By Saleem Shaikh
Daily Dawn, December 20, 2010
DESPITE different programmes launched to provide safe drinking water in Sindh, access to potable water for a sizeable population has not improved. Instead, the situation has deteriorated gradually.
A majority in the province are still without safe drinking water. Water experts blame corruption, inefficient planning and implementation, and poor quality infrastructure for the grim situation. “Most of the projects are malfunctioning or have become dysfunctional due to poor implementation and maintenance, and negligence,” they said.
Survey reports of Unicef, ADB and WB show that only 20-25 per cent population of Sindh has access to safe drinking water. About 65 per cent people in countryside and 35 per cent in urban areas have no access to clean drinking water.
But, some local water experts believe the situation more depressing. They say that 10-15 per cent rural people and less than 25 per cent in urban areas have access to safe drinking water.
In Sindh, 87 per cent of households use improved sources for drinking water and 13 per cent unimproved, according to the Unicef`s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS).
`Improved sources` include piped water in the household (31 per cent) or from a public tap (eight per cent), water from hand pump (35 per cent), donkey pump/turbine ( six per cent) or borehole ( four per cent). The `unimproved sources` (13 per cent) comprise unprotected dug well, river or stream and other (e.g., tanker truck and tractor- pulled tanker).
The MICS survey, however, points out that the `improved source` of water does not necessarily imply safety. There is potential contamination from pumps and wells, especially outside the household. Even piped water quality can be compromised by leakage and, in certain situations, come from suspect sources such as stagnant water.
There are major differences for sources in urban and rural areas. In urban centres the improved sources account for 93 per cent, of which piped water in the household (66 per cent) is most common. In rural areas this stands at 83 per cent, where the dependence is mainly on hand pumps (53 per cent) followed by public standpipe (11 per cent), piped water (eight per cent), donkey pump (five per cent) and protected well/ponds (four per cent), according to MICS findings.
Consumption of unsafe and contaminated water pushes up expenditures on health bills because of water-borne diseases. Availability of contaminated water to the people, particularly the poor, increases their living costs, lower their income earning potential, damage their well-being and make life riskier.
The continuing deterioration of the surface and underground water sources on which people survive means that water pressures will simply become worse in future,” remarked Munawar Memon.
“The lack of water infrastructure for the poor forces them to buy water from water-vendors at high prices, walking long distances and waiting in long queues at public sources, and incurring additional costs for storing and boiling water,” admits a senior official in the provincial public health engineering department (PHED).
“This lack of suitable and affordable access to water, leaves people consuming less than the optimum amount of water for good hygiene and impacts health and labour productivity of the household members, reducing income-generating opportunities of such households,” remarked Ghulam Haider Birhamani, a water expert.
“Most of filtration plants installed under the multi-billion rupees `Clean Drinking Water for All` (CDWI) have failed to provide relief to the intended beneficiaries.
According to official reports, most of the filter plants in different parts of the province are mal-functioning, because these developed faults in their first year of installation. Besides, some have become entirely dysfunctional because of poor maintenance and negligence.
As many as 1,108 plants of different treatment capacities (2,000 and 4,000 gallons per hour) were approved for Sindh at a cost of Rs2.4 billion under Rs23.8 billion CDWA project.
The CDWI progress report available with this scribe shows that so far 360 water filter plants have been installed in different union councils of the province, but 227 of them are inoperative.
Conceived in 2004 and executed by the federal environment ministry in 2006, the CDWA project was launched in the year 2006 and was to be completed in November 2010 to provide clean drinking water to the residents of 40 districts across the country, 23 districts of them in Sindh. Relevant officials said that unnecessary delay in procurement of specified water filtration plants has harmed the efforts for timely implementation of the project.
Director Provincial Project Implementation Unit (PPIU) of CDWA, Abdul Raheem Shaikh, said: “A contract for setting up plants in different parts of the province was awarded in 2007, but those responsible failed to procure the specified water filtration plants in time, which caused undue delay in the initiation of work on the CDWA project. Only 360 plants could be set up in three or so years. In fact, all 1108 plants would have been installed and in operation by now.”
“At the time of awarding contract, it was agreed with the contracting firm that Italian filtration plants would be procured. But, it failed in doing so and provided local plants, which were poor in quality and much cheaper than those made by Italy,” he explained.