Professor Waheed Uz Zaman Tariq
We in Pakistani lack civic sense and it is easy to have no drainage system and add our affluent waste, in the flowing water and sea. Let those, who live along the distal areas of flow of water, to bear the burden of our negligence. There is a limit to everything. In the drains, we have biological as well as industrial waste. The industrial one is not biodegradable and is highly poisonous in nature. The industrialists have no respect for the environments and the people of surroundings areas get sick and crippled. Nobody seems to be willing to address to their miseries, as the voices of victims are very low in background of our political noise. Apart from our big rivers, dams and reservoirs, our seacoast of Karachi is badly polluted because of failing waste management systems of Karachi. The blame si easily shifted from the province to the city council and back to the bureaucracy. After recent heavy rains, the outflow of gutters and stagnant water on streets and roads of Karachi have reached to a level of disaster. The mayor and his team was absent. Rangers and army was called to deal with the drainage of rain water. In my childhood, sea water of Karachi and Kimari was so clean that one could see to the depth. At demand, we used to drop a coin, in the sea , to be picked by Makrani divers of Manorra. Then, for the sake of fun, we could see it for many yards below water, wherefrom it was picked by them. The water is so turbid due to pollution that nothing is visible, below the few inches of water. The sea plants are withering and we don’t find fish or crabs there. Either, the marine species are dying there or those who survive are poisonous for human consumption.
There is limit for such a deliberately added poison to our water reservoirs. Our politicians, social activists and religious authorities are aloof of the situation. I quote from the sayings of Tibetan Buddhist leader in Exile, the 14th Dali Lama, who has said: “Until now, Mother Earth has somehow tolerated sloppy house habits. But now human use, population, and technology have reached that certain stage where Mother Earth no longer accepts our presence with silence. In many ways she is now telling us, “My children are behaving badly, she is warning us that there are limits to our actions.”
I have been investigating many outbreaks of the Hepatitis E Virus (HEV), throughout the country, during my career, as a Consultant virologist, in the military uniform. In many big cities, like Lahore, Quetta and Peshawar, we had identified the points of contamination of supply lines of potable water, with open and underground drainages. Badly rusted multi-holed pipes of water supply passed in a zigzag fashion, through the drains or very close to them. The choloronomes, which added chlorine in the water, were often out-of-order and the supply of gas cylinders was irregular. That was the cause of perpetual outbreaks of that virus in our big cities and garrisons. In 1990s, Islamabad’s water was heavily polluted with human faeces and there was a massive outbreak of jaundice with HEV. That was the time of drought and water was supplied from the streams, which were not, otherwise, used for that purposes. That problem might be sorted out by chlorination and proper water management. Our main concern remains about the chemical waste (which is mostly industrial in nature).
The Rawal Dam is a resort for the people and visitors of Islamabad. Its water is supplied to the residents of Rawalpindi. Its catchment area occupied by illegal, unplanned and haphazardly appearing housing schemes and societies. Many residential and commercial schemes in Bani Gala, Malpur and Bhara Kahu may be categorised as such. According to CDA documents, there are 1,225 residential houses and 165 commercial at Bani Gala and 209 residential buildings at the Bani Gala hilltop and 301 residential and six commercial buildings in Malpur. There are many big names of people living a lavish life there.
What has been recently seen was excessive death of fish of the dam. About fourteen thousand silver fish have died in a span of few days. That is a source of serious concern. The questions were raised about the quality of the water. Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), in its recent report has declared the water suitable for drinking by the people. Can we have a trust on the validity of such reports? I am a pathologist by profession and have many questions lurking in my mind about the procedures of testing, policies, expertise of staffing and the accreditation of the laboratory. The famous journalist Farhan Bokhari had once told me that once his late father Col Syed Mohammad Hasnain Bokari (who was a great teacher of my teachers and closely known to me) was once the head of the NIH in 1960s. He was pressurised by the Capital Development Authority (CDA), to issue a report for the fitness of Islamabad water, which he declined, despite being offered bribe in terms of allocation of a residential plot in Islamabad. I too, was at times pressurised to change laboratory reports, during my career, which I had always resisted and gained the fame of a tough professional, who could not yield to any pressure.
At the moment, my sole concern is about the health of the people of Pakistan, mainly the underprivileged masses. They have right to be provided with safe potable water, for their consumption. The water transmissible infections like Cholera, Typhoid, dysentery, viral hepatitis (A and E), Poliovirus, Amoebiasis and Naeglaria (brain eating parasites) are just few examples. The heavy metals, like arsenic, lead and silver as well as other chemicals are even more dangerous as they are accumulated in the body and their detrimental effect is long-lasting. Water is the main component of our environment and our life depends upon it. We are losing water reservoirs in a quick pace and whatever resources are left, these are becoming dangerous for the health and are insufficient for the needs of our fast growing population.
When we talk of Bani Gala in the catchment area of Rawal Dam, we are obviously, reluctant to discuss the impact of unauthorised housing structures erected by the most influential, vocal and respected people of the society. The Supreme Court of Pakistan is already dealing with the case of illegal constructions, there. The CDA too, now seems to be serious in resisting to unplanned constructions. What about the damage which has already been done, in terms of a threat to the habitat. It is the right time to reconsider our negligence in civic considerations, as a nation. There is no accountability for those who are trying to make everyone else accountable with sarcasm and tactical pressures. Such housing schemes must be provided with a proper drainage system, which may not be dangerous to our water reservoirs. The same stands true to all parts of the country, especially the metropolitan cities like Karachi. The death of fish may be taken seriously, as an indicator of poisonous nature of the water, which is provided to the people for the sustenance of their lives.
Professor Waheed Uz Zaman Tariq