Amid paucity of piped water, overuse of unsafe groundwater damaging health and earth -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Amid paucity of piped water, overuse of unsafe groundwater damaging health and earth

Pakistan Press Foundation

KARACHI: High consumption of groundwater not only causes devastating effects on health, but its extraction also leaves the earth in tatters.

As the condition of water supply through mains is getting worse with each passing day in the metropolis, more and more people are now looking towards the alternative sources of water supply.

A resident of Federal B. Area block 6, when contacted, told Dawn, “We have no choice but to use groundwater since potable water is not being supplied to us regularly by the government through underground water pipes.

“We use groundwater for everything from washing clothes to cleaning the house other than cooking and drinking because it is too salty.”

It is seen that one can easily get the earth bored for the purpose of extracting water without any control of the government.

“The entire process of boring gets completed in three to five days, depending on the nature of soil,” a person who is involved in the practice said.

“You need to pay Rs350 per feet if you want to get it done somewhere around Nazimabad in district Central and Rs800 at around Seaview. We use a hydraulic bore at the former area while we have to use a drill machine at the latter because there are big rocks underneath the earth’s surface.”

A number of people are not only extracting water for their own consumption, but for commercial purposes as well.

“We sell around 2,400 litres of groundwater every day and charge Rs30 for a bottle of 19 litres,” a milkman, who has established a Reverse Osmosis (R.O.) Plant inside his shop, said.

“Why would we not sell groundwater when we have established the plant for Rs650,000?” he questioned.

Throwing light on the side effects of groundwater, Dr Farrukh Abbasi, who is involved in child care, said, “This water could lead to severe diseases in children. They develop problems in bones and joints, and cannot move properly.

“I have seen poor children extracting water from unclean wells with the help of tin cans and drinking it then and there.

“Water should be boiled at any cost.”

Elaborating further, Dr Shahid Naseem, the chairperson of the Department of Geology at the University of Karachi, said: “Level of underground water remains unchanged if it rains regularly, but this is not the case. We experience dry spells most of the time in the city.

“Water contains some of the natural elements which are called geogenic. These elements could be found anywhere it rains whether at Himalayas or in the plains of Sindh. Anthropogenic elements are related to pollution caused by human activity. There is no problem as long as geogenic and anthropogenic elements remain within the optimum limit.”

Professor Shamim Ahmad Sheikh, who retired from the Geology department two years ago, said: “Groundwater contains arsenic, chromium and mercury which are carcinogenic [that causes cancer]. Mercury is found in underground water near tanneries. Therefore, this water should be avoided.

“There are no proper dumping grounds for waste in the country, therefore, all that waste goes in the soil and makes groundwater more harmful. It even carries bacteria.”

On the use of groundwater, he said, “It could be used once it is purified by a reliable source. Even if we make it drinkable, extraction of too much of it makes earth collapse.”

Dr Tahir Rafiq, Senior Scientific Officer at the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR), said, “We at the council test water for Rs5,000, but do not provide certificate to any person trying to sell bottled water.

“As quality of underground water keeps changing all the time, every batch of water needs to be tested.

“Our areas have more salinity. High quantity of salt affects the performance of kidneys and eventually fails them. Calcium, magnesium, sulphate and chloride are some of the other elements responsible for destroying the quality of water.

“Fluoride is found more in water in deserts. It gives rise to arthritis and turns children’s teeth yellow.

“Nitrate is found more in cities because of the absorption of sewage by soil.”

About the consequences of extraction of groundwater on soil, he said, “Because of extraction, water level goes down. Water is a natural resource and is as precious as oil. We are depleting this natural resource by extracting water, and thus affecting our future generation.”

He further said, “Foundations of houses weaken if too much of water is sucked out. It is true that subsidence occurs if rock on which the foundation of a house is erected is soft.”

About the law on extraction of groundwater, advocate Mohammed Farooq said, “Even if the government enacts one, it is not possible to implement it keeping in view the booming population of Karachi. The government cannot go door to door and check if a well is dug inside a house.”

In view of the present situation, there is a need on the part of the government to improve supply of water not only to large cities, but to remote areas as well so

that people do not think about groundwater. Supply of water could only be improved if additional dams and reservoirs are built. The government should also run awareness programmes about the harms caused by groundwater, water experts said.

Dawn

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