LAHORE: Punjab Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has remained unable to fulfil its responsibility of provision of safe drinking water to citizens, Pakistan Today has learnt.
Though the provision of safe drinking water is the responsibility of Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA), Public Health and Engineering Department, and municipal and local authorities, but since 2010, the EPA has been made the major regulatory body in this regard.
It has been reported time and again that majority of the citizens in the largest province rely on the contaminated or unsafe water. Among surface and groundwater, the two major water sources, groundwater had been considered as the safest to drink.
However, it was exposed during the sou moto case in Supreme Court that authorities in Punjab failed badly in providing safe drinking water to the citizens.
In 2014, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) survey, it was highlighted that water of over 73 per cent of Punjab’s villages was unsafe to drink as it had excessive contamination of Totally Dissolved Salts (TDS), arsenic, nitrates and fluoride in it. It also stated that this state of water was the major cause of water-borne diseases which was also affecting the health and economy of the inhabitants of the province.
Another report of Punjab Health Department in 2014 stated that around three million citizens of the province were suffering from water-borne diseases.
Punjab EPA laboratories were established to test 98 parameters as mentioned in National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS), out of which 32 parameters were related to drinking water alone. These parameters include aluminium, antimony, arsenic, barium, boron, cadmium, lead, fluoride, pesticides, mercury, zinc, copper and other toxic elements in the water.
Later, the Punjab government adopted these NEQS as Provincial Environmental Quality Standards (PEQS) in March 2016.
Sources said that where EPA was responsible for protection, conservation and improvement of the environment by controlling air pollution, it was also its mandate to monitor the drinking water in the province. “EPA as a regulatory body has the mandate to take and test the drinking water sample from any spot. It has even the authority to test the drinking water being sold in bottles,” they said, adding that over five years have passed since EPA prepared a report on drinking water.
An official seeking anonymity told Pakistan Today that before 2014, EPA had been testing samples in its laboratories after being collected from different parts of the province. He said that testing water sample had even been included in one of the ADP schemes completed by EPA.
“The department had to stop monitoring water quality in the province due to severe pressure of bureaucracy and powerful political bigwigs,” he revealed.
EPA Spokesman Naseemur Rehman Shah, while talking to Pakistan Today, admitted that testing drinking water is one of the prime responsibilities of the EPA and the department is fully concerned with the issue faced by over 100 million citizens of the province. He added that EPA laboratories had been testing drinking water quality for many years, but now, he was unable to comment either it was being tested by the laboratory or not.
Monitoring Lab and Implementation (ML&I) Director Tauqir Qureshi told Pakistan Today that his directorate was fulfilling its responsibility by conducting a test of drinking water in the province. However, he said that these tests were carried out on a need basis.