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posted by Frank van Steenbergen
August 13, 2012

 

What is more important – public health, or security and deterrence? To answer this impossible question, lets take a closer look at the sub-district of Kahuta, situated not far northeast from Pakistan’s capital Islamabad.

Located in Kahuta is Khan Research Laboratories:  Pakistan's main nuclear weapons lab and its center for long-range missile development. In 1998 Pakistan’s joined the club of nuclear countries –much to international consternation over the risk of an “Islamic Bomb”. The Pakistani warheads were home produced in Kahuta, employing gas centrifuge enrichment technology to producing highly enriched uranium – the stuff that nuclear warheads are made of. The fact that Pakistan (particularly the founder of the lab, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan) at one stage seemed to be in business with North Korea and Libya gave rise to fears that the nuclear Pandora’s Box was now wide ajar. Khan Research Laboratory seemed to be at the epicenter of it all.

So that’s the high-tech; let’s now look at basic needs. Surrounding the marvelous lab is the rural sub-district of Kahuta, counting a population of 350,000 and very typical in many ways. According to a detailed assessment by PCRWR, there are only 34 drinking water systems serving this population. Some were designed to serve 5000 persons but, over time, population has grown and they are now stretched beyond capacity. Half of the systems supply water for less than three hours a day. What is worse is that a third of the system are out of order – meaning that 100,000 people are forced to constantly look for other sources of water. In terms of water quality, Kahuta is worse than all neighbouring districts: 95% of the water samples were unfit for consumption, most of them (84%) due to microbiological contamination.

What does that tell us about priorities? Welcome to Kahuta Mon Amour. We can explode mountains but cannot keep our springs clean. Such neglect and indifference are the real weapons of mass destruction; they do the job all the time.  Rich or poor, we spend 10-50 times more on weapons than on basic water supply. There is an urgent need to rebalance.

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