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The dangers of contaminated water in Pakistan

250,000 Pakistani children die of diarrhoea every year
250,000 Pakistani children die of diarrhoea every year

A new study has been conducted by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) to assess the nation’s water supplies.

During the five-year study, water sources across 24 districts were tested and over 80 per cent of them provided water which was unsafe for drinking. The PCRWR also noted that 250,000 children die each year in Pakistan as a result of diarrhoeal illnesses which stem from drinking impure water.

The situation with water supplies was further worsened by the floods of 2010. To reduce vulnerability to waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) aims to focus a significant portion of its 2011 aid budget for Pakistan on providing safe water suppliers for 5 million people in flood-hit areas, as well as to over 900,000 Pakistanis affected by armed conflict. UNICEF’s initiative will also include education on safe hygiene.

Other agencies are also working to improve awareness about safe water. However, even when families are aware of the issues, sometimes they do not have the means to do what is necessary. For example, many Pakistanis rely on small kerosene-fuelled stoves for their cooking and it is proving impossible to boil all the water they need because of rising fuel prices. Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are working to supply basic filtration systems, such as the Association of Humanitarian Development, which offers a filtration solution based on using two clay pots. This simple and cost-effective method can clean up to 15 litres of water each day and has been trialled across Sindh province for the past three years.

But in some locations, boiling or filtering water is not enough. In certain villages of Sindh Province which rely on underground water sources, residents are suffering from high levels of fluoride contamination. A high intake of fluoride causes dental and bone deformities, as well as thyroid and kidney damage. Since many families suffer from poor nutrition, their bodies are more vulnerable to the affects of this contamination. Water which contains high level of solvents requires proper treatment in plants to make it safe, though some small-scale solutions are available. The Association for Water, Applied Education and Renewable Energy (AWARE) has set up small plants in certain locations or installed windmills to draw water from even deeper underground. However two desalination facilities set up by the NGO are no longer in operation because the local communities cannot pay for the fuel to run them.

IRIN spoke to an Islamabad expert on water issues who confirmed that water sources are widely contaminated across Pakistan.  Khalid Hussain said that thanks to poor governance, ordinary people were suffering severe health issues and were effectively “helpless” to do anything about the problem.

SOS Children has been caring for Pakistan's most vulnerable children since 1977. Find out about SOS Children's work in Pakistan...