Drinking water crisis

The government of Sindh must show serious political will to ensure complete access to safe drinking water for all the people living in the province

Man in general are ruthless to nature and the environment. He has acted against the fact that nature is finite treasure and is likely to vanish if he continues to behave with his perpetual insanity. Also acting against the simple fact that it is not nature that depends on survival of man rather it is man which depends on the endurance of nature, he has left no stone unturned to exploit and destroy nature. Among all other environmental sins, polluting water bodies and ground aquifers remains his greatest historical liability. Today, millions of people in the world drink polluted water.

Pakistan and its Sindh province are no exception to this bitter phenomenon. According to the report released by Supreme Court’s Judicial Commission on water and sanitation in Sindh, more than 75 percent people in Sindh drink unsafe water. A one-man Commission headed by Sindh High Court’s Judge Justice Muhammad Iqbal Kalhoro was formed on the order of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in response to the constitutional petition filled by Advocate Shahab Usto. In addition to highlighting various bitter facts about water and sanitation situation in Sindh, the report has declared that “water is life and access to unpolluted water is the fundamental right of every citizen”.

The right to safe drinking water is declared as a fundamental human right in the international human rights regime. Although the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ratified by Pakistan in 2008 does not explicitly mention the right to water in its substantial clauses, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted general comment No 15 on the right to water which expanded the scope of Article 11 and 12 of the Covenant to include right to water. The comment defined right to water as the right of everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses. Similarly, the right to water is recognised in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both ratified by Pakistan. At the national level, the constitution of Pakistan does not explicitly recognise the right to water, the case law has declared clean drinking water as a fundamental right of every citizen in Salt Miner’s case (1994).

According to the report released by Supreme Court’s Judicial Commission on water and sanitation in Sindh, more than 75 percent people in Sindh drink unsafe water

Despite the fact that the right to safe drinking water is declared a fundamental human right at national and international level, a large number of people (71 percent) drink unsafe water in Sindh and continue to fight war of survival against the immense water borne diseases including cancer. While looking at the report prepared by the Commission it gives the perception that people in Sindh drink death but not water.

However, the denial of the drinking water situation in Sindh by the members of ruling party in the province is perhaps more painful than the situation itself. Recently, in a civil society program held in Karachi, I made a presentation on the status of economic, social and cultural rights in Pakistan and Sindh in particular. At one instance, I referred to a paragraph of the Commission’s report which reads that “[f]rom the perusal of above discussed facts, reports, statements, and from examination of the officials and people concerned, it has now been established that, we the people of Sindh, are not drinking clean water”. Following this, a law maker hailing from the ruling party in Sindh got annoyed and subsequently denied such situation in Sindh.

A few days after my presentation, I made a field visit to the villages of Jati — a coastal city in Sindh — which compelled me to write this article. I observed innocent kids suffering from various water borne diseases. There were no facilities of clean drinking water. They were drinking water from agriculture ponds co-shared by animals. I have visited a large number of such coastal villages during my professional career. To be very blunt, safe drinking water for public is not on the priority of the Sindh government. As an attempt of eye wash, it has recently notified Sindh Drinking Water Policy-2017 overnight. Non-seriousness of the government regarding provision of safe drinking water can be gauged from the fact that no discussion, was held with public and civil society organisation at the time of its formulation.

I will conclude, that the government of Sindh must show serious political will to ensure complete access to safe drinking water for all the people living in the province, because its political and moral legitimacy rests on the comfort level of people with its governance. The Sindh government also has various international obligations including SGDs to fulfil. Goal six of SDGs ensures availability of safe water for all people. The aforementioned policy of the Sindh government itself says that government has to enhance safely managed drinking water supply in the province to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Moreover, the National Assembly of Pakistan has passed a unanimous resolution to endorse the SDGs. More than this, Sindh government must honour the sanctity of vote which is cast by people with hope that their basic needs including safe drinking water will be fulfilled.

 

Writer holds Masters Degree in Human Rights and Democratisation from the University of Sydney. He can be reached at jamilb4u@gmail.com; twitter: @Jamiljunejo

Published in Daily Times, November 2nd 2017.