To assert that the quality of drinking water in secondary cities and in rural towns of Sindh is unsafe to drink is an understatement. The contamination of the Kotri barrage’s four main canals due to the inflow of domestic, municipal and industrial wastewater is killing thousands of people every year, yet it continues unabated.

These canals supply water to the population that lives downstream the Kotri barrage, a large portion of which is dependent on these freshwater bodies both for domestic and agricultural purposes. According to a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) report titled, “Pakistan’s Waters at Risk”, 20% to 40% of the hospital beds in Pakistan are occupied by patients suffering from water-related diseases, such as typhoid, cholera, dysentery and hepatitis, which are responsible for one third of all deaths. Sindh is particularly suffering and to curb water pollution must be given top priority, in order to reduce these alarming numbers.

Wastewater, both domestic and industrial goes into the canal untreated. Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa) currently runs the sewerage pumping station at Darya Khan village to release wastewater into the channel canal that then takes it to areas located downstream the Kotri barrage. Wasa has apparently been setting up a treatment plant since 2007, but that has been delayed for want of release of funds from the federal government, leading to cost overruns. Safe drinking water is the basic right of all citizens and yet in the absence of water treatment standards and a solid waste management plan, freshwater canals are getting around 5m gallons per day (mgd) of wastewater, that finds its way into the domestic consumption by the people.

By all records available, Sindh shows high levels of pollution, and the current steps being taken are grossly inadequate to deal with the challenge. If immediate steps are not taken to address this, Sindh will see itself on the precipice of a full-blown humanitarian and environmental emergency in the near future.