Ever heard of a paani ki dukaan? You can find it in Shirin Jinnah Colony - Pakistan Today

Ever heard of a paani ki dukaan? You can find it in Shirin Jinnah Colony

KARACHI – Inhabitants of most slums scattered across Karachi are afflicted with viral diarrhoea due to consumption of highly contaminated water, Pakistan Today has learnt. The worst-hit are children below the age of 14 and women. The diarrhoeal epidemic is so severe that one in three children in every house of Shirin Jinnah Colony No 3 is suffering from it.
Parents of these suffering children are already poor, but they have been tightening their belt as treatment of their children has been burdening them economically.
Doctors hold improper sanitation system and lack of clean potable water in the area responsible for this new outbreak in the locality. No one from the Sindh Health Department, City District Government Karachi’s Health Department or any other authority has so far either surveyed the area to ascertain the actual reasons behind the epidemic or initiated efforts to provide healthcare facilities.
Local doctors have declared this an emergency situation and said that if the government does not take any immediate safety measures, the condition could worsen. They also warned that if the situation is not handled in a proper manner, the viral disease could spread to other parts of the metropolis. After receiving information regarding the outbreak, this scribe visited Shirin Jinnah Colony to investigate the reason behind the epidemic and the status of the diseases.
Immediately after entering the area from the main road, it was observed that a horde of children gathered at a shop that sold nothing but water. Known as ‘paani ki dukaan’ (‘water shop’) in the locality, the shop sells potable water in dirty, blue-coloured jerrycans that were previously used for pesticides. ‘Drinking Water’ is scribbled with a chalk on the wooden door of the shop, and, once inside, one could see a big underground tank with some plastic water pipes – and that is all that the shop comprises.
The shopkeeper purchases water from water tankers that siphon it from illegal hydrants installed across the city to sell it to numerous similar shops. Since the colony is an illegal slum settlement, it is not eligible to benefit from water supply lines, a proper sanitation system and even the necessary infrastructure. Therefore, most people have no other option but to manage all the basic facilities on their own – and they are almost always illegal.
Water shops purchase water that is clearly unfit for human consumption, but despite knowing the harmful effects of drinking contaminated water, area residents obviously have no alternatives. Local doctors said that the appalling quality of the water sold through these shops could be a possible reason behind the abdominal diseases prevalent in the area. “People have no other option but to consume this untested water, resulting in diarrhoea becoming an epidemic in the colony, and children are its worst victims,” said Dr Muhammad Rafique.
He said that he is a qualified doctor with at least 10 years’ experience, and that he had recently opened up his clinic in the locality. “Besides Shirin Jinnah Colony, there are hundreds of similar slum settlements across the city, including some in Landhi and Korangi towns, whose inhabitants are suffering from abdominal diseases,” the doctor said. He said that gastroenteritis and other abdominal diseases are common in the summer, but being afflicted with such diseases in the winter points towards an emergency situation in the area.
Research studies conducted by different national and international organisations state that improper sanitation systems, bad hygienic conditions and lack of clean potable water are the problems faced by millions in Pakistan. A National Conservation Strategy study reveals that almost 40 percent of the total deaths in the country are caused by waterborne diseases, whereas a World Health Organisation report discloses that 32 percent of hospital beds in Pakistan are occupied by patients suffering from waterborne diseases.
Various international organisations’ data assert that 38.5 million people in Pakistan lack access to safe drinking water and 50.7 million lack access to improved sanitation, due to which 25 percent of the total hospital beds in the country are occupied by people suffering from waterborne diseases. According to Sindh Katchi Abadi Authority’s official data, there are 539 slums in Karachi, which means that 42 percent of the city’s total population is without access to clean water.
“This is an emergency situation, and we request the government to help the poor people residing here,” said Haji Muhammad who runs a small school in Shirin Jinnah Colony. However, when Sindh Health Minister Dr Sagheer Ahmed was contacted for his official version, he said that he was busy and unaware of the situation. “I shall ask the officials concerned and then be able to comment on the issue,” he added.

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