Lahore: In a clean water scarce Pakistan, small scale filtration plants are becoming a rapidly aspiring business due to a lack of check and balance in the food department.

“It is the prime responsibility of a government to provide clean drinking water, education and health facilities to the citizens of Pakistan, yet despite all the efforts majority of the population is still deprived of these basic necessities in life,” said Muhammad Shahid Bilal, a resident of Township Lahore.

Shahid has been facing severe health issues for the past six months. He is suffering from diarrhea, on top of which he has gastroenteritis and he is currently under the observation of medical experts. In an interview with News Lens Pakistan, he said that during his treatment, it was diagnosed that the disease had infected him due to the consumption of polluted water, which he would drink at home. He said, “Like all others, my family uses the water provided by WASA (Water and Sanitation Agency Lahore) for domestic use, but after the prolonged illnesses, we refrained from drinking it.” He added that now they purchase water from a nearby private filtration plant for drinking purposes.

Shahid is not the only person who has fallen victim to the government’s mismanagement. Countless cases surface every day from all around the country where citizens fall prey to the diseases thriving in polluted water and are then forced to purchase so-called clean water. Under such circumstances, private filtration plants are becoming a growing trend in Lahore and within a short period of time, they have spread all over the city with their consumer base increasing by the day. The owners of these plants claim that they are providing pure and clean water at a cheaper rate as opposed to the multinational giants.

Theses filter plants charge Rs 60-90 for a 19 liter water bottle and often provide free home delivery, whereas the rate of multinational companies’ water is Rs 190 for a 19 liter bottle. If we observed that these small scale companies are doing good business, as a filter plant situated at Dharampura locality has sales of around 5000 liters of water per day as told by its manager Umair.

Umair told News Lens Pakistan said that his team gets tap water from the outskirts of Lahore near Jallo, and then filters it in the plant to purify it so that the customers can have hygienic drinking water. He claimed that his filter plant is up to the standard and he regularly gets a clearance report from the concerned laboratories as well.

While Umair is following all the legal formalities, there are many owners who are toying with the public’s health in the name of safe water. They do this by not changing the filter on a regular basis to cut back on costs, or they forbid the monthly laboratory test requisite. Punjab Food Authority (PFA) takes action against such plants but only after a complaint is lodged.

Samar Gondal, Food Safety Officer at Punjab Food Authority and a member of the special task force told News Lens Pakistan in a telephonic interview that these plants are working under the Food Authority Act 2011. “After getting a license they start operating but whenever we receive a complaint, action is taken without delay,” he said.

He said, “The number of such plants is 250. Some are working on a large scale, while many comprise of a single shop. We see considerable addition every year and many also shut down their business due to various reasons. We raid them by surprise to check on them; fines and warnings are a common thing.” The maximum fine limit is up to Rs 500000 (half a million rupees), and the authority ensures arsenic filters in these plants, he added.

Dr. Qais Aslam, an economy expert, is of the view that clean water is already a saleable commodity. “A multinational began making bottled water a long time ago in Pakistan and now the infrastructure is consolidating too as some elected parliamentarians and bureaucrats are heading the companies involved in the water business,” he said. He also said that it is a new trend in our country for the government to seek profit even when it comes to problem solving schemes which is actually their prime duty. He foresees more boom in this sector because the government is encouraging it.

He stressed that clean air and clean water are the constitutional right of every citizen and the government cannot charge consumers for filtration, hence the polluter should pay this amount instead. The Pakistan environmental protection law also maintains that the polluter will pay the abatement cost, and the public will not pay it, but here in Pakistan things are moving in the opposite direction, said Aslam.

Talking about the implication of a price tag on clean water, he said, “Such a thing can be feasible among communities who have the willingness and buying power; it cannot be done to exploit communities who do not possess the buying power.” He said that 80 percent of the population is living below the poverty line’ they spend 80 percent of their income on food and the remaining 20 percent on medicines. When one puts a price tag on water, it will be adjusted from either the food or the medicine budget. They are trying to freeze the people of this country through the aforementioned practices.

Availability of clean water is rapidly becoming a real issue for Pakistani public residing in urban areas. A recent study of the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources reveals that all the water in Lahore is polluted and has double the arsenic level limit set by the WHO. The report comprises of laboratory investigations of four water samples collected from different parts of the city. These samples show that the water contains arsenic level up to 20 points, whereas WHO standard is below 10 points. In two water samples, it was also revealed that percentage of human waste present in water was also at an alarming level.

Arsenic is the basic element causing health issues among the common people. According to the Dr. Waheed Imran, Deputy Medical Superintendent at Emergency Ward of Jinnah Hospital, the increased level of arsenic is serving as a poison and contributes to severe health issues.

He said, “Arsenic behaves like slow poison as it targets muscles, bones and tissue of the body and causes chronic diseases such as gastroenteritis, typhoid fever, liver diseases and all kinds of gastric issues. All these afflictions are caused by polluted water and almost 20 percent of the patients are facing these medical problems.”

He laments that earlier these diseases were found only in industrial areas or towns with a polluted atmosphere caused by factories, but due to lack of preventive measures, urban areas are equally infected now and the number of patients are increasing at an alarming rate.

Water and Sanitation Agency Lahore (WASA) is taking measures to reduce the problem of polluted water. Imtiaz Ghori, a deputy director at WASA told, News Lens Pakistan that distribution network system of WASA is being upgraded.

He said, “Old supply lines are a major cause of water pollution and we are replacing them with new ones. WASA spent Rs 300 million this year for the upgradation and a further Rs 800 million will be used in the approaching year.”  He said that WASA is also changing old tube-wells and 106 of 500 tube-wells of the city will be changed soon. He also said that chlorination is used to kill the germs present in water.

The Punjab Food Department is presently quite active, but the public does not see much improvement. Ahmad Usman, a resident of Iqbal Town told News Lens Pakistan, “A local filter plant is situated on the right side of the main drain. How can the water from a drain be purified? The water filtered from the local area is sold as bottled water. I prefer water provided by the government over the filtered water of this plant.”

Saher Munir, a school teacher, has serious concerns regarding the quality of water provided by these low scale filtration plants. She says that many filtration plant sell filtered water as mineral water which is a false claim. She explained that there is a vast difference between filtered and mineral water. Filtered water passes through a filtration process only, whereas mineral water is filtered with all the minerals present in a specific ratio set by the WHO.

She said that the bottles used for transportation of water are made of recycled plastics, which is also a big issue. These bottles have miniscule chemical particles which pollute the water and may cause health problems. She added that most of the filtration plants lack technical expertise as well.

There should be a strictly monitored system in place as this is a grave issue that affects people from all over the country, she added.


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