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Sunday, November 26, 2023

Pakistan and ‘Saaf Pani’ projects: Failed projects or merely a hoax?

Dr. Farid A. Malik |

The future of ‘Saaf Pani’ (clean drinking water) in Pakistan is anything but clean. One of the vandalized filtration plants located in the Fateh Garh area of Mughalpura, Lahore, the constituency of PML-N stalwart Sheikh Rohail Asghar, is a clear proof.

Perhaps the ‘Saaf Pani’ project is the biggest hoax of the 21st century. It started during the regime of the fourth Khaki dictator General Pervez Musharraf in which water filtration plants were established in 26 districts with great fanfare at the cost of billions. There was no budget or plan for filter replacement and management. It was considered a one-time investment for everlasting good.

First, the filters got choked and then the water supply disrupted. There were no arrangements for supervision, maintenance or security. When Musharraf, departed the plants were vandalized. Then came the turn of PML-N. Instead of fixing the existing filtration plants, it was decided to build new ones in the vicinity. It was ‘Saaf Pani’ Round II. Again billions were spent including the one shown above. It met the same fate, starting from choking of filters to vandalism. Now ‘Saaf Pani’ Round III has been launched with promises of providing clean drinking water to the public. While affluent members of the society buy bottled water to drink the poor segments stand in long queues to fill their containers.

Read more: No Water? You must be talking of Karachi; No its Islamabad!

Cool clean water flowed in the washes of the new capital city. No one had to carry bottled water.

Pakistan can do without filtration of drinking water; it needs sewage treatment plants to stop the contamination of nature’s waterways. As a generation, we grew up on drinking tap water, as at that time there was no sewage disposal into the rivers, washes, and canals. Canal water was cool and muddy but clean and so was the Leah Nullah in Rawalpindi. Cool clean water flowed in the washes of the new capital city. Murree was known for its ‘Chashmas’ (natural fountains). No one had to carry bottled water.

Islamabad, the capital city, was the first to be affected by the contamination of the clean water. It was discovered that the two water lines (clean, dirty) were laid underground in close proximity. Over the years, due to the lack of maintenance, the two got mixed resulting in an epidemic of hepatitis. Visitors were advised to carry bottled water while public filtration plants were built for drinking water for the locals.

Due to the lack of maintenance and upkeep, the sewage treatment plants became non-functional. When the sewage plant at Mahmood Booti stopped working, the dirty water of the city of Lahore was allowed to flow into the river bed of Ravi which was already water-starved due to the Indus Water Treaty. Downstream communities consumed this contaminated water resulting in the epidemic of hepatitis. What had started in the capital, now reached the entire country through the contaminated waterways. The gift of nature and sustenance of life now became a source of disease and death.

Read more: Majority of Pakistanis forced to consume contaminated water

Let us contain the devil of contamination and restore nature’s waterways. Not a liter of dirty water should be mixed with clean. As one rotten fish can contaminate the entire pond, we, as humans, have no right to mix our dirt with the gift of nature. Making money by marketing the weaknesses and needs of the masses must stop for humanity to flourish.

Cheap popularity and publicity cannot produce results. Same mistakes are committed by dictators and their propelled political leadership over and over again at the cost of the health of the nation.

The Accountant General of Pakistan (AGPR), which is a legislated position, should publish data on the money wasted on filtration plants by successive governments. The opposition parties, both in the provinces and center, should demand functional sewage treatment plants for all localities. Treated water can be recycled thereby reducing the need to pump out fresh water, which is lowering the table.

Water is life; therefore it has to be managed. Most cities were developed on rivers.

Lahore was once proud of its Ravi. Students of the oldest seat of learning took pride in calling themselves ‘Ravians’. Government College has produced several luminaires including two noble laureates. The University of Engineering and Technology located in Mughalpura, close to the site of the vandalized water filter plant, has a Centre of Excellence for Water Resources. Lahore deserves its river, we have to take charge of our metropolis and bring back ‘Ravi’ as it used to be.

Read more: Why Pakistan’s feudal class is not worried about the water crisis?

The Indus Water Treaty signed by the first dictator has taken away clean water from us, but it does not deserve to be filled with contaminated sewage water. The picnics, baradari, boating, ‘khaggas’ (small fish), ‘sangharas’ (water plants) together with aquatic life need to be restored. Lahore is lost without the Ravi and demands ‘Saaf Pani’ in the river, not in the short-lived vandalized filtration plants of Mughalpura that display the names of Mian Nawaz Sharif, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, Hamza Sharif, Sheikh Rohail Asghar, Khurram Rohail Asghar claiming ‘Khushali’ (welfare) of the people. The stables have to be cleaned, as written on the walls of the state of the art filtration plant.

Dr. Farid Malik is a prominent technical and management expert in mining, materials, engineering and high-tech industry; he is a regular columnist for The Nation and Pakistan Today. He is ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. This article was first published in The Nation and is republished with the permission of the author. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.