The water flowing downstream from Pakistan’s Kotri Barrage on the Indus River is contaminated with high levels of arsenic and lead, and is unfit for human consumption, according to a new study from the Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences.
“The findings have come as more than a shock to us, because millions of people rely on the water that flows downstream from Kotri Barrage and its three off-take canals for drinking, crops and livestock,” said Noshad A. Shaikh, vice chancellor of the university.
The 1.6-kilometer-wide Kotri Barrage in Sindh province is primarily used for irrigation purpose. But it also provides drinking water for 30 million people in Hyderabad, Karachi and several adjoining districts.
The study, released last week, was conducted by the university’s Water Testing and Surveillance Laboratory after the local hospital in Jamshore observed an increase in the number of patients living near the barrage who came in with severe diarrhea, skin diseases and hepatitis B and C.
Water samples were collected from different 14 locations near the barrage site and off-take canals.
"The laboratory results found that color, turbidity, odor, salinity, and total dissolved solids in the water samples are much higher than the permissible limits under World Health Organization standards,” Shaikh said.
“All samples showed higher levels of coliform (E-coli) bacteria, which causes water-borne illnesses, including dysentery and acute diarrhea,” he added.
“Calling the water ‘deadly poisonous’ would be no exaggeration,” he told OOSKAnews by phone.
He said government authorities were being “callous” by failing to address the problem.
Toxic effluents released from the Kotri Industrial Area, located few kilometers from the barrage, are the main source of the pollution, according to Ahsan Siddique, a former senior water quality analysis expert at the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA).
He said SEPA should take punitive action against owners of industries that contaminate water bodies.
Senior SEPA officials say they have already taken up the matter with executives at the Kotri Industrial Area.
“The matter has been raised with the managing director and chief engineer of the Sindh Industrial Trading Estate (SITE), which manages all industrial areas in Sindh province, including Kotri Industrial Area,” Naeem Mughal, director general of SEPA, told OOSKAnews by phone from Hyderabad
They “have been directed to ask the errant industries to release wastewater [only] after treating it properly. Otherwise, they will be tried in environmental tribunals under relevant environmental laws, which could lead to heavy fines” for owners, he said.