I remember the moment I was sitting on a partially-broken wooden batila (small boat) at Sindh’s Kalankar lake earlier this year. Local fisherman and boat captain Mir Hassan Mallah pointed toward the sand dunes surrounding the lake. Taking the last puff of his cigarette, he commented, “This lake is as thirsty as us villagers.”
The beautiful lake is spread over both Sanghar and Umerkot districts. It starts from Sanghar near Ghulam Nabi Shah town where barrage and desert lands meet and ends at Umerkot district.
To reach Kalankar, I embarked on a one-hour journey from my hometown Umerkot to Dhoronaro, a rural town 30 kilometres away. I met two locals who happily agreed to guide me to the lake, which was another eight kilometres away in Haji Khamiso Rajar village.
Kalankar lake connects seven other lakes: Modhakar, Kharor, Loon Khann, Ghurjee, Bando, Sunahro, and Bhorurr. It receives water from two sources: either the used water from adjoining farms owned by big landlords or through rainfall.
Since freshwater has become scarce over the years, the water in the lake has become brackish and salty, which is not conducive for the fish population to grow. With tearful eyes, Mir Hassan told me how the lake needs freshwater so that there can be more fish.
The amount of fish caught from the lake is too little for the fishermen to make a decent living. At most, they earn Rs 200 a day by selling their catch in the market.
There is a freshwater canal nearby that can feed the lake, but the government has yet to pay heed and connect the canal to the lake.
The villagers’ plights doesn’t end here. I could see the sadness in Mir Hassan’s eyes when he told me that drinking water is also scarce. The underground water used for drinking has become brackish as well.
People have no choice but to drink stagnant and contaminated water. A hand pump was installed by an NGO but it's not enough and installing more pumps is too expensive for the villagers.
Two decades ago, life at Kalankar was thriving, not just due to the vast availability of fish, but also because of access to sweet drinking water from wells (locally known as tuss).
Today, around 120 families have moved out from the surrounding villages. More and more villagers are thinking of leaving their ancestral lands, but they don’t know where to go.
One of the villagers, Ghulam Nabi Mallah, told me that the Minister of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities in Sindh visited earlier this year to look into the potential site in the village to create a tourist point.
If tourist infrastructure is developed, influx of visitors could contribute to improving the dwindling fortunes of the villages that depend on Kalankar lake.
But instead of making provisions for the service economy, the government should instead focus on rehabilitating the lake, for it’s an integral part of the area’s ecology and a more sustainable source of livelihood for the people. And above all, if the lake loses its charm, what good will a tourist spot do?
All photos by the author.
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