Thousands Dying: How Water Contamination Got Out Of Hand In Pakistan

Small boy bathes in sewage water

Pakistan is no stranger to pollution. However, for many Pakistanis, November is the beginning of the dreaded smog season. Along with dangerous levels of smog, research has also recently revealed Water Contamination to be one of the major threats to public health in Pakistan which isn’t seasonal like smog. Not surprisingly, Pakistan ranks at number 80 among 122 nations regarding drinking water quality. Since drinking water sources, both surface and groundwater are contaminated with substances that are highly toxic to humans, such as coliforms, toxic metals, and pesticides throughout the country. Drinking water quality parameters set by WHO are frequently violated without regard for the danger this violation poses. After all, it’s just a few human lives lost. After all, only an estimated 40% of all deaths in Pakistan occur as a result of water contamination — water filled with industrial waste, arsenic, diseases, and sewage. All of these deaths are easily preventable if the drinking water quality was kept regulated. But, who knew drinking poisoned water daily would lead to death?

The fact of the matter is, that to drink anything but filtered or bottled water is to risk disease and death. One source estimates that each year 53,000 Pakistani children die of bacterial diarrhea from water contamination. The alternative is bottled water, which a large number of the population cannot afford. To top it off, most bottled water brands have been exposed as contaminated as well!

Pakistan has been relying on the Indus Basin Aquifer for a long time. But this Aquifer which is larger than Britain in size has been revealed to be contaminated with arsenic(lead) which is poisonous at best and fatal at worst if ingested. If this wasn’t bad news enough, The Indus Basin Aquifer has recently been revealed to be on the track to eventually run dry from increasing overuse.

E. Coli Bateria
A poster with information about E. coli bacteria infections and how to prevent them.

Still not concerned about the overwhelming problem of water contamination? Well, fear not, there’s more! Drinking water quality tests carried out in twelve districts of Punjab showed the water to be heavily contaminated with microbial and heavy metals (arsenic). At least 45% of the samples of Kasur district were found to be contaminated with microbes. About 73% of the water samples from Sheikhapura, 100% from Lahore, 64% from Gujranwala, 94% from Multan, 100% from Kasur, and 88% Of the water samples from Bahawalpur were highly contaminated with arsenic. No wonder the number of deaths due to contaminated water is so high. 

And, In case you’re wondering, yes, these deaths are entirely preventable.

Safe drinking water point by UNICEF in Quetta
Safe drinking water point constructed by UNICEF in Akber-Abad, Quetta district, Balochistan, Pakistan
Credit To: Asad Zaidi

Human activities like improper disposal of municipal and industrial effluents are the culprits. This along with the loose-handed use of agrochemicals in agriculture are the main factors contributing to the rapid deterioration of water quality. The fact that we have let these preventable deaths go on for so long is a disgrace. Access to clean drinking water is a human right that needs to be guaranteed by the State. Thousands of people are affected by contaminated water each year, resulting in a range of water-borne diseases such as cholera, hepatitis A, typhoid, and arsenic poisoning. The already financially struggling population of Pakistan, deeply affected by the Pandemic, now has to resort to the usage of bottled water. This undoubtedly leads to the privatization of water leading to the exploitation of water as a commodity rather than a fundamental human right. This results in inequitable access and is in no way acceptable. Rapid reforms are needed to ensuring that people have access to safe, secure, and affordable water, which is vital to ensure a decent life for all. After all, how could there be life without water?