” Without water, the desert is nothing but a grave. “
Life is not a bed of roses but a reality to be dealt with. Life is harder for some.
Did you know there are about 2.2 billion people in the world who do not have access to clean drinking water?
Can you imagine life without water?
No water means no food, no money, and education and even hope become a luxury.
An example of such individuals is the people of Thar, who are rowing their lives in the boat of distress.
Thar is the largest district of Sindh located in southeast Pakistan and has a population of approximately 1.6 million. Around 95% of the population lives in a total of 2000 villages.
Presently, Thar has the lowest human development index (HDI) in Pakistan, which means the rates of life expectancy, education, and per capita income are the lowest in Pakistan.
Thar is a hotspot of many problems including malnutrition, energy crisis, and health instability.
However, the utmost issue is the unavailability of clean and pure water.
Thar, being a desert region, is regularly affected by drought-like conditions due to infrequent rainfall. This results in the extreme scarcity of water. There is no supply of public water so the main sources of water in Thar include rainwater storage, dug-wells, or hand pumps. These are usually located at a distance of 4-5 kilometers from villages and are 10-100 meters deep.
Young girls and women spend most of their day bringing water from wells and carrying it back to their homes. Imagine the difficulty of walking on hot sand under the scorching sun! A challenge that these women face is only to gain 4-5 pitchers of water that is filthy, brackish, and unfit for human consumption.
Contaminated Water and its Origin
In Thar, water is impure because of multiple reasons based on environmental conditions and regional practices.
Whenever there is a drought, the water level in wells drops, causing the salt concentration in the water to rise. Similarly, there are other numerous minerals and chemicals that come from fertilizers, pesticides, and animal waste– which makes the water unfit for human consumption.
However, the main culprit of water contamination are microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and protozoans. It is important to understand that not all microorganisms are harmful; however, some microbes must be removed from the water before consumption. The question remains
How do microbes make their way into the water?
As mentioned, Tharis live under extreme water limitations using tanks and hand-dug wells for short and long-term storage of water. While this practice fulfills the purpose, it, unfortunately, promotes the growth of bacteria by becoming the ideal culture needed for them to thrive.
The microbial bacteria make the water unsafe for consumption by lowering the pH of the water too acidic levels. Such water smells similar to dirt and tastes like algae.
In unhygienic conditions continuously repeated over time, bacteria sharply adapt to this medium and form multiple layers on the surface of the water. These layers of microbes are invisible to the human eye. An estimated count of bacteria can vary from a thousand per ml up to a million!
Thus, due to no access to developed water sources or sanitation systems, people consume this contaminated water and use it for other domestic uses.
Contaminated Water and Its Effects
In the Tharparkar district, waterborne diseases are rising at an alarming rate – especially among children. According to a news report, it is found that about 36 children of various stages died in the Thar region in January 2022 alone.
In other words, 36 parents lost their children, and numerous children lost their siblings due to an issue that could very easily have been prevented.
The cause includes these lethal diseases besides malnutrition, an unhygienic lifestyle, and a lack of awareness of poverty.
Common waterborne infections include diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. Other side effects are nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps that weaken the immune system and resist antibodies. Likewise, a disease named ‘Fluorosis’ is becoming endemic in this isolated region that causes bone deformities, skeletal and dental fluorosis, and thyroid and kidney problems.
The death count is not only limited to humans. An average of 50 buffaloes and cows, 70 plus camels, and over 500 goats and sheep have died from drinking poisonous water– as reported by a Tharis. The death of livestock not only threatens the availability of food but results in a severe loss of income.
Actions To Consider
The surest solution is to provide Tharis with ready access to clean drinking water close to their homes. No one should have to be so uncertain about the availability of such a basic need as water nor should they have to walk hours to bring some for their families and young children.
The availability of water within the village would also eliminate the need to store water in containers for long periods of time. They should be able to get water as and when needed.
Besides, water can be made safer for consumption by boiling it before use. High temperatures kill the majority of microbes present in water, making it safer for domestic needs. This method is the quickest way to access clean water and Tharis need to be guided about it for a healthier lifestyle. Make sure to support the Tharis via Thar donation to overcome these issues.
The Bottom Line
While we cannot restrict the use of fertilizers, there are still ways to overcome this crisis. The issue of contaminated water in Thar persists due to a lack of action. It is futile to solely rely upon an authority for resolving the Thar water crisis. Pakistanis should take a step on their own towards easing the lives of fellow Pakistanis and contribute generously to their extent. Certainly, the Tharis can be provided with clean water if there is an increase in awareness and action.