An Interview With Sohail Ali Naqvi
Senior Manager Freshwater Program WWF-Pakistan
Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): Is there any water crisis in Lahore at present? And, if it is so, could this crisis have adverse impacts on the lives, health and wellbeing of the city’s residents?
Sohail Ali Naqvi (SAN): Yes, Lahore has been facing the water crisis in terms of quantity and quality. Being, the second largest metropolitan city of Pakistan, it has been facing big challenges. Unplanned growth of housing colonies is directly affecting the groundwater aquifer. Most of the domestic supplies come from the underground water. Different government agencies (e.g. LDA, WASA) and private housing management fulfil the requirements of the citizens. There are 13 drains which are carrying the wastewater of the city into the River Ravi. Unfortunately, there is not even a single combined effluent treatment plant in Lahore to treat the effluent coming from different sources. All the wastewater is dumped into the River Ravi without any treatment. This wastewater contamination is also affecting the lives and health of the communities and is also coming into our food chain.
JWT: How Lahore’s water needs are being met? Is it done from underground resources or surface resources are used for it?
SAN: Water supply to Lahore is from groundwater. Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) is responsible to supply water to more than 60% of the city. The rest is supplied by the private housing societies where WASA doesn’t operate. River Ravi is still recharging the aquifer of Lahore. The surface water diverted to Lahore is 6.02 million cubic meters per day (MCM/d) and is mainly used for agricultural purposes.
JWT: How much water is being extracted currently from underground sources in Lahore district to meet domestic, industrial, institutional and agricultural needs?
SAN: As per a WWF-Pakistan report (2014), 7.17 MCM/day water is extracted from the ground. The major share of groundwater utilization in Lahore is by domestic usage (i.e 3.79 MCM/d), then agriculture (1.70MCM/d), commercial (0.76MCM/day) and industries (0.92MCM/d), respectively.
JWT: What is the difference between the quantity of water extracted from ground sources and that of their recharge?
SAN: As per WWF-Pakistan’s report (2014), total water extraction is 7.17 MCM/day and recharge is 6.50 MCM/day. River Ravi is considered one of the major source of recharge.
JWT: Is the water table in Lahore city still falling or the decline has been arrested?
SAN: In the past, due to discharge and recharge difference, the aquifer was depleting upto 2-2.5 feet per year. As per WASA’s latest stats, the water table in different areas of Lahore has been sustained which is quite encouraging and is a credit to current government policies. One of the major reasons of sustaining the water table was the timings of water supply at the household levels. However, there is a need to take concrete steps to maintain the water table.
JWT: What is the current groundwater level in Lahore? What are the areas where the water level is falling?
SAN: The water table varies in different areas of Lahore. It varies between 80 and 250 feet in different areas. In the central areas and densely-populated parts of the city, the water table is going down and has quality issues as well. For example, the areas of interior Lahore (Bhati Gate, Delhi Gate, etc.) and Allama Iqbal Town are facing the decline of water table.
JWT: What is the current situation regarding the recharge of groundwater in Lahore? What are the principal sources of recharge and the biggest one of them?
SAN: The major sources of recharge of groundwater are River Ravi, rainfall as well as the link canals. A study mentioned that River Ravi contributes more than 80% in the recharge of Lahore’s aquifer. The recharge from rainfall, River Ravi, irrigation fields and canals is 137, 1937, 150 and 148 MCM/year, respectively
JWT: How rainwater in the city can be best utilized and what steps, in your opinion, should be taken in this regard?
SAN: Rainwater is one of the precious resources which has been ignored in the past, unfortunately. There should be initiatives at the government level to restore and reuse that rainwater. The rainwater harvesting system should be promoted from household level to institutional level. There should be regulations and a compliance mechanism for installation of rainwater harvesting system through LDA’s by-laws for housing societies.
JWT: How and to what extent is Lahore’s wastewater affecting its sources of potable water?
SAN: The wastewater is directly affecting the food chain of the citizens. The untreated wastewater is discharged into the drains which carry that dirty water into the river where it is mixed with the freshwater. Unfortunately there are no separate drains of rainwater, domestic and industrial effluents. So these effluents along with irrigation water are irrigated by the farmers to the fields and toxic metals are mixed in the vegetables in the fields as green crops have the capacity to absorb heavy metals.
JWT: Is it feasible to rely solely on groundwater resources to meet Lahore’s needs? If not, what is the alternative? What, and how, such an alternative can be used?
SAN: We need to explore other resources to meet Lahore’s demand. Besides groundwater resources, the surface water resources should be explored. The surplus water from the agriculture should be used to meet the demand of the citizens. Also the water recycling and reuse concept should be promoted among the communities.
JWT: What is the situation of wasting water at public level in Lahore? What steps can be taken to eradicate this menace?
SAN: There is no check and balance on water wastage at the public level.
JWT: How the decline in Lahore’s water table can be arrested? What measures would you suggest in this regard?
SAN: The water table can be sustained by different initiatives. A few of those are:
i. By promoting rainwater harvesting systems;
ii. using recycled water for agriculture purposes;
iii. managing recharge and discharge equation; and
iv. exploring surface water resources.
JWT: Can the wastewater of Lahore be an alternate source to meet the city’s demand for water? If yes, what should be done to make it a sustainable source?
SAN: There should be wastewater treatment plants at different areas of the city. The water treatment systems should be feasible, economic and easy to operate. That treated water can be used for other purposes such as horticulture, agriculture, aquaculture, etc. The government should also introduce different drains for different kinds of wastewater (industrial, domestic and storm water drains, etc.)
JWT: How would you rate the quality of potable water in Lahore?
SAN: The quality of potable water in Lahore is not satisfactory. In several areas, the water quality is having coliform contamination in rainy season and Arsenic concentration in major concerns along with total dissolved solids (TDS).
JWT: What short- and long-term measures would you suggest for improving the quality of potable water and making the situation regarding water sources better?
SAN: (i) For improving e quality of potable water in the short run:
i. The government should supply drinking water to the communities after filtration;
ii. Water metering should be promoted; and
iii. There should be serious check and balance on the water utilization by the general public (very encouraging initiatives and examples by Judicial Water Commission).
For long-term solutions:
i. Combined effluent treatment systems should be installed at different areas of the city,
ii. Water recycling and reuse should be promoted,
iii. Rainwater harvesting systems should be introduced for the communities and at large scale (WASA is working on that),
iv. Economic valuation of water should be conducted in agriculture sector,
v. Cropping pattern should be revisited on the basis of climate change and scientific evidence,
vi. Instead of devising new policies, strict implementation is required on the existing governance system.
The interviewer can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org