects the wellbeing of the people? The rich can afford to buy the “pure” bottled water while the already undernourished poor keep consuming contaminated water.

Talking of contamination, what is the level of awareness about food adulteration that goes on despite a new law and the setting up of a Ford Authority, in the Punjab? Even when there are raids and samples taken, do we have enough of well-equipped laboratories to examine the stuff quickly and scientifically? I recall a concerned Lahore city district official telling the Civic Forum that tens of thousands of cases were filed in the courts and only a small percentage were disposed of ordering the culprits to pay a small fine with the result that the defaulters returned to resume their nefarious activities. Will the Food Authority management issue, for public information, a report regarding their performance: what they have done so far, to eliminate or curb effectively food adulteration which is inflicting so much harm on the people? Will the government improve its prosecution agencies to ensure that culprits are convicted and adequately punished?

I now turn to what is happening to school education in the province of Sindh. I have already written about the awful conditions prevailing there. I recall the present Education Minister admitting that as many as 30,000 teachers were appointed against “ghost” posts (which were never sanctioned) and how he was trying to stop the payment of salaries to them.

In a recent response to questions asked on the floor of the Sindh Assembly, Mr. NisarKhuhro provided more depressing information. At present, he said that 3,729 government schools were closed (many of them occupied by waderas).

1,677 were closed for the lack of teachers. The development budget for education has decreased by 1%. Last year 67% of the development budget lapsed because of lack of interest and “red tape”. More disturbing statistics released by Sindh Information Monitoring System: out of the total 47,394 schools in the province, 7,461 are without buildings and 23,047 without toilets.

How, indeed, is, this tragic state of affairs? This despite the enabling law passed by the Sindh Assembly to make the Right to Education clause 25-A in the Constitution, is justiciable. With the devolution of the subject of education to the provinces, the central government has practically washed its hands off a subject that everywhere demands planning, setting standards and monitoring at the national level. To expect any change for the better, from the present lot of Sindhi politicians is asking for the moon. I wonder ifBilawal who made his debut by organising an extravagant cultural festival in Sindh can bring himself around to take up the education challenge and concentrate on reform and reconstruction. It is also time that the Senate, which represents the provinces, takes notice of the deplorable conditions of primary education in Sindh.

Another area where Sindh beats all other provinces to the hilt is the extent of cheating in the examinations.

One other matter. Call it deviation from laws and rules or a deliberate indulgence in wrongful practices, the way the Chairman Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly, disregarding the findings and advice of the Auditor General, restored the rightly dismissed employees of the Utility Corporation, speaks volumes for our wayward politicians and how they misuse power. One may also recall the previous government’sarbitrary decision to restore hundreds of party makers inducted illegally in PIA. They not only rejoined the organisation but were also awarded financial and seniority benefits spread over many years.

One keeps hearing about reforms relating to civil services including police to ensure better governance. Mr. AhsanIqbal often talks about a ‘New Vision for 2025’, but little of the details of what and how is revealed in regard to good governance. So the government jogs along and the people keep suffering deprivations, frustrations, distortion of laws, rules and procedures, finding little relief in their miserable lives.