LAHORE -  Per capita water availability in Pakistan is approaching the stage of acute water stress due to combination of domestic, industrial, commercial and agricultural activities.

This was stated by the speakers at a seminar organised by Pakistan Engineering Congress to mark the World Water Day. The seminar on theme of ‘Waste Water’ was addressed by Pakistan Engineering Congress president Engineer Ch Ghulam Hussain, Dr Izharul Haq, Dr Nawaz Bhutta and Dr Saleem Sarwar.

Engr Hussain in his lecture on ‘Waste Water’ said that wastewater for irrigation may contain unsuitable chemicals and result in delayed crop maturity and under yielding. Untreated wastewater discharged into fresh water bodies or sea may contain pathogens and harmful dissolved chemicals, which can affect fishing in that area. Similarly, smell in those areas may discourage tourism, he added.

He said wastewater is a big health issue as it carries and transports a myriad of diseases and illnesses. “According to WHO, about 3 million people die annually due to diarrhoeal disease. At least another 2 million children under 5 years die every year due to water related diseases or one every 20 seconds,” he added.

He said that wastewater treatment for its beneficial reuse is a dire need of Pakistan with particular focus on municipal sewerage and industrial effluent. He suggested that water bodies, entirely within national jurisdiction, should be subject to multiple regulations of local governments. Disposal into rivers crossing international boundaries or sea may be subject to bilateral or multilateral treaties. The options available in this case are evaporation ponds, infiltration basins or injection wells, he added.

Dr Izhar in his lecture on 'Water availability in Pakistan and Wastewater’ observed that increasing demand of water for agricultural, domestic, industrial and municipal purposes has rendered it imperative to take stock of water availability in Pakistan and present scenario of wastewater generation and its ultimate environment friendly recycling for use. The economy of Pakistan to a large extent depends upon the Indus River system inflows. Pakistan can be classified as one of the arid countries on globe with average rainfall of 240 mm a year.

He said that agriculture sector uses lion’s share of available water. Much of the available surface and groundwater, approximately 200 MAF, on the average, is predominantly used for agriculture, which contributes about 25 percent of GDP of Pakistan, and almost 60 percent of export earnings. The other utilisations are domestic water supply and sanitation and industrial sectors. There are scores of factors that appear to threaten the present precarious availability of freshwater. The major driving forces that threaten future sustainable water availability in Pakistan include; droughts, climate change, low water use efficiency and untreated disposal of wastewater. “To cope with this situation, we need water storage/water retention facilities on war footing,” he said. Other sustainable water management measures include: water conservation, efficient use of water, rainwater harvesting and grey water treatment.

The quantity of wastewater produced in Pakistan is 962,335 million gallons, including 674,009 million gallons from municipal and 2,88,326 million gallons from industrial use, he added. The total wastewater discharged to the rivers is 392,511 million gallons, which includes 316,740 million gallons of municipal and 75,771 million gallons of industrial effluents. “If we look at percentage composition of various contributing sectors; then 73 percent wastewater is of residential origin, 16 percent is contributed by agriculture sector, while 6 percent and 5 percent is respectively shared by the industrial and commercial sectors.”

Dr Izhar said there is no national policy on sustainable use of wastewater in Pakistan. A negligible portion ie 8 percent of wastewater in Pakistan is treated through sedimentation ponds to a primary level only but most of the treatment plants are not functional, therefore, the figure can be estimated around 1 percent. There is no existing concept of treatment at secondary and tertiary level. The problem of industrial water pollution has remained uncontrolled because there have been little or no incentives for industry to treat their effluents. In villages the wastewater is disposed of by drains to open ponds or soakage pits resulting in unhygienic conditions. “We need to inculcate awareness and commitments to reduce the lavish use of water and its pollution, treat wastewater and reuse,” he suggested.