RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Safe water

World Environment Day: Parched in the 21st century

Published: June 5, 2013

Share this articlePrint this pageEmail

n the harsh desert climate, the little rain that Tharparkar receives in the monsoons, if collected in natural depressions or manmade water reservoirs, lasts hardly a few weeks. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: Lali’s hands are chafed, as this 11-year-old helps her mother pull out water from an underground well in her village by the help of ropes – water that is almost poison. As people round the globe celebrate World Environment Day, Lali’s biggest dream remains clean water, even if she has to continue to walk three hours daily to get it. Where 89% of the water is unfit for human consumption in this district of Sindh, the dream of this daughter of Tharparkar is almost too idealistic.

A lot has happened in the last two weeks. The lower house of parliament has been sworn and new beginnings are underway. Yet, much is the same for the residents of village Samoo Rind in Tharparkar. They still walk with their spines bent. They still spend hours pulling out water from wells. It is two weeks since The Express Tribune published the story of this village in Tharparkar.

With dangerously contaminated underground water which contains high levels of fluoride and is unfit for human consumption, the result is generations of people crippled and disabled, with multiple health issues.

The only alternative to underground water would be rainwater. In the harsh desert climate, the little rain that Tharparkar receives in the monsoons, if collected in natural depressions or manmade water reservoirs, lasts hardly a few weeks.

A Ray of hope

Following Express Tribune’s story, the Association for Water Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE) working in the area was thrilled when a team of the Pakistan Army reached them after reading the story. “On the second day of the story, a team reached. We are hopeful that the report of the said delegation will have far-reaching effects because at a distance of 24 km from Samoo Rind there is a water supply line of the Pak Army,” shared Wali Mohammad, the Communication Officer at AWARE, after the Army visit.

“We have presented the findings of the visit to our commander along with all the facts and figures. The water samples we collected have been given for laboratory testing. Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) has been given the report,” says an Army officer, who was part of the team who visited Samoo Rind, on condition of anonymity.

“For underground water, desalination is the best option and among the available solutions Reverse Osmosis (RO) system is the best method. AWARE mobilised resources from philanthropists and installed a RO plant in 2008. But that is operated on diesel and monthly expenses are Rs50,000 which we cannot afford. The AWARE team got earlier offers for financial support to meet the recurring cost of the RO plant but being local and conscious about repercussions, we decided against temporary solutions. Creating dependency will have its own drawbacks; we don’t want to make our community a parasite,” says Ali Akbar, Executive Director, AWARE.

“Our first recommendation is simple and practical. At a distance of 11 km from the village, there is an electric supply line. If the village gets electricity, the RO plant can become functional,” says the Army officer.

And where is the Sindh Government?

“Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is in a very strong position in Tharparkar now. If they want they can fix this within no time,” says Amar Guriro, President of National Council of Environmental Journalists (NCEJ) and a son of the Tharparkar soil himself. “Jobs and economic security, on the list of priorities, comes after water. This is a basic human right,” adds an impassioned Guriro.

At least some 70 villages in Tharparkar suffer at the hands of unsafe water-borne diseases, and governments come and go, as do promises.

Till the going of this story into press, repeated attempts were made to get a statement from the media department of the Chief Minister House, but no timely response was received.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2013.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/559013/world-environment-day-parched-in-the-21st-century/

Water woes: When heads cannot be held up high

Published: May 19, 2013

Share this articlePrint this pageEmail

Almost all of the 3,000-plus people in the village walk with their spines bent. PHOTO: AWARE

ISLAMKOT: As he tries to get up from his bed, no more than a threadbare ralli on the floor, Ramesh reaches out for his cane. Once up, he cannot stand straight. Though his full height is some 5 feet 8 inches, he is bent over so much that he seems only half as tall as he really is. He tries to manage a smile which only exposes discoloured and decayed teeth. He is 34 years old.

Nearby his mother, 53-year-old Hurmi, cannot walk at all, and is forced to crawl on the ground. This is not just the story of one house or one family. This is the story of each and every household in village Sammon Rind in tehsil Chachro, Tharparkar, about 480 km from Karachi. Almost all of the 3,000-plus people here walk with their spines bent, unable to stand up straight. The reason for their suffering is the very substance that sustains life itself: water. And in this village, every drop is tainted.

A timeline of Ramesh’s life is typical of almost all residents of this area. The highly contaminated water first affects the teeth, which start becoming deformed around the age of five to seven. Between 12 to 15 years of age, bone deformities start setting in. Coupled with the harsh and hot desert climate and chronic malnutrition, even adolescents start acquiring a shriveled appearance, mimicking old age. By the time they are 25-year-old or above, almost all of them walk with their spines bent. Water, the source of life, has ended up crippling not just their bodies but their dignity and their chance at a normal life. And no one seems to care.

Former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan once said that contaminated water jeopardises both the physical and social health of people, and is therefore “an affront to human dignity”. The reality of this remote part of Pakistan is that no head is held up high, literally.

Almost poison

Seeing the standards the World Health Organisation (WHO) has set for water safe for human consumption, one is forced to wonder how people in villages like Samoon Rind and Mau Akheraj in parched Tharparkar are still alive. But a look at their lives makes one wonder if this can be called life at all.

High fluoride content is mostly the culprit. According to the WHO, fluoride levels above 1.5 mg/l cause Fluorosis resulting in the pitting of tooth enamel and deposits in bones. Above about 10 mg/l causes crippling skeletal Fluorosis. In Tharparkar, fluoride content is found to be up to 31 mg/l.

Many of these victims suffer from diseases of “jaws, bones, teeth, liver, kidneys – contaminated water can affect all organs and these effects can be irreversible,” says orthopaedic surgeon Dr Tayeb Asim.

The arsenic contamination of underground water in Thar has been confirmed by United Nations International Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) and chronic arsenic poisoning is considered to be a serious health emergency.

The WHO consumption limit for Total Dissolved Salts (TDS) is 1500 mg/l. But more than 50% of the population in Tharparkar is getting water that has TDS of more than 5,000 mg/l. In village Narowari, the water’s TDS content can go as high as 20,000.

A worthless struggle?

“The people of this area have been struggling to draw attention to these problems but all we get is promises. Governments come and go but no one does anything to help us,” says Ali Akbar, Executive Director, Association for Water Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE), who has been working closely with effected communities.

He mentions the likes of Nisar Khuhro and Sharmila Faruqi giving commitments that never materialised. In January, locals went on a hunger strike in Mithi when they heard that President Asif Ali Zardari was expected to visit, but he never came.

Talking solutions

The preferred option is to find an alternative water source with lower Fluoride levels, as it is difficult and expensive to reduce a high natural level of fluoride in water. If there is no other possible or cost-effective source, de-fluoridation must be attempted to avoid the toxic effects. Digging deeper wells, rainwater harvesting, and installation of de-fluoridation and desalination plants is what should be done urgently.

A parched life in Tharparkar

•  Tharparkar is ranked by the World Food Programme as the most food insecure of Pakistan’s 120 districts.

•  89% of underground water in Thar is not fit for human consumption.

•  On an average, 3 people from each household spend 3-5 hours daily to fetch water for human consumption and watering the animals.

•  Women and children have to pull the rope by hands.

•  High maternal mortality rates in Tharparkar are related to lifting heavy water-carriers for hours and miles. Pregnant women suffer the most

•  The bones of these women are not well- formed, which is why they often cannot sustain child-bearing and die

•  No one wants to marry girls and boys of this village after ages 12-15 as because of brackish water, they acquire the appearance of old age. The result is high incidences of child marriage

•  Drought causes fodder shortage and animals get weaker, which is why livestock keepers migrate to barrage areas

•  High incidences of migration disrupt normalcy of life, which is why dropout rate of school-children is high

•  Due to difficulties of collecting water, people use it sparingly, which results in unhygienic conditions leading to diseases

•  The men suffer more as they do more physical work, hence they feel more thirsty and consume more water which is highly contaminated, and develop debilitating diseases

Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2013.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/551420/water-woes-when-heads-cannot-be-held-up-high/