Elevated arsenic level in water puts Multanites' lives at risk

By: Salman Raza      Published: 01:10 PM, 23 Oct, 2021
Elevated arsenic level in water puts Multanites' lives at risk
File photo.

With an estimate of over four million, about 45 percent population of the city, is deprived of clean drinking water, leaving the natives worst hit by multiple viral diseases.

The faulty underground sewerage system like breakage of decades' old pipelines has caused to increase heavy metals and arsenic contamination in drinking water which poses a serious threat to human life because of their toxicity.

The city's interior location like Khooni Burj with areas spread in gates namely Dehli Gate, Harram Gate, Boher Gate along with Rasheeda Abad, Surij Miani towns etc have become prone to arsenic-mixed water following the said reasons.

"I was put on dialysis mainly because I'm not able to access clean drinking water," said Saleem, father of four surviving at affected place of Khooni Burj vicinity. According to him, he used to rush at the lone nearby water filtration plant to queue for having safe drinking water as it opens for two hours in a day.

The World Health Organisation has established 10 micrograms per litre as the permissible concentration in drinking water while Multan is stated to have 50 micrograms per litre arsenic in underground water which is five times higher than permissible, according to report of Public Health Engineering (PHE) came out in 2018-19 through field investigation, survey and data collection.

Arsenic is a chemical element, the elevated levels of which may cause different life-threatening diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular problems and various types of cancer.

Moreover, early childhood exposure has been linked to negative impacts on cerebral development that leads to increasing deaths in young adults.

According to Assistant Professor of Pathology, Nishtar Hospital Dr Abuzar Raza, it has reported increased cases of impaired nerve function, peptic diseases, cardiovascular, pulmonary diseases and gastroenteritis.

The city is running with over 100 water filtration schemes under joint venture of Public Health Engineering and Rural Water Management in the city, with 100-102 tube wells being supervised by Water and Sanitation Authority (WASA). However, what the authority has termed the lack of requisite resources is halting maintenance of filtration plants up to the desired level.

A water plant once being checked out by two monitoring evaluation officials takes next turn for same checking after four or five months at least by the same administrators.

“The department is able to look after all filtration plants through two monitoring officials on single motorbike,” according to secretary of water testing laboratory Khalid Javed.

He also pointed out that although water testing laboratory offers free of cost water testing for common households yet the latter least come up to acquire the service.

The rapid expansion of the local population through unplanned colonies structure has worsened the situation as the builders don’t pay heed to situation of underground sewer system network where the dirty water is getting mixed with drinking water so that the authority could adopt alternative measures to revert the hazard on time, said the PHE report.

Water Xen [executive engineer] Abudsslam, however, didn’t agree with the report, saying that Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) has so far able to manage pure water for larger parts of city by extending a strong net of underground water pipelines. “I don’t agree with excerpts of (WHO) report as arsenic level has touched around 50 micrograms per litre in whole of the district. “We use to conduct TPV (third party valuation) of water after every three-week here to ensure purity of drinking water, he said.

Nonetheless, he said the arsenic level at different places happens to be different and I think it might be higher than permissible level at Jalalpur Pirwala, Shujabad, Khanewal and adjacent towns as compared local areas of Multan city. The Xen insisted that WASA is offering clean water, or maybe with minor proportion of arsenic in the city.

A top-ranking water department official, talking on the condition of anonymity, proceeded that the detection of unseen particles in water like arsenic, lead, mercury or PCBs have had never been top priority of any authority concerned now or before of any time.

The decades-old underground water pipelines have got leaky, rusty and that water was mixing up with industrial and sanitation runoff pushing life relatively at risk, he added.

According to WASA PRO Hassan Bukhari, about 80 percent water pipelines consisted of around 1400 km were laid in 90's decade in the city. The expansion with replacement of the rustic lines were kept on with the passage of time after WASA was established formally here, he said. 

According to a web link, in US and European countries, the maximum contamination level for arsenic in drinking water is lowered by using alternative methods of using membrane filtration of arsenic from drinking water. Underground water beneath 400-500 ft below surface gets contaminated with rocks due to arsenic-pollution owing to effects of rocks. The membrane technology includes reverse osmosis (RO), ultrafiltration and microfiltration.

However, Pakistan by and large seems to be behind such a way of life to use that advanced technology to offer arsenic free water to its people.

Managing Director Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) Managing Director Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) Nasir Iqbal in concluding remarks informed that clean drinking water schemes would start here from January next of the upcoming year. In response to a plead put up in light of Right to Information Act, he said schemes are going to be started with an amount of Rs. One billion. However, he said it would take about two years to provide citizens clean drinking water across the city after completion of schemes.