Written by Areesha Ilyas and Muhammad Numan
“And it is He who sends the winds as good tidings before His mercy, and We send down from the sky pure water” [Quran 25:48].
Water is the greatest blessing of Allah almighty. Human body comprises almost 70% of water. Without water, there is no concept of life. Certainly, it is the most important element for human body and the absence of water from human body can cause severe consequence; dehydration and oxidative stress. It has numerous physiological roles in our body e.g., helps in respiration, the most important for homeostasis, key reactant of metabolism, and has antioxidant properties etc). Our brain is also made up of 75% of water.
Contamination and purification of water is one of the hot topic for discussion in Pakistan these days. As water is universal solvent and can dissolve many chemicals and metal salts in it. Due to the presence of high concentrations of contaminants, it could be the major source of infection too. It is estimated that nearly 80% of all diseases are water-borne. Water pollution is a global issue and almost the whole world is facing lethal and adverse effects of water pollution.
Among several, major factors involved in water pollution are; industrial and agricultural wastes, direct discharge of domestic waste in freshwater, urbanization, excessive usage of fertilizers and pesticides etc. The increase in industrialization results in excessive release of industrial effluents, contaminating the lake and river water, which greatly affects the aquatic life. Industrial processes such as electroplating, metal manufacturing, and chemical processes release large amount of heavy metals arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), mercury (Hg), nickel (Ni), Lead (Pb) and chromium (Cr) etc. Heavy metals leach out and reaches the underground water and all these anthropogenic activities contaminate the drinking water. The presence of these heavey metals in drinking water has adverse impacts on human health.
Impacts of contaminated water on human health
Among different heavy metal pollutions, arsenic toxicity can cause skin diseases e.g., Arsenicosis. Intake of arsenic water may cause many types of cancers e.g. skin, bladder, and lungs cancer. There are number of diseases caused due to polluted water.
Respiratory Diseases; Intake of contaminated water for a prolonged period causes respiratory problems, including cough, chest sound, bronchitis, and shortness of breath.
Pulmonary Diseases; Metal intake through drinking water can also cause pulmonary effects manifested by cough, chest sounds in the lung, etc.
Cardiovascular Diseases; Many epidemiological studies have indicated the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) and cardiovascular disease mortality are due to consumption of contaminated water.
Gastrointestinal Diseases; Contaminated water may also cause some gastrointestinal problems such as gastrointestinal hemorrhage (bleeding from stomach), portal hypertension.
Renal Diseases; In human, kidneys are the major organs involved in excretion of wastes. Kidneys are less sensitive to arsenic metals. Lung and urinary bladder cancers appear to be the most common in chronic arsenic exposure.
Pregnancy outcomes; Those females who consume polluted water ranging from 1.4 to 1.9 µg/L had 1.7 times higher chances of spontaneous abortion.
In Pakistan, the access to safe drinking water is estimated to be available to 23.5% of population in rural areas and 30% of population in urban areas
In 2001 an organized testing of groundwater for arsenic contamination was started in Pakistan. This testing observation covered about 60% of the districts of Punjab. Whereas, detailed observation was carried out only in eight out of 34 districts. The maximum arsenic 250-500 µg/L found in Bahawalpur, Layyah, Multan, Muzaffar Garh, Okara and Sahiwal districts. Another observation has shown an excess of arsenic and fluoride concentrations in the water supply systems of six cities; Multan, Bahawalpur, Shaikhupura, Kasur, Gujranwala, and Lahore. Unfortunately, over 2 million people in these cities are drinking unsafe water, some with a high arsenic concentration and some with less. An estimated 250,000 child deaths occur each year in Pakistan due to water-borne diseases.
Recommendations to minimize water contamination
In Pakistan, especially rural or under developing areas lack proper monitoring of water quality. Regular analyses need to be conducted in various parts of the country to obtain a clear picture of water-linked diseases. There are some suggestions which may reduce the problems of drinking water quality in Pakistan.
- The higher authorities should renovate old and rusty pipelines of the water supply system.
- There should be maximum distances between sewage and drinking water supply lines, so the risk of contamination may reduce maximally.
- There should be the implementation of strict laws on suppliers for quality of drinking water.
- All industries and municipal corporations should be directed to wastewater treatment prior to release in environment.
Water filter plants should also be installed in cities, less developed areas and villages to provide safe drinking water for general populations.
The laboratories should also be in access of people residing cities and less developed areas so that water quality could be analyzed by professionals.
Moreover, Public awareness campaigns should also be launched to educate the communities about the importance of safe drinking water and water borne diseases.
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