LAHORE - More than 30 million people live in southern Punjab, which has four divisions and make up almost half of the total area of the province.

Although the soil is rich and yield is high, large majority of people of this area still lack access to potable water.

Quite regrettably, in more than past two years, the Punjab government under its Rs117 billion Saaf Pani initiative could cater to the needs of only 250,000 people with 80 water filtration plants installed in five tehsils - Lodhran, Hasilpur, Dunyapur, Khanpur and Minchanabad.

If compared the total number of filtration plants installed so far in southern Punjab against the total population living there, we get one filtration plant for every 375,000 people.

This means that less than one percent of the population has been covered since the inception of this program in March, 2014. At this pace, the government-owned company will need more than 200 years to provide clean water to the whole population of southern Punjab if it ever intended so.

According to the company’s CEO, Waseem Ajmal Chaudhry, around 40 million residents would have access to potable water once filtration plans are installed in all 144 tehsils across the province.

While the government binds its top priority to provide safe drinking water to marginalised communities in far flung areas, these undeniable facts cast shadow over the claims of Punjab government which has fixed a two-year target to provide clean water to the people of whole Punjab.

“It is the top priority of Punjab government to provide safe drinking water to marginalised communities in far flung areas, as it will cut health expenditure,” said Kashif Padhiar, chairman of Punjab Saaf Pani Company. He inaugurated a solar-fitted Reverse Osmosis water filtration plant in village Puggal, Bahawalnagar yesterday.

Aims are indeed high, but the situation on ground is more than serious. According to official survey reports, 79% water samples collected from rural areas of 12 districts in Punjab were found to be unsafe for human consumption, while 88% water samples collected from other 21 districts of the province were also found to be unsafe.

Not surprisingly, mortality due to water borne diseases is also very high. According to a report of Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan, every 5th Pakistani child under the age of five suffers from waterborne diseases; and roughly 50 percent of mortality and 40% of hospital admissions are also caused by waterborne diseases.

Padhiar said provision of safe drinking water would help lower the incidence of water-borne diseases and enable the establishment of a healthy society. “Punjab is currently a hot zone for international and local investors to tap the available opportunities that this province has to offer. Saaf Pani Project is bound to set precedent for others to follow.

“We hope to continue to derive strength from the support and goodwill of hundreds of families living across the province to serve them in an improved manner. We hope to fulfil the masses dreams to enjoy amenities of life,” he further said.

Nonetheless, the sorry situation of Punjab, particularly its southern part, is seriously hindering Pakistan’s endeavours to attain health and poverty-related Millennium Development Goals.

In order to address this situation, the Punjab government needs to expedite its program to improve water supply in terms of both access and quality of drinking water.

Even as the Punjab Saaf Pani Company (PSPC) is delivering, the government needs to pick up the pace of its public service mission in order to save millions of lives.