Pakistan's largest freshwater lake is drowned by effluents
Lake Manchar is dead
Located 18 kilometres west of Sehwan in Dadu district of Sindh and 300 kilometres north of Karachi, Manchar is a vast natural depression surrounded by Khirthar Range hills in the West, the Lakki hills in the East and a flood embankment in the Northeast. It is Pakistan's biggest freshwater lake; some even say it is Asia's biggest lake, though that is debatable. But today it would be more apt to describe Manchar as a grim cesspool of agricultural effluents, including pesticides.
The community's source of livelihood has suffered a lot. As per a report of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (sdpi) -- an independent think-tank based in Islamabad --the fish catch in the Manchar has fallen from 3,000 tonnes to less than 100 tonnes in 2003. "Before 1999, I could catch about 20-25 kilogrammes (kg) of fish every day. Today, it has come down to 5-6 kg," laments Analdal, a member of the Mohana community. Rues another Mohana, Haji Karim, "We used to eat fish and roots of aquatic plants. It was like a free meal. We only brought wheat and rice. Manchar was like a cup; it has now turned into an empty saucer."
The effluent-ridden lake water is no longer fit for drinking. So, the Mohanas have to purchase drinking water from a supply facility at the embankment. Each bucketful costs 5 Pakistani Rs. And there is crisis when water cannot be pumped out during power breakdowns.
The sinking lake has also put paid to the livelihoods of hundreds of agriculturists who diverted its waters through small canals, phats, and then used the lake-bed for farming. According to Memon, "This method relied on filling the lake during monsoons and then drawing out water to uncover cultivable land on which wheat was grown." He notes that, "The lake was filled to about 113 feet by September end and was reduced to 106 feet in October. In the process, about 26,000 acres of land was uncovered for farming." But today, Manchar doesn't have enough water and the lake-bed farmers have no work.
And that is not the end of their woes: the lake's toxic waters have played havoc on the health of their livestock. According to Behram Chachar, team leader veterinary project, Indus Resource Centre (a non-governmental organisation that promotes informal education in Sindh), "Viral diseases, such as rinder pest and foot and mouth, and bacterial diseases such as haemorrhage septicemia and black quarter have become common among livestock. The animals in the area are also plagued by tympina/bloat and acidosis."
The lake's once-rich marine and aquatic life has also suffered. Mirani lists about 10 fish species that can still be found in Manchar but says that their diversity and numbers were much higher, even a few years back. In the past, the lake waters were kept at 112-reduced level (rl, the lake's water height with respect to mean sea-level). The surplus was diverted to the Indus; "fish seeds" swam into the lake against the flow of the Indus-bound waters. The process was a boon for the Mohanas, for these little creatures would grow up to weigh a tasty 2.5 kilogrammes. That's a thing of the past now. For, even with good rains last year Manchar's water level reached only 108.2 rl.
I n the past, the lake was the winter home to numerous migratory birds species. Since it was the first wetland on their route, Manchar during winters was redolent with a host of migratory bird species. In fact, according to the environmentalist Shujaudin Qureshi, "About 20,000-30,000 birds still visit the lake every year." However, Qureshi also adds that pollution has caused a drastic fall in their numbers. Mirani also notes that migratory birds do visit the lake, but fly off after an overnight stay.
It is clear: Manchar is dying and its water can now kill.
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