RAWALPINDI, March 21: As the World Day for Water is being observed today (Tuesday), availability of drinking water in the Potohar region, including Rawalpindi and Islamabad, has gone down by 100 to 210 feet in the last 30 years.

The officials of Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa) fear the situation would aggravate in the days to come.

According to experts, in 1980 underground water in the Potohar region was available at 30 to 70 feet as the drinking water requirement was met through Rawal Dam.

However, after increase in population and digging of tubewells, the water table started decreasing.

The depleting water table in the Potohar region, especially in Rawalpindi, is attributed to excessive withdrawal of water through tubewells. In Rawalpindi city alone, more than 280 tubewells are run by civic agencies. Additionally, over 50,000 small wells have been dug by residents inside their houses.

“We must use surface water sources in the shape of small dams to reduce dependence on tubewells,” Managing Director Wasa Chaudhary Naseer told Dawn.

He also wants the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to expedite work on drawing water from Indus River. “We have also asked Punjab government to install modern water intake system in Rawal Dam for meeting drinking requirements in Rawalpindi.” He said dependence on tubewells had taken a heavy toll on the underground watertable. There are several areas in Rawalpindi where Wasa has not yet extended water supply.

Majority of the private housing schemes have made their own drinking water arrangements while people living in suburbs rely on traditional wells. “We have been drawing water from our well for the last 15 years,” says Raja Zafran, a resident of Dhamial. In his home as a bull goes around, wheels move and buckets come up with water from the well.

Cherrah and Daducha, two dams planned in 2003 for supplying water to the residents of Rawalpindi, were to be completed in 2011. But nothing has been done as the provincial government has yet not acquired the land for the reservoirs.

However, the Wasa chief said work on Cherrah Dam would start soon as the reservoir was `inevitable` for meeting drinking water needs. He added that the dam would also recharge the water table. Our Reporter Adds:

To commemorate World Water Day, hundreds of children from across Pakistan will be presenting their innovative ideas on the future of clean water.

More than 840 children from 143 schools in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, Vehari and Kabirwala have been working over the past month on ways to keep drinking water safe at home and school.

The child-led campaign to disinfect water at the point of use has been promoted by Unicef together with the Ministry of Environment, UN Habitat, the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, Pakistan Institute for Environment Development Action Research, WaterAid and selected schools.