By Salman A. Siddiqui
Pakistan, the latest addition to the exclusive club of nuclear powers, got its independence 53 years ago as a result of great human sacrifice. Millions of courageous Muslims made the trek across the Indian subcontinent, led by the dynamic Quaid-e-Asam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, to establish the Islamic state following withdrawal of the British after World War II. But it’s also a land with a rich cultural history as the gateway to Central Asia that extends well before colonialism—see http://www.geocities.com/pak_history/main.html
Pakistan is a country immensely blessed with natural resources in abundance and which cultivates a diversity of crops. It attracts large numbers of tourists who come to see the scenic beauty of green mountains, fast flowing rivers and lush valleys crowned by snow-capped peaks in the northern part of the country. On their return, many declare these breathtaking vistas make it the Switzerland of the East.
Pakistan produces some of the world’s best cotton, rice and leather, as well as sporting equipment, surgical goods, computer software, etc. It shares borders with China, Iran, Afghanistan and India, also hosting an expansive coastline along the Arabian Sea. Urdu is the national language and the literacy rate is roughly 38 percent. About 95 percent of the population follows Islam and the rights of minorities are well respected. It’s constituted by four provinces: Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan and North-West Frontier Province. Although Islamabad is the federal capital, the port city of Karachi is considered the industrial and commercial hub of Pakistan’s economy.
The essential of life
Water is found in abundance in this part of the world. There are large dams and one of them, Tarbela, is the biggest earthen dam in the world. Glaciers in the north melt in summers, giving way to a huge deluge of water added to by heavy rains that flow down the five big rivers of the country. During these monsoons, which normally fall in July and August, the country often experiences severe floods. As Pakistan depends heavily on its agricultural income (ranking fourth behind India, China and the United States in acreage under cultivation in 1994), its water supply has to be evenly and comprehensively channeled to different towns, villages and even remote areas through a canal system. Desert inhabitants fetch water from long distances and, at times, it’s delivered to them through camel caravans. However, due to a dearth of rainfall this year, the deserts and dry hilly areas of the countryside are experiencing the worst drought in at least 30 years.
Potable water—a basic problem
The quality of drinking water has always been a burning issue in Pakistan. The basic and foremost essential of life, water has been—over the centuries—losing its purity and drinking quality in this Muslim nation, as a result of population, agricultural and industrial growth. Even a common person can very safely state it’s often not fit for human consumption, particularly with the many revelations of industrial toxic waste and microbiological organisms contaminating our lakes, rivers and other drinking water resources.
Karachi, which lies on the Arabian Sea far south of the capital of Islamabad, receives its water mainly from Keenjhar Lake and the Hub Dam, as well as some private hydrants. These sources are exposed to all manner of contamination, contributed to by raw human waste, thus polluting the entire water supply for the city’s 12 million inhabitants. This is particularly true for the hydrants, which are set up in proximity to the extremely contaminated Malir an Lyari rivers that serve as the rainwater and sewage drain for the city. The bustling megalopolis generates 250 million gallons a day of total waste and its four waste treatment plants can only handle the municipal waste. Their design doesn’t allow for complete sewage treatment according to the National Environmental Quality Standards.
Factors of contamination
Another large contribution comes from frequent use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides—which have picked up noticeably over the years, contaminating ground and surface water sources alike. In addition, industries—including paper, pharmaceuticals, refineries, paints, chemicals, leather tanning, petrochemicals, thermal power, laboratories, textiles, hospitals and various engineering sectors, etc.—regularly discharge their toxins and wastes containing heavy metals and so forth directly or indirectly into the Malir and Lyari as well. Also, the majority of water supply lines are laid adjacent or near sewage lines, with materials quality and age leaving no doubt of cross contamination. Almost every other day, local press reports tell of supply problems and stinking water among various neighborhoods causing epidemics in all the cities of Pakistan.
Sewage to mineral water
According to a leading daily newspaper, a renowned European laboratory declared a sample of Karachi’s coastline water to be “untreated sewage.” This scenario alarms us to the possibility of severe diseases arriving through our taps—causing hepatitis, mental disorders, jaundice, typhoid, diarrhoea, kidney failure, etc. Apparently, the citizens seems to be aware of these facts, which has led to a school of thought advocating boiling water. This disinfection method has been generally welcomed for centuries as a remedy to this potential disaster. There’s no doubt that boiling water leads to eradication of bacteria and harmful viruses, but this process has no effect on the chemical contamination and toxic agents such as mercury, arsenic, lead, chromium, etc., which remain a threat to human health. If anything, it may concentrate them into more significant doses.
Introduction of mineral water available in bottles, water filters and treatment plants (see FYI) are a breakthrough and a sigh of relief for the mass of humanity here. Unfortunately, they haven’t been accorded a deserving welcome in our country due to a lack of awareness. They’ve been tagged as luxury items rather than as a basic and foremost human necessity. Mineral water bottles, to an extent, fail to match the budgeted provision of even an upper middle class family. Comparatively, water filters prove far more economical and effective protection against polluted water.
Water treatment devices
As a matter of economics, simple filtration devices are more likely to be the preferred domestic method of treating water to make it potable. As in anywhere, the wealthier the household the more advanced the technology its residents may be able to afford.
A leading domestic product with commercial applications that’s on the market involves a three-stage, wall-mounted water purification system. It reduces particulate, iron and other sediments in the first level with a 5-micron (µm) filter. In the second, a silver-impregnated granular activated carbon (GAC) cartridge filter helps minimize organic chemicals, insecticides and unpleasant tastes and odors. Finally, the system gets harsh on bacteria and viruses with ultraviolet (UV) disinfection in the third stage— recommended flow rate of 2 gpm and dosage of 30,000-50,000 mWs-cm2—which kills microorganisms or ensures no reproduction. Transmitting at 254 nanometers and using a quartz sleeve, this UV unit has a 2-log reduction capability.
Reverse osmosis (RO) hasn’t proven an economical option in Pakistan for the general population except as “community water systems.” In these instances, water tanks and 8-to-10 taps are constructed in a selected locality to benefit the nearby residents. A number of cantonment areas in Pakistan are using these successfully in Pakistan.
After RO systems, water softeners, deionizers, sand filters and—to an extent—isolators are also making their way into this market which needs to be seriously explored. It’s also an ideal opportunity for international water treatment companies to establish their brands in Pakistan, as the basic groundwork has been done and the people are aware of the disasters untreated drinking water has in store for them. They realize it’s high time to take control of their own water supply to protect theirs and future generations’ health.
About the author
Salman A. Siddiqui is general manager of So~Safe Water Technologies of Karachi, Pakistan. Previously, he served as president of Karachi Jaycees and headed delegations to many countries as its representative, winning a UNESCO Gold Medal for his work with a youth program, STAIR. So~Safe has a factory in Sharjah, U.A.E., where housings, cartridges, UV and RO systems are manufactured for export to more than 40 countries. These are for residential, commercial and industrial applications, including effluent, wastewater and swimming pool water treatment. Clients include leading multinational corporations as well as the armed forces of Pakistan. It’s five-story headquarters also house a new Institute of Safe Water Technologies, an in-house training and research center that will shortly be offering a mini-MBA program, aside from conducting courses on water sciences. Siddiqui can be contacted at +92 21 544420-21, +92 21 572231/5892455 (fax) or email: [email protected] or http://[email protected]
Population: 138,123,359 (July 1999 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.18% (1999 est.)
Infant mortality rate: 91.86 deaths/1,000 live births (1999 est.)
Life expectancy at birth
Total population: 59.38 years
Male: 58.49 years
Female: 60.3 years (1999 est.)
Total fertility rate: 4.73 children born/woman (1999 est.)
Total population: 37.8%
Female: 24.4% (1995 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 7.8% (FY97/98)
Population below poverty line: 34% (1991 est.)
Total: 803,940 sq. km
Land: 778,720 sq. km
Water: 25,220 sq. km
Area—comparative: Slightly less than twice the size of California
Arable land: 27%
Permanent crops: 1%
Permanent pastures: 6%
Forests and woodland: 5%
Other: 61% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 171,100 sq. km (1993 est.)
Environment—current issues: water pollution from raw sewage, industrial wastes, and agricultural runoff; limited natural fresh water resources; a majority of the population does not have access to potable water; deforestation; soil erosion; desertification.
SOURCE: World FactBook
If you’d like to know more about Pakistan, visit these websites.
—”Drinking Water Quality of Hyderabad”
—”Multi-Stage Prefiltration in Northern Pakistan”
—”Drinking Water Quality in the city of Karachi”
—”Chemical Quality of Groundwater of Rawalpindi/Islamabad”
—”Improving Productivity of Pakistan’s Irrigation: Importance of Management Choices”