The contamination of our water bodies and waterways is becoming a source of increasing concern, especially in a situation where the scarcity of drinking water is rising fast and Pakistan, according to international organisations, faces the risk of becoming a water-deficient country. The latest horror story to emerge is about Keenjhar Lake in Sindh which provides most of the water supplied to Karachi. While Karachi itself is stated not to be under threat as yet, at least five villages in the immediate vicinity of Keenjhar Lake have been deprived of their only source of water as a result of the poisoning of the lake. Local people and social activists say that a poison of some kind, most likely an effluent from an industry, was dumped in a drain leading into the lake during recent rains. The results have been devastating with larger and larger parts of the lake being affected and with fish, ducks and other water birds found dead around the banks of the river in some areas.
Local authorities appear to be at a loss and do not have the equipment required to clean up the lake. The testing of the lake’s water is underway and the local World Wildlife Fund office has described this episode as a disaster in terms of the availability of water to villages around the area as well as the loss of wildlife and the pollution of an important natural habitat. Officials in Karachi have held the Irrigation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency responsible for failing to take adequate measures to prevent such incidents. But pointing fingers is a rather useless exercise. The fact is that we have consistently failed to implement environment laws to prevent the dumping of industrial and other waste into water channels or other places where they can cause harm. In the past too, incidents similar to this have occurred — in some cases causing human casualties. Keenjhar Lake must be cleared of the poison and, in the mean while, an alternative source of water supply should be provided to the affected people. But what is most important is to stop irresponsible waste disposal and to penalise industries and others that do so.