faces a crisis that threatens the lives of millions of Pakistanis every
year. It is also a crisis which in its resolution offers the potential
for increased wealth, health and dignity for the whole country.
crisis is in our access to water and, in particular, sanitation. They
are the most basic of daily human needs, human rights recognised in
international conventions to which Pakistan is a signatory, yet still
far from the reach of many ordinary Pakistanis.
Pakistan is due to
meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halving the number
of people without access to water by 2017. However, the situation for
sanitation is bleak: 43 million people still defecate in the open, and
the sanitation MDG may not be met until 2027.
The public health
implications are severe. Some three million Pakistanis face infections
from waterborne diseases every year. Children are especially affected by
illnesses such as diarrhoea, often caused by unsafe water and
inadequate sanitation, and killing more under-fives around the world
than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
Tackling this public
health blight could bring huge economic dividends, with research from
the WHO showing that every $1 invested in sanitation returns $4 to the
wider economy. It could also advance gender equality and education, with
women no longer forced to search in the dark for a place to defecate or
look after children absent from school due to lack of sanitation or
menstrual hygiene facilities. However, to do this requires a new policy
During reconstruction after the 2010 floods, NGOs built
thousands of latrines and water supply schemes. But despite the good
intentions many systems were unsustainable due to the lack of operation
and maintenance training given to local populations.
There was a
culture of subsidy in calamity-hit areas. Local authorities absolved
themselves of responsibility for water and sanitation systems and
instead looked to external donors. But many private water service
providers refuse to cover operation and maintenance costs due to low
tariffs and poor profitability. Access to water and sanitation, a human
right essential to lives and livelihoods, must be protected and
fulfilled, regardless of profitability.
There is a lack of policy
on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in Pakistan, and where it exists
it tends to be poorly informed and often implemented without consulting
In order for Pakistan’s water and sanitation
policies to succeed, two things need to happen. First, cabinet members
should approve funding for water and sanitation programmes for the
provinces, where local solutions can then be employed. This would
address the crucial need for more policy and funding for sanitation at
the national level.
Second, policies need to provide room for
localised solutions by facilitating local participation in innovation
and decision-making on water and sanitation systems. It is common sense
that the people who access WASH projects are the people who will best
know the cultural context and feasibility of a local project. Now that
provinces are responsible for the management of water resources under
the 18th Amendment, we hope to see the application of more local
solutions to complex contexts of water and sanitation.
and provincial politicians have allocated funds to water and sanitation.
But in places like Fata, KP, interior Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan,
open defecation is practised widely and using a toilet in the home is
considered to be taboo. The solution is about more than funding. As Jan
Eliasson, UN deputy secretary general, says, we must dismantle taboos:
“As was the case for the word ‘toilets’ a few years ago, it is time to
incorporate ‘open defecation’ in the political language and in
Raising the political profile of water and
sanitation can also be boosted by demand from the Pakistani people, who
have already shown their mass concern for this issue. Last year,
Pakistanis contributed nearly 500,000 signatures to a global petition
calling on decision-makers to keep to their promises on water and
The World Walks for Water and Sanitation, coordinated
by the End Water Poverty coalition that I am a member of, runs from
March 15-23 to coincide with World Water Day. It is the world’s largest
mobilisation for water and sanitation and one of the largest annual
mobilisations of any kind. We ask that as many people as possible join
us to ask their political parties to include sanitation in their
manifestos as well as demand legislation recognising water and
sanitation as a basic human right.
Tackling sanitation must be a
central concern of government, and we, as citizens, must remind our
leaders that we face a severe public health crisis, but one that which
if we invest in the right way we can overcome and in doing so increase
our national wealth, both economic and moral.
By Syed Shah Nasir
Khisro, Executive Director of Integrated Regional Support Programme
(IRSP), Pakistan, End Water Poverty member, and Pakistan convenor of the
Freshwater Action Network-South Asia (FAN-SA). Article first published in DAWN.com, Pakistan, 2-01-2014: http://www.dawn.com/news/1077823/sanitation-goals
Let's now expect that the initiative World Walks for Water and Sanitation will have some results and lead to concrete changes, and would not simply remain a testimony of present-day reality.