Jan 17, 2008

Sindh: River At Risk From Contamination

An expected release of water from the Manchar Lake could pollute river water and spread deadly waterborne diseases among local populations.

An expected release of water from the Manchar Lake could pollute river water and spread deadly waterborne diseases among local populations.

Below is an article published by Amar Guriro in the Daily Times:

The Sindh irrigation department has decided to discharge highly contaminated water from Manchar Lake into the Indus River, despite the fact that the water on the upstream of the Kotri barrage has reached a contamination level 350 parts per million (ppm).

When they did this in 2004, the river’s ppm went to between 500 and 600 ppm and over 40 people died in Hyderabad alone. This decision poses a threat to the populations of Karachi, Hyderabad and five other districts in southern Sindh, Daily Times learnt Monday [14 January 2008].

The World Health Organization’s standard for water says that over 400 ppm treads into dangerous territory. In 2004, before they dumped the water from Manchar Lake, the ppm was at 350, just like it is now.

Saleemuddin, an executive engineer of the Hyderabad filter plants, said that currently the water is below the WHO standards and there are no problems, but, if the irrigation department does this it will be very dangerous.

Bashir Awan, the managing director of WASA (Water and Sanitation Agency, Hyderabad), said that the irrigation department has not officially informed him that this will happen. However, he said that it may inform him within the next two to three days.

Water experts had determined the contamination levels of the upstream Kotri barrage and the district government of Hyderabad confirmed them. “In 2006, we sent a high-level team of experts to monitor the water contamination in Indus River and they submitted a report saying that, during the recent closure of the canals, the standing water at upstream Kotri had reached 450 ppm,” said Kanwer Naveed Jamil, the nazim of Hyderabad.

He said that there is a difference in the contamination level at the Sukkur and Kotri barrages. “A team of experts visited the Sukkur barrage to compare the water quality with the upstream Kotri barrage and found that the water contamination at the Sukkur barrage was at 180 ppm. This means that there are contamination sources between the Sukkur and Kotri barrages and we are investigating the real reasons behind the contamination,” said the nazim.

In 2004, when water from Manchar Lake was released into Indus River, 42 people died in Hyderabad and hundreds were taken to hospitals because of water borne diseases. Some irrigation officials, including the provincial secretary of irrigation, the EDO of health in Hyderabad, the DG HDA and others, were dismissed and brought under investigation.

Manchar Lake is the biggest shallow-water natural lake of Pakistan and is situated in district Dadu. It is a vast natural depression that runs besides the Khirthar Hills in the west, the Laki Hills in the south and the Indus River in the east. In 1932, the then British government constructed flood bunds on the northern and northeastern boundaries of the lake to protect the surrounding area from floods.

The lake was a large natural reservoir of fresh water that was used for the arid region. Highly contaminated saline water was later poured into this natural reservoir and it became a drainage pass.

After becoming a drainage pass, the lake would overflow after floods and rains and the Sindh irrigation department would open the lake’s gates into the Indus River.

This year, the irrigation department has decided to release the highly contaminated saline water into the Indus River because there is a shortage in the Indus River’s system and the irrigation department has ordered for water rotation.

Every year the Sindh irrigation department announces water rotations and the closure of the canals to desalt them. The closure usually starts December 25 and ends January 6.

Furthermore, these days the river water is used only for drinking purposes. “These days water is less in the river system and the canals’ cleanliness is also necessary, so the irrigation department closes all the barrages and canals,” Soomro said.

Technically, the high contaminated water cannot be released in winter because there is usually a water shortage in the Indus River system and the contaminated water cannot be mixed with river water.

Sukkur Barrage (Right Bank) Chief Engineer Atta Muhammad Soomro said that the irrigation and power department has decided to reduce the water level of Manchar Lake. Its level has reached RL 112.35 feet (as of Monday evening [14 January 2008]) and the danger level is at RL 116.

Thus, the irrigation department decided during a meeting held January 2 [2008], on the basis of standard operational procedures, to release the water into the Indus River; it is necessary to reduce the level for the safety of the lake, bunds and surrounding areas.

“We have no alternatives until the right bank out fall drain (RBOD) is completed,” said Atta Muhammad Soomro. He claimed that before releasing the contaminated water into the river, the Sindh irrigation department informed all the related agencies, civic bodies and commercial units lifting water from the Kotri barrage to take precautionary measures in properly treating and checking its quality before supplying.

He claimed that the released water would not harm the water quality of the river. “Experts are looking into the necessary ratio with which to release the water,” he said.

District Nazim Hyderabad Kanwer Naveed Jamil seconded Soomro and said that the water would not be harmful. “Water experts are continuously checking the water quality of the river and our experts are gauging the ratio by which the contaminated water would be released into the river. Initially, experts said that the water would be released at a 1:50 ratio.

Water experts have expressed concern over the increasing level of water contaminations and the expected release of toxic water from Manchar Lake into the river. “It depends on the type and level of water contamination. If the contamination comprises some metals, then 450 ppm could be very dangerous and can lead to water borne diseases. But I can only ascertain for sure after analyzing water samples,” said microbiologist Vikram Maharaj.