Environmental Sustainability of Rural Community-based Drinking Water Systems in Developing Countries: A Field Study from Pakistan

By Muhammad Sagheer Aslam, M. Saeed Mirza and Dominic Frigon.

Published by The International Journal of Environmental Sustainability

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About 884 million people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water. One of the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDG-2000) is to ensure environmental sustainability, with a target to halve the 1990 proportion (23%) of the world population without access to safe drinking water by 2015. Presently, progress is evaluated in terms of the proportion of people provided with access to improved drinking water, and not in terms of its long-term sustainability. A field study was conducted in 70 rural communities of Northern Pakistan to examine the sustainability of community-based drinking water systems. Although the study is wide in scope, this paper focuses only on environmental sustainability by examining the capacity, reliability, quality, and protection of drinking water sources and the distribution systems; other results will be reported elsewhere. The field results show that for about 49% of the communities studied, the sources provide insufficient water, with 21% of these sources depleting quite rapidly. Microbiological water quality in the area is poor with about 86% of the water sources being contaminated with coliform and 42% unprotected from surrounding contaminations. Unfortunately, 66% of the communities have never tested the quality of their water source. The study showed that the proportion of the rural population with access to safe drinking water was diminishing, along with a degradation of the natural environment in terms of water pollution and availability to reliably meet human and ecological needs.

Keywords: Environmental Sustainability, Water Sources Protection and Uses, Safe Drinking Water, Millennium Development Goals, Community-Based Drinking Water Systems, Water Availability, Source Depletion, Water Quality

The International Journal of Environmental Sustainability, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp.1-17. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 3.528MB).

Muhammad Sagheer Aslam

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Civil Engineering & Applied Mechanics, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Muhammad Sagheer holds a B.Sc. (Civil), M.Sc. (Civil–Water Resources) from the University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar (Pakistan) and is studying for a Ph.D. (Civil-in progress, with a focus on sustainability of community-based drinking water systems) from McGill University, Montreal, Canada. His work experience includes service as a Lecturer in the Department of Civil Engineering, University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar, Pakistan; Project Engineer, Project Manager, and Project Director in Construction Industry and other positions.

Prof. M. Saeed Mirza

Professor Emeritus, Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Professor Mirza specializes in infrastructure design and management for sustainability and durability, including water supply and sewage disposal infrastructure in rural and urban areas. Dr. Mirza has lobbied strongly for renewal of Canada’s deteriorating infrastructure and related technical, environmental, socio-economic, and financial, management and policy issues. Peers consider him to be “an outstanding engineer, researcher and educator who has made a tremendous impact on many infrastructure issues over the past two decades”. Since 1999, Dr. Mirza has played an active role in developing an Environmental Policy for McGill University, and its implementation to ameliorate the environment and sustainable practices on all campuses.

Prof. Dominic Frigon

Assistant Professor, Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Dominic Frigon specialises in Environmental Engineering with a Ph.D. from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and with a B.Sc. and a M.Sc. in Environmental Microbiology from McGill University. He is involved in research on microbiology and modelling of biological wastewater treatment systems, on the degradation of sewer infrastructures, and on the sustainability of drinking water treatment systems in developing countries.