Water for All

By: Fauzia Waqar

The World Water Week, from August till August 30, this year had the theme: ‘Water for Society: Including All’. The purpose of conducting a water week is to create awareness regarding water issues like access to clean water, reasons for contamination of water, water-borne diseases, and preventive measures.

Water pollution is one of the major public health issues we face and takes a heavy toll on human health globally. Malaria, cholera and hepatitis are a few of the major diseases caused by water contamination. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 850,000 people die annually due to diarrhoea caused by untreated water. Another study by the WHO shows that four percent of all global deaths are attributed to water pollution.

Pakistan also shows a dismal picture regarding water pollution; the country ranks at number 80 among 122 nations regarding drinking water quality. The majority of the areas in the country are deprived of access to clean drinking water. Compromised sanitation and hygiene augment this, and act as one of the major underlying determinants of various diseases.

It has been assessed that the primary source of contamination in water is sewerage which is extensively discharged into the drinking water supply and becomes a crucial source of spreading life threatening diseases. A secondary reason of pollution is the disposal of toxic chemicals from industrial effluents, pesticides, and fertilizers from agriculture sources into water bodies.

Many areas of Pakistan show the presence of toxic elements like arsenic in water. This element occurs naturally in the earth crust and is unnoticeable if present in water as it is odourless and tasteless. The WHO gives 10 microgram/litre as its acceptable limit. Prolonged exposure to more than this can increase risk of lung and kidney cancer; skin lesions are the most common manifestations in arsenicosis patients.

Pakistan has already been declared a water-stressed country and the situation is worsening due to population growth, urbanization, pollution of water resources and the impact of climate change. Lack of government policies with uneven distribution of water to different regions are added factors, leading to a situation where there will be none or very little clean water available in Pakistan. However, if a focused and timely approach is taken in terms of the right kind of government policies with the involvement of private institutions, water scarcity is not inevitable. This means that with the participation of all stakeholders and with community engagement the issue can be managed and we can ensure that all of us and our future generations can get access to clean drinking water.

The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) is a global standard; its vision is: “the use of water that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial, achieved through a stakeholder-inclusive process that involves both site and catchment level actions.” According to the concept, all actors using and providing water should feel responsible for utilizing the scarce resource in the best possible way, and work together to make it sustainable.

This shows that water conservation is not an individual act but a collective action in a coordinated way. Keeping the alarming situation in mind, there is a need for the government to explore on an urgent basis new linkage with the private sector, industry, community, and to bring all stakeholders together to ensure sufficient water supply, improve sanitation and hygiene.

Being a signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals, Pakistan should prioritize the issue of water quality and availability at a massive scale and with rigorous actions to achieve SDG 6 which calls for clean water and sanitation for all people. The country already failed to achieve MDG 7 which was focused on clean water for all.

There is a need to adopt a different strategy this time, including the AWS standard. Water sensitive advocacy should be focused on creating awareness about the issue and its consequences at a massive scale. Government and the private sector should sensitize the public by conducting public advocacy seminars at the district and tehsil levels involving community leaders, healthcare providers, , civil society, public and private representatives. Behaviour change communication strategy regarding water use should be developed and disseminated at various forums.

Above all, the standard of Alliance for Water Stewardship can provide the best pathway to attain SDG 6 for the country. Adopting the standard with an objective of aligned actions between all stakeholders, especially industry and community, on water make way for access to clean drinking water for all.

(The writer is a public health consultant, Courtesy The News.com)