Vegetables are the most nutritious and abundantly used natural food material, available to masses.
They are rich in carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fibers, but low in fat, which make them quite beneficial in improving the overall health status of the human beings.
Owing to their importance, these are being planted on the large area of land in numerous parts of the Pakistan. More than 60 species of vegetables are being grown all over the country, making sure their availability to the end-users. But the scarcity of irrigated water and the population burst has rigorously affected the human livelihood, economic growth and environmental stability.
According to the recently conducted 6th census of Pakistan, the estimated population is about 207.8 millions, which will reach up to 234 million by 2025. This huge upsurge in occupants has immensely threatened the food security status of the country along with the provision of irrigation water.
Lack of alternative irrigation water resources and poor quality groundwater has paved the way of using municipal and industrial wastewater by the farmers to grow the vegetables especially in urban, semi-urban and rural areas, all across the Pakistan.
A survey conducted by Punjab Government, has painted a horrible picture in this scenario. In accordance to the presented facts, 16 commonly used vegetables were tested for 22 heavy metals, collected from 9 divisional headquarters and all were proved to be contaminated with lead, chromium, nickel, cadmium etc.
Ninety eight Tehsil municipal areas of Punjab generate about 504 million gallons of wastewater every day.
Among them 66 Tehsil municipal areas use this untreated dirty poisonous water for agronomic motives, 28 release itto rivers, canals and sub-canals and only four of them having water treatment systems. Therefore, most of the wastewater is directly being consumed for the agricultural practices.
Municipal, industrial and domestic waste waters along with sewage sludge, fertilizers manures and pesticides which are being applied to soils and crops offers a variety of hazardous chemical compounds combined with number of heavy metals including Cu, Mn, Hg, Pb, Fe, Zn and Cd, which pose a great threat to the life of human beings.
Elevated levels of heavy metals are linked with the occurrence of these maladies including cancer, kidney failure, goitre, stomach cramps, high blood pressure, diarrhoea, vomiting, loss of weight, weakened bones and fatigue, anaemia, nervous system disorders, miscarriage, reduction in the metabolism of copper and iron and increase in cholesterol level.
Apart from the hazardous sewage water, entry of acids from homes and chemicals from factories make it even worse to be used for the irrigation purpose.
Consumption of vegetables contaminated with heavy metals make the body vulnerable to the above mentioned array of diseases.
Another horrible aspect in this scenario is the use ofsilicone spray, colored dye and hormonal injections by the farmers or the retailers to sell their vegetables more rapidly at higher rate.
Such a scandal had emerged in India, which traumatized the whole country.
The retailers were using car sprays to be directly applied on the leftover vegetables to make them “Fresh” and “Shiny”, which then could be mixed with fresh vegetables to be sold the next day.
Farmers were also using chemical colors to make the green vegetables to look more greener and fresh, and the practice of injecting hormones to vegetables was also exposed, which could speed up their growth process on brisk rate. Moreover a famous
Pakistani TV program “Sar-e-Aam” by the ARY NEWS, had also disclosed the ill practices of dipping the ginger into a toxic chemical overnight, which made them bigger and fresher, ready to be sold in markets. All these lethal practices have made the vegetables “slow poison” for the public and have led to the introduction of life-threatening maladies on vast scale.
This has shortened the average life expectancy among individuals of developing countries including Pakistan.
In the light of above mentioned facts, the following recommendations can be proposed:
1) the waste water should not be used for the growth of vegetables,if required to use then it should be passed through an efficient water treatment process, before being supplied to the vegetables for irrigation purpose.
2) On-site quality testing labs should be developed at every major whole-sale market of every city regarding vegetables, ensuring the entry of only safe natural food stuffs to them. 3) Stringent implementation of laws regarding the continuous checking of leftover vegetables especially at the retailer shops should be guaranteed.
Recently, Punjab Food Authority (PFA) has taken a great initiative in creating awareness among the general public concerning this issue and have also taken strict action where required by destroying such filthy edible plants and this process is in progress.
Hopefully, our country men will be provided by fresh and pure food commodities especially vegetables, otherwise this slow poisoning would produce a whole generation of physically and mentally handicapped citizens, which will be a total devastation for our nation.