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WHERE ART THOU, LAKE MANCHAR?

Government Apathy Mars the Drive to Resuscitate This Stunning Water Body

Lake Manchar is the largest freshwater lake in Pakistan.  It is also one of Asia’s largest lakes sharing the space with lake Baikal and lake Wular.  It is located at a distance 18 km from Sehwan Sharif on the west side of the river Indus, in district Jamshoro,  where the Lake gets most of its water from.

Before the creation of Jamshoro District, it was in Dadu District. Jamshoro district was split from Dadu District in December 2004.   Manchar is a beautiful shallow lake located in district Jamshoro, Sindh.  The lake collects water from numerous small streams in the Kirthar Mountains and empties into the Indus River.

Manchar Lake has a vast expanse amounting to over 250 square kilometres in breadth that can bloat up to 500 square kilometres during the monsoon seasons.  It is approximately 2.5 to 4 meters deep.  In the past, a large and diverse breed of fish could be found beneath its veneer.  Seasonally, Siberian migratory birds would flock to its shores.

Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

Once in the vicinity of the lake, one could clearly hear the soft lapping of the water and the thin, shrill wail of the wind.  A pretty sight of pet pelicans, sitting idly on a rock next to a huge reservoir was extremely pleasing to the eyes.  It is an irony that people living on the edge of Manchar Lake, Pakistan’s largest freshwater lake cannot use lake’s water.  The practice of jettisoning agricultural effluents has raised its toxicants to unacceptable levels.

Every day, the people living in the propinquity, have to walk at least two kilometres to fetch water for their families.  There are stories galore of a legendary floating village in the days of yore.  The complete town used to levitate above the shores of the Manchar Lake.  Hundreds of families were living in their boats.  However, the Lake is currently dying and a number of fishermen have abandoned their water homes for land.

Trouble first arrived when water in the Aral Wah and Danstar Wah, two major canals that flow directly into the Lake, reduced.  In addition, as weather patterns were afflicted by climate change and less than normal rainfall was received in the Kirthar hills, the water level further nosedived.

The last nail in the coffin was hammered in by the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), which constructed the Right Bank Outfall Drain (RBOD-1).  This drain is designed to carry toxic wastewater of industries and agricultural lands from Northern Sindh districts and pour it into the Lake.  The state of affairs is really grim and the fish, the birds, and the people are all leaving now.

Factors Responsible

Yesteryears, there were around 200 fish species found, in these waters, but now there are hardly any left.  To further compound the issue the government has proposed to build the Nai Gaj Dam, an embankment on the Gaj River to store drinking and agriculture water for the arid areas of Kachho and Dadu.  But the dam will disrupt rainwater from the Khirtar hills from flowing into the Lake.

Earlier, when the waters were clean, authorities would make use the Danstar Wah canal and empty the Manchar Lake into the River Indus.  Subsequently, they wait for it to be replenished with fresh water.  But that is no longer happening either.  After the RBOD-1 was built its pollutants were making their way to the River. In 2004, Over 65 people died in Hyderabad after consuming toxic water from the Indus.  Later, the people of Hyderabad protested against the release of Manchar Lake’s contents into the River, which then stopped.

Fishermen are also to be blamed.  They are in a habit of using poison to catch fish, which adds to the water’s pollution.  There is only one way to save the Lake now It needs a discharge canal immediately, but there seems to be no progress on that.

Intervention by Supreme Court

In 2015, the Supreme Court of Pakistan took notice of the contamination of Manchar Lake.  Subsequently, it directed the Sindh government to monitor and revive water filtration plants in the area.  The judges further observed that the problem would be solved if RBOD-II is completed immediately and the effluents are instead disposed of into the sea.  The RBOD-II had run into troubles.  The project was to be jointly funded by the federal and Sindh government.  The project died down its own death due to government apathy.

Latest Development

Limelight was on Manchar lake once again in recent past when Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah has identified contaminated water, sea intrusion, and destruction of Pakistan’s biggest freshwater reservoir, Manchar Lake, as three grave water-related challenges for the province.

Speaking at the convocation of US-Pakistan Centre for Advanced Studies in Water (USPCAS-W) at Mehran University of Engineering and Technology (MUET) in Jamshoro district on 8th  March 2019, he requested the academia to submit a set of holistic recommendations to address the challenges.

Viewpoint

It is evident that Pakistan faces very serious water and environmental problems.  The Sindh government should obtain the experts’ recommendations to work out the issues of clean drinking water, shortage of water and irrigation-related problems.  Lake Manchar is still lying neglected craving for authorities’ attention. 

07 Jun 19/Friday                                                            Written by Naphisa

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