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Brackish Drinking Water a Serious Problem in Pakistan’s Tharparkar Region

  • Ayesha Tanzeem

What is life like for people who live in a region where water is not fit to drink? Pakistan's Tharparkar is one such place.

When Sind Bai heard about the construction of a reverse osmosis plant, designed to filter salts and minerals from brackish water, next to her village, she thought her water woes were over. All her life, she had been walking to nearby wells, a large clay pot on her head, to collect water that tasted like it came from the sea.

When she became too old to do so, she handed over the task to younger women in her family, like generations before her.

Bai is a resident of Tharparkar, a desert region spanning 22,000 kilometers in southeastern Pakistan. Its 1.5 million residents frequently face water scarcity and drought, often leading to malnutrition and sometimes famine. Rainfall is erratic, most of it limited to the monsoon season from July to September. The rest of the year, an underground aquifer, accessed through wells, is the primary source of water.

Research by the local NGO "AWARE" shows three people per household spend three to five hours every day to collect water.

However, the problems are not just access to water but also the quality of water. Extra salts and minerals in the ground make 80 percent of it unfit for human consumption according to standards set by the World Health Organization.

Drinking it leads to chronic diseases for the local population.

Women in Bai’s village complain that they have to go to one well to collect brackish water for drinking and regular household chores, and another well, much farther, to collect sweet water for their kids.

"We get sweet water for our kids because they get stomach problems," they said.

The reverse osmosis plant was going to solve that problem. They would not have to walk for miles in the blistering heat of the desert. Even adults would get sweet, clean drinking water.

Those hopes never came to fruition. The plant was constructed but never worked. A large padlock on its front door confirmed to any visitors that the building is deserted.

The government of Sindh province claims to have installed up to 600 hundred reverse osmosis plants in the region. Locals complain many of the plants either never worked or fell into disrepair soon after they started.

Abdul Qayyum Soomro, advisor to Sindh’s chief minister, said his government was aware that one third of the water plants are non-functional and had sent teams to fix them. For Bai and many other Tharparkar residents, the wait for clean water continues.

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