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Toxic drain kills fish, pollutes Keenjhar Lake

April 18, 2012


A section of the drain feeding the Keenjhar lake filed with dea fish and other organisms on Wednesday. – Photo by Dawn

KARACHI, April 18: The Keenjhar Lake — the main source of water supply to Karachi and parts of Thatta district — has been receiving highly contaminated water through a storm drain for the past three days, it emerged on Wednesday.

During a visit to Jhimpir, a town in Thatta district located about 70 kilometres from Karachi, it was found that the government had not yet taken any measure to address the problem that is contaminating the country’s largest freshwater lake, which has been declared a Ramsar site and a wildlife sanctuary.

Dead fish, snails and freshwater mussel shells were seen floating on the dark-coloured water flowing in the drain emitting foul smell.

According to a community representative, at least four cows, an equal number of jackals and a turtle have died after drinking the water in recent days.

Besides, nine cases of diarrhoea have been reported at government-run health facilities in the area. Villagers said that only a few days back, the locality had received rain and the lake water got contaminated apparently when the drain carrying effluent overflowed.

“The drain water had always been crystal clear. We used to bring children here for camping so that they could actually see the habitat of fish and other living organisms in the water,” said Jehangir Durrani, natural resource manager of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) at the lake, while speaking to Dawn.

A significant number of fishes, some weighing as much as seven kilos, died from contamination, said Mr Durrani, adding that poor fishermen took them away and sold them in market.

“Initially they didn’t know what was happening. But as soon as villagers realised the gravity of the situation, the community was warned through announcements on loudspeakers in area mosques against drinking water from the lake,” he explained.

The manager said the lake was a rich habitat for 33 fish species. Of them, he added, tilapia, snakehead, rohu, catfish and grass carp fish were spotted dead in the two-kilometre-long drain that falls in the lake.

Expressing concern over the large-scale pollution, he said the death of the species that live near the bed gave indications that the drain contained highly toxic pollutants. “It will not be an easy task to get rid of the contaminants that might have settled in the earth.”

While contamination of lake water with industrial effluent was a longstanding problem, it was the first time that this specific drain in Jhimpir had become contaminated, the villagers told Dawn.

“All the storm water drains in the area fall into the lake. Effluent from the Kotri and Nooriabad industrial areas also enter the lake through drains in the monsoon when they overflow,” said Abdul Hameed Palari, vice chairman of the Keenjhar Conservation Network.

“The specific drain carries wastes from the unit that started working on the wind turbines project a few months ago and it uses some chemicals,” said Mr Palari, “but there is a need for a thorough investigation.”

Water samples

Speaking to Dawn, Dr Shafi Mohammad Wassan, district surveillance officer of the World Health Organisation, said preliminary tests of water samples showed that the water was not fit for human consumption, but a detailed chemical analysis was required to find the exact nature of contamination.

However, managing director of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board Misbahuddin Farid said that samples taken from the Gujjo head    work and Dhabeji pumping station had shown no sign of contamination.

“The results of other samples taken from the affected drain have not been received yet,” he said.

He added: “The Keenjhar Lake is under the irrigation department control and not KWSB’s. Yet we are consulting with the relevant departments on the matter.”

‘Better inflow to reduce toxicity’

WWF representatives at the site recommended immediate release of adequate quantities of water into the lake to reduce the level of toxicity amid fears that the toxic elements could affect the entire lake if the area received downpour in the next few days as being forecast.

A villager said: “It’s high time that the government look into the issue of lake contamination and address it on a priority basis. Almost everyone depending on the lake for drinking water is suffering from water-borne diseases and the area lacks quality healthcare services for the poor.”

Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, meanwhile, took notice of the reports about the release of ‘poisonous’ water into the Keenjhar Lake.

According to a press note, he directed the officials concerned to look into the issue.