Major Rivers in Pakistan Contaminated by Substantial Water Pollution, Study Reveals

Only 8% of country’s total municipal wastewater and 1% of industrial wastewater are treated before they are discharged into rivers; The Chenab exhibited highest concentrations of toxic beyond safe limits

JUL 6, 2018 (BE2C2): A China-Pakistan joint study reveals three Pakistani rivers are suffering from substantial water contamination.

Potentially toxic elements (PTE) were discovered, sourced from raw sewage and industrial effluent, which could spell negative health effects for the country’s citizens while also adversely affecting flora and fauna, says the study report Water & Wastes Digest.

Researchers utilized spectroscopy to analyze the waters, a chemical process that is able to detect very small amounts of an element. Scientists also pulled sediment and fish samples for analysis in their study.

According to the lead author of the study assistant professor Javed Nawab of Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan , the gathered samples demonstrated a variety of potentially harmful contaminants.

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“We found the samples contaminated beyond safe limits with arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium, nickel, copper, cobalt, manganese and zinc,” said the professor.

The samples were drawn from three of the major water bodies, specifically Chenab, Indus and Kabul rivers. The samples were then studied at the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research (ITPR) in Beijing.

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Results showed unsafe water conditions.

“Toxic fish captured from the contaminated waters of the three rivers enters the country’s food chain as it is consumed by the people, particularly fisher communities,” added Wang Xiaoping, associate professor at ITPR.

The Chenab River exhibited the highest concentrations of PTEs of the three rivers analyzed. The river has several industrial and residential settlements placed close its banks throughout its length.

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The study isolates atmospheric deposits, industrial effluents, and municipal and agricultural runoff as the primary contributors to the toxicity levels in the various rivers.

“For want of wastewater and organic pollutant treatment facilities, large amounts of PTEs flow into the rivers that cater to the country’s irrigation, industrial and drinking water needs,” said Nawab. “Only 8% of the country’s total municipal wastewater and 1% of the industrial wastewater are treated before they are discharged into the rivers.”

According to figures presented to the Supreme Court, 83 percent of water supplies in Sindh, the country’s second-most-populous region, are contaminated with sewage and industrial waste, with the percentage rising to over 90 percent in Karachi, the country’s largest city and its financial center. Even worse, up to 60 million people across the country may have been exposed to deadly arsenic leaking into the groundwater supplies.

Late last year, the issue exploded into popular view when the Supreme Court ordered Sindh officials to present a plan for resolving the province’s water crisis. The Court’s Chief Justice minced no words, warning officials that “The water crisis issue in Pakistan is turning into a bomb.”

Unfortunately, the country’s water bomb has multiple triggers, and if it explodes it may well send the country into an even greater crisis. In addition to its water quality woes, Pakistan has a water scarcity as a result of climate change but mainly due to apathy in addressing the matter for decades, which some observers had warned could exacerbate. And it has.

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During a December conference, a Chinese diplomat reportedly complained that the country’s chronic water shortages were hindering Chinese investment as part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, the country’s highest-profile development project.

During a November 2017 international water conference, Sindh’s governor Zubair, who serves as representative of the central government, bafflingly stated that “Water is a very low priority” for the government. “Terrorism,” he went on to say, “is a way bigger issue than the water crisis.”

If the country is to tackle its water woes, attitudes like this will have to change. Providing basic services, especially water, are essential to maintaining the country’s security and stability. Water is the most important issue we face now and for the next generation, the Chief Justice of Pakistan remarked during one of his suo moto hearings. Scott Moore, a political scientist and senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, where he studies climate change and water issues, concurs.

(Sourced from: Water & Wastes Digest)

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