Industrial and household effluent are making its way into freshwater resources, endangering aquatic life and giving rise to waterborne diseases and crops such as vegetables are no longer safe from toxic materials. While the hazardous impacts are obvious and stark, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and the relevant departments have done little to eradicate the problem.

Hassan Gul, a resident of Charsadda Road in Peshawar, told the Pakistan Enquirer he has been involved in farming for the past 40 years and owns agricultural land near Badhni Nala where he grows a variety of vegetables.  Gul said he knew that the water of Badhni Nalla is polluted with household and industrial waste but he has “no other option” and use this polluted water to irrigate vegetables.  “I know it is a crime to grow vegetables with this water which is harmful to health, but I’ve no other choice as my family is dependent on this agricultural land,” he added.

He said that the KP government should provide alternative sources of irrigation and also avoid destroying standing crops. Few months back, the provincial government authorities launched an operation and destroyed standing crops irrigated on contaminated water. Most of the people in the suburbs of Peshawar are engaged in agriculture, and use sewage water for irrigation which has led to huge increase in environmental and agricultural pollution.

In Peshawar, water from factories enters canals without any treatment, irrigating vegetables and fruits growing around the city. According to experts, the vegetables grown from this poisonous water are not edible and their food can lead to various diseases. It is scientifically proved that the toxic substances in the soil and water around Peshawar have exceeded the prescribed limits and the vegetables and crops grown in this water and soil are harmful to human health. According to research, the amount of metals in the water of different areas of the city is much higher than the limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Dr Muhammad Rafique, a professor at the Institute of Management Sciences, says water from homes and factories in Peshawar is discharged untreated in rivers and canal clean and then people around the city use it for irrigation and other household needs. “Not only water but also the vegetables and fruits grown, irrigated with this water, are harmful to human health,” Dr Rafique said. Bara River and the Kabul River are the main source of water for Peshawar.  However, due to the construction of factories around these canals, water pollution is constantly on rise in these rivers.

Work on the first sewage water treatment plants in Peshawar started in 1993. The project was funded by the Asian Development Bank at Rs3.40 billion. The project was aimed to build four sewage treatment plants in different parts of the city — Hayatabad, Warsak Road, Ring Road and Charsadda Road. However, three of these plants were shut down before completion and the plant on Warsak Road was closed some time ago.

The purpose of the project was to make the water from Peshawar city and factories usable before it flows into the Kabul River and canals.  However, due to lack of interest from the government and concerned agencies, no positive progress has been made in this regard. Dr. Ishtiaq, Professor of Medicine and Public Health at North West School of Medicine, Peshawar says they metals enter the soil through canals and then move from the soil to the plants. He said that when a person eats vegetables containing these unhealthy metals, he can suffer from various diseases including cancer and mental illness.

According to the research, the land allotted for these plants has also been seized.  BRT project depot was set up on the land of Phase III water treatment plant.  The lands of the other two plants are also slowly being taken over. The NAB had submitted a report to the court on the project two years ago stating that no department had any record of the project.

During another hearing, the then chief secretary Azam Khan had openly told the court that sewage water is discharged into the Kabul River. It is a legal offense to irrigate a field with water from polluted and dirty drains.

Over the past year, the Peshawar district administration has carried out operations in the city’s suburbs, Warsak Road, Charsadda Road and Shalam, and about 50 acres of standing crops have been destroyed for irrigating it on sewage.  However, these operations were later halted due to a situation caused by the coronavirus.

Mohammad Tayyab, a farmer, was unaware of the harmful effects of growing crops with contaminated or sewage water.  He believes that bathing or drinking contaminated water can have negative effects on health, but he has never seen its impacts on vegetables. Regarding the city’s sewage treatment plant, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Adviser Kamran Bangash said that talks have been held with the Asian Development Bank, which is working on constructed five wastewater treatment plants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

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