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Sweet water bodies destroyed

August 09, 2010


PAKISTAN is endowed with hundreds of sweet water bodies starting from Lake Saiful-Malook in the north to Keenjahr in the lower plains of Sindh. Unfortunately, we have failed to preserve these vital sources of sweet water, especially in Sindh.

Like reverine forests and coastal mangroves, all fresh water lakes in the province have been almost destroyed either because of poisonous substances released through outfall drains (LBOD and RBOD) carrying saline water and the industrial waster or lack of water from Indus.

The biggest victim is the Manchar lake covering an area of about 100 sq. miles or nearly 64000 acres. This is a shallow water natural lake situated in district Dadu, a vast natural depression flanked by the Khirthar hills in the west, the Laki hills in the south and the river Indus in the east. At the time of heavy rainfall, the lake extends northwest. Indeed such a large natural body is a major resource of fresh water in an arid region of Kohistan.

Manchar once substantially supported various economic activities. It provided livelihood for more then 50000 fishermen families and irrigation water for various crops and aquatic plants including lotus. Its fish catch was exported even up to Punjab. Large number of Siberian migratory birds coming from extreme cold climate landed on lake waters in winter. Recently, the numbers of birds have fallen sharply because the lake no longer provides the birds' main food, the lake fish.

The lake could have also contributed a lot in boosting up tourism industry if it was properly developed. However, this reservoir of primitive beauty and usefulness has been extensively degraded as noxious human activities have changed significantly its original regime. The main destruction followed the construction of Right Bank Outfall Drainage (RBOD) bringing saline water from Balochistan that has not only destroyed the life sustaining source but is now also poisoning the Indus when overflow is released in the river.

According to experts at the Basic Development Need Project (BDNP), water of this once largest sweet water reserve in the country has become extremely dangerous to the people living around the lake because of contamination. The contamination has even infected the subsoil source and BDNP volunteers have advised people not use even under-ground water. Reportedly, due to toxic effects of contaminated water, 40 per cent children born in the vicinity of the lake developed tendency towards blindness. Moreover skin cancer is also spreading in the local population.

This great source of sweet-water has been polluted deliberately as the effluents carried by Main Nara Valley Drain are discharged in the lake uninterruptedly. The inflow of toxic has not only destroyed marine life and flora and fauna thriving in the lake, which was a great source of attraction for tourists but has also affected the bread and butter of thousands of fishermen. Manchar is thus transformed into 'largest poisonous lake'. If its poisonous water is drained out and 5000 cusec fresh water discharged into lake through Dadu Canal or River Indus, Manchar can be restored to its pristine purity.

Although, BDN-- a World Health Origination sponsored project and other NGOs are working incessantly yet it is the provincial government whose determination can revive this lake.

Similarly, Haleji lake located in Thatta was originally not as big but during the World War II, the British government decided to increase its capacity by building a feeder canal from River Indus. It thus grew to 25km. This lake besides being one of the major sources of water supply to the increasing population of Karachi is regarded as one of the most important wintering areas of migratory waterfowl in Eurasia. However, because of the total neglect and reduced rainfall this once scenic spot has turned into a pond of saline water full of weeds. [ Haleji is now under a serious threat as the unlined Right Bank Outfall Drain (RBOD) carrying saline water is expected to pass less than 100 feet from the lagoon. The seepage of saline water from uncoated drain is likely to cause permanent damage to the lake. However, at present the most challenging task is to save Haljei from impending danger of the seepage of the RBOD which needs immediate attention of the Sindh government, as well as that of civil society.

Hamal is another big sweet water lake of upper Sindh, some 400 km north of Karachi; spread over 10,500 hectares extending from Shahdadkot to Naseerabad in Balochistan that supplied water for drinking and domestic use to the people in the surrounding villages. It was also a great source of fresh water fish and resting place of Siberain migratory birds such as ducks and geese, shorebirds, flamingos, cormorants, herons and egrets, ibises, coots, gulls and terns, in winter.

Release of poisonous water of the Hirdin drain into the lake has contaminated water to the extent that people living around it are likely to become victims of water-borne illness. Five people have already died during a recent outbreak of abdominal diseases.

Another significant lake is Keenjhar located in district Thatta, a big source of water supply to Karachi. Because of its proximity with metropolis this water reservoir carries lot of tourist attraction. However it is no better than other sweet water reservoirs of province because the source of its fresh water supply, KB feeder passes through Kotri SITE where most of the industrial waste is drained.

It is estimated that Sindh freshwater lakes account for 65 per cent of total freshwater fisheries and over 120 species of freshwater fish are found in Sindh. However contaminations of lakes have almost destroyed the fresh water fisheries in the province.

Since the country is facing severe shortage of water it has become all the more imperative to take appropriate measures to protect these sweet water reservoirs from contamination. The government may appoint a high-powered team of experts on water, involving local NGOs to survey all the lakes of province and recommend appropriate suggestions to save these sources of fresh water and resting places of migratory birds.