Waterborne diseases claim 250,000 children’s lives every year

by Suleman Chaudhry, originally posted on June 5, 2016


LAHORE: Water and hygiene related diseases are costing Pakistan’s economy annual national income losses of US$380 to 883 million of the Gross Domestic Production (GDP)while 250,000 children under five die every year in the country due to diarrhoeal diseases.

These figures have been revealed in the Economic Survey 2015­16 released by the federal government. The report says that according to the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), the majority of the population in the country is exposed to the hazards of drinking unsafe and polluted water from both surface and ground water sources. Around 62 per cent of Pakistan’s urban and 84 per cent of its rural population don’t treat their water and this results in a million of cases of diarrhoea disease registered in hospitals.

Pakistan’s ranking in maintaining water quality standards is 80th out of 122 nations. (UNESCO s’ World Water Development Report) It is estimated that around 40 per cent of all reported diseases in Pakistan are attributed to drinking polluted water and unsafe drinking.

Water is a source of many diseases including diarrhoea, typhoid, intestinal worms and hepatitis. According to an estimate (Monitoring Report of PCRWR), in Pakistan water related diseases cause annual national income losses of US$380 to 883 millions of the GDP. As derived from the National Water Quality Monitoring Programme carried out by the PCRWR, the four major contaminants in drinking water sources of Pakistan were bacteriological (68 per cent), arsenic (24 per cent), nitrate (13 per cent) and fluoride (five per cent).

The report further reveals that, inadequate water supply results in high incidence of water related diseases, which in turn, increase morbidity and mortality rates and pose a major threat to the survival and development of children. It is estimated that 250,000 children in Pakistan die every year due to diarrhoeal diseases alone.

Safe water alone can reduce diarrhoea and other related diseases by up to 50 per cent, but an estimated 62 per cent of about two million wet tons of human excreta is annually produced in the urban sector of which around 50 per cent goes on to pollute water bodies.

The National Conservation Strategy states that almost 40 per cent of all disease related deaths are connected to water borne diseases. Other sources of water pollution are industrial effluents, solid waste, hospital waste, chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Punjab consists 36 districts, 144 Tehsils, 3,464 union councils and 25,914 villages. Punjab is the most populous province of Pakistan, inhabited by 98 million people.

According to official data access to tap water is very low in rural areas ­- 13 per cent as compared to 43 per cent in urban areas of Punjab and the quality of drinking water remains substandard, as the major sources are hand pumps and turbines supplying contaminated or brackish water.

The piped water supply is also prone to different types of contamination due to worn­out or leaking pipes. One of the basic reasons of the spread of the waterborne diseases is the mixing of drinking water and sewage pipelines.

Plastic pipes are used for the supply of water, which are easily damaged, and result in contamination of drinking water. The financial burden of waterborne diseases in Punjab that suggests that Rs.101 billion is being spent because of either direct or indirect implications of waterborne diseases in the province. Moreover, the annual cost under the head of averting expenditures, in lieu of bottled water and boiled water, has been estimated at Rs.2.4 billion.

According to official survey reports, 79 per cent water samples collected from rural areas of 12 districts in Punjab were found to be unsafe for human consumption, while 88 per cent water samples collected from rural areas of 21 districts of the province were also found to be unsafe. Not surprisingly, then, mortality due to water borne diseases is very high.

According to a report of Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan, supported by the Japan Fund for Global Environment (JFGE), every fifth Pakistani child under the age of five suffers from waterborne diseases; and roughly 50 per cent of mortality and 40 per cent of hospital admissions are also caused by waterborne diseases.

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