LAHORE-A team of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) working on the Lahore Water and Wastewater Management Project held a meeting here on Thursday.

The meeting chaired by Planning and Development Board Chairman Habib Gillani was told that the Punjab government was taking measures to preserve the aquifer in Lahore that was damaged by ill-planned and environmentally unfit policies in the past.

The meeting was told that underground water was going down at an alarming speed, more than one metre per annum. Consequently, several shallow tube-wells have dried up and are no longer operational, and the city is now facing a severe water shortage.

According to the P&D statistics, 576 tube-wells are pumping water into the distribution system in Lahore. Abstraction of groundwater by the Lahore Water and Sanitation Authority (Wasa) is 540 million gallons per day (MGD), equivalent to 2.45 million cubic metres per day. About 1.2 million cubic metres water is abstracted by the private housing societies, cantonment boards, railway colonies and areas in the jurisdiction of the local government every day.

Lahore receives an average annual rainfall of about 715mm, which does not contribute much to recharging the aquifer, as groundwater abstraction is much higher than recharge and consequently the groundwater table continues to deplete rapidly.

As for wastewater, there is no treatment facility in Lahore. All untreated domestic and industrial wastewater is discharged directly into the nearby River Ravi and it pollutes the river heavily.

It is estimated that the River Ravi receives nearly 640MGD wastewater and this amount of water has converted the river into a sewage drain.

On the other hand, the River Ravi plays a major role in replenishing Lahore’s groundwater by up to 82 percent. Due to mass contamination of the river, polluted water seeps down, making the groundwater unfit for drinking and affecting the soil fertility.

The pollution of groundwater has been causing diseases like diarrhoea, typhoid, intestinal worms and hepatitis in several areas of the city.

The P&D Department said that multifaceted problems of clean water shortage and untreated wastewater overflow had been taken seriously by the Punjab government. “Under well thought out interventions, the Punjab government has decided to save the aquifer and the River Ravi from further pollution and toxicity,” says the department.