Water is a matter of survivability and life but in Punjab, it is going to be a matter of “do or die”. Once called a land of five rivers, it is bracing for water-led genocide. Ultimate solution lies in permanent allocation of quota for water and sanitation projects in Punjab budget 2018-19.

Poor water accessibility, contaminated supply, lowering water table and toxicities have gone rampant in both rural and urban belts of Punjab. The worst sanitation conditions have crossed an alarming level. Any further slumber and delay are truly going to be fatal.

With criminal negligence at the hands of every successive government which pretends to bleed for water hardships, projects of easy access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation could not come to fruition over the last many decades.

If sense does not prevail and government does not allocate a fixed quota for safe drinking water and sanitation programs on short-term and long-term basis, God forbid, rulers will not have anyone to rule except remains of dead bodies.

All eyes are on upcoming Punjab budget 2018-19. It will be defining moment to determine the fate of millions of people suffering multiple water woes.

Proposal for allocation of permanent quota for water issues in coming budget schemes and Annual Development Program (ADP) will be a game-changer. Most of NGOs, advisory and consultative organizations have also put a full weight behind fix water quota in impending Punjab budget instead of earmarking disproportionate funds.

During last fiscal year, around Rs 201 billion were set aside for the social sector, education, health, water supply and sanitation, A sum of Rs25bn were allocated for the ‘Saaf Pani’ project to ensure clean water for un-served and underserved rural areas. Moreover, Rs15bn were earmarked for rural sanitation and solid waste management programme.

If compared with entire size of budget 2017-18, allocation for water and sanitation projects sounds insignificant. Even allocation stayed unused or diverted toward other projects. And it really hurts that it happens in every budget.

Punjab also set growth strategy 2018-19 at eight per cent with push to private investment to $17.5 billion in pursuance of attaining all Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The annual development spending has also spiked from Rs160bn in 2009 to Rs635bn during the current financial year. But water woes remain out of sight.

According to WaterAid’s report published in 2018 Pakistan is among those countries where the highest percentage or largest number of people cannot get clean water. It says that Pakistan is ranked 9th with around 21 million people without access to clean water close to home.

As per reports of Journal of Pakistan Medical Association (JPMA), 95 percent bacterial contamination was detected in water from domestic pumps, 91 percent from tap water in rural areas and 42 percent in Lahore. It is concluded that bacterial contamination of water is a significant problem in Punjab. It can be improved by regular monitoring of water supplies.

The Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) also highlighted that 90 per cent of factories in and around the city dump their waste untreated in open pits or discharge untreated water in streams. A Swiss expert Joel Podgorski in his finding said that out of 1,200 groundwater samples throughout Pakistan, up to 60 million people were exposed to arsenic poisoning.

The Pakistan Council of Research in Water (PCRWR) also conducted up to 60,000 samples from Lahore to lower Sindh under a study since 1999 and found arsenic at many places. During Suo Moto action, Supreme Court (SC) had to show anxiety over the soaring quantity of arsenic in drinking water in Punjab. The Supreme Court said that after Karachi, it’s now Punjab’s turn to sort out this alarming issue.

Punjab government installed 80 water filtration plants in five tehsils - Lodhran, Hasilpur, Dunyapur, Khanpur and Minchanabad. This figure showed one filtration plant for every 375,000 people. At this pace, it will take more than 200 years to provide clean water to the whole population of southern Punjab. 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 percent of hospital admissions are also caused by waterborne diseases.

WaterAid, also reported that Pakistan is among the 10 countries where most urban dwellers lack access to safe and private toilets. About 600 million people use dirty or crowded communal toilets and pit or bucket latrines, while some 100 million have no facilities at all, it said. Diarrhea resulting from poor sanitation such as inadequate toilets and dirty water kills 315,000 children yearly, according to estimates by WASHwatch, an online project that collects data on water and sanitation.

Meanwhile official of City District Government Lahore (CDGL) reveals that city has only 10 functional public toilets in the city. According to Unicef data, 41 million people in Pakistan lack access to adequate toilets that force them to defecate in public areas making it third largest country behind India and Indonesia where people don’t have access to public toilets.

Lowering of underground water is another simmering issue in Punjab. The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources in its 2018 research studies found that Lahore, Lodhran, Vehari, Khanewal and Multan are losing 90 percent of their underground water. It mentioned alarmingly that freshwater is rapidly turning saline, resulting in numerous stomach-related diseases.

The report said underground water of Khushab, Jhelum, Laiyah, Jhang, Sargodha and Faisalabad is not fit for consumption. Companies selling water are not following the code of conduct in the treatment of water.

In order to improve the situation, Punjab government in 2014 introduced “Punjab Municipal Water Act” after delay of more than 10 years. It said that all water used, or intended to be used for drinking, domestic, recreational, horticultural, industrial or commercial purposes and such other purposes is municipal water. It declared safe drinking water a fundamental human right and the responsibility of the State. It aims to work for conservation, protection, utilisation, exploitation, development, of water resources and the regulation of all municipal water services, including quality assurance of water, water services.

Showing compliance with Act, the Punjab government in 2015 launched the clean drinking water roadmap. WASAs also replaced 1,624 km of outlived water pipelines in 5 major cities. In addition, 1,216 km of new water supply pipelines have been laid down from 2008 – 2017. However, everything seemed an eyewash.

Since new CM Punjab Sardar Usman Buzdar assumed the charge after general election 2018, a steering committee and 15 sub committees have been established. One of them will deal with water issues. A master plan is also in offing to ensure safe drinking water in Punjab. Talking to media, promising CM claims that provision of clean water is included in the 100 day plan.

Indeed, it is high time to fix a permanent quota for water and sanitation issues in coming Punjab budget 2018-19 by exerting similar utmost thrust what we made on nuclear program and CPEC as drinkable water and sanitation crisis are the matter of our existence.

 

The writer is a senior journalist working for China Today and China Radio International. He also contributes to national mainstreams newspapers on economy, international relation and human rights. He is a fellow of ICFJ.

yaseerkhan@hotmail.com

@yasirkhann