Islamabad - Comprising almost 80 per cent of the body, water is the most essential element, next to air, to human survival, so its purity matters. But, not in Pakistan where about 38.5 million people have no access to clean and safe drinking water and its shortage is proliferating quickly.

Putting other areas of the country aside, if we only talk about Islamabad, the capital, which usually is the best piece of the country, there is scarcity of clean drinking water and its proof can be witnessed at filtration plants queued with people with bottles in hands and looming business of bottled mineral waters.

Though, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) has established around 38 filtration plants at different parts of the city, but most of them are either out of order or have become a source of contaminated water due to lack of care, chlorination and delay in change of filters.

“It is a wrong perception that clean and safe drinking water is available at every filtration plant, rather water being extracted from tube-wells installed at different points of the capital is more safe,” said Director General Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) Lubna Bukhari while talking to APP.

She said regular chlorination was required at filtration plants to keep water clean but the same was not done by the CDA, adding, chlorinators were installed by PCRWR at different filtration plants but the civic body did not maintain them.

Lubna admitted the fact that there was microbiological contamination in water being supplied to the residents of the city, but it was mainly due to old pipelines and improper storage capacity.

“Underground water is also contaminated but only the upper level; deep borings are extracting safe water,” she underlined. The looming threat of clean drinking water scarcity constitutes one of the biggest challenges to Pakistan. This threat is not less dangerous than that of terrorism because it has been taking millions of lives, especially those of children, every year. According to a report of Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), the mortality rate of under-five year children due to ill-water conditions is 101 per 1000 children.

“Some of the water-borne diseases include diarrhea, worm infections, typhoid, hepatitis A, diabetes, hypertension, birth defects and skin, heart and kidney related diseases and multiple types of cancers etc,” said Dr Saniya Mughal, a medical officer at Maharoof Hospital.

She said water-borne diseases were on rise in the federal capital and these could be avoided if people start using boiled water.

Pakistan was a water rich country just a few decades ago; however, a recent World Bank Report mentioned that Pakistan is now among the 17 countries that are currently facing water shortage.

The DG PCRWR informed that underground water level was constantly declining in Islamabad and surroundings due to increasing number of water bores.

Non-availability of clean drinking water has forced a large cross-section of citizens to buy bottled water, resulting in mushrooming of bottled water industry in the country. However, many of the mineral water companies were found selling contaminated water.

In its recent report, PCRWR had mentioned 23 brands including Al-Hawa, Aqua Smart, Crystal Pure Water, Well Care, Sawera, Pure Fresh, Metro, Oriel, Al-Haider Pure, Zenith, Premier, Days Pure, Aqua National, Pak Spring, Nation, Mazan Pure Life, Al-Khair, Pineo, Zindagi, Miracle, Orion, Niamat, Nahla to be unsafe due to chemical or microbiological contamination. Lubna Bukhari said PCRWR had submitted report to PSQCA with a recommendation to take action against these bottled water companies.

Meanwhile, CDA spokesman Ramzan Sajid said the CDA had completed up-gradation and maintenance work of 14 water filtration plants out of existing 38 in Islamabad.

“Water samples from eight filtration plants have also been collected and tested by Pakistan Council of Research for Water Resources (PCRWR), so that quality clean drinking water could be provided to the residents of the federal capital,” he said.

The spokesperson maintenance work on remaining water filtration plants was being completed on war footing basis and it would be completed in the next week.

It is pertinent to mention that CDA had earlier decided to upgrade all existing water filtration plants and allocated Rs 16.67 million for the up-gradation and maintenance operation of water filtration plants in the city.