Abdul Razak Shaikh
IN every part of the world lakes having millions of fish yearly flourish for further production but in Sindh province, we decline our fishing system and hundreds of peoples survive their families goes like famine situation. Manchar Lake seems to be very worst nowadays in our Sindh. Lake Manchar is the largest freshwater lake in Pakistan and one of the largest in Asia. It is located at a distance of 18 km from Sehwan Sharif on the west side of the River Indus, in district Jamshoro before the creation of Jamshoro District, it was in Dadu District. Manchar is a beautiful shallow lake located in district Jamshoro, Sindh.
The area of the lake fluctuates with the seasons from as little as 350 km to as much as 520 km. The lake collects water from numerous small streams in the Khirthar Mountain and empties into the Indus River. The only lake that is home to fishermen living on wooden boathouses for hundreds of years. A thinly carpeted road towards the west on main Indus highway leads to Manchar Village. The lake was created in the 1930s when the Sukkur barrage was constructed on the river Indus. The lake is fed by two canals, the Aral and the Danister from the river Indus. Until recently the lake supported thousands of fisherfolk, near village Kot Lashari Bobak railway station, who depended on the freshwater fish they caught in the lake. However, the lake is now undergoing environmental degradation resulting in the water becoming saline and killing off the fish and forcing the fisherfolk to look elsewhere for employment.
The degradation has been occurring for a long time but only recently have the effects been felt. The diversion of water from the Indus and diminished storm runoff from the Kirthar Mountains have contributed to the reduction in freshwater supplies. At the same time, saline drainage water from agricultural fields of Baluchistan and surrounding areas have started to flow into Lake Manchar. The lake was a stop-off on the Indus flyway for Siberian migratory birds, but recently the numbers have fallen from 25,000 birds counted in 1988 to just 2,800 bird counted in 2002 because the lake no longer provides the birds’ main food, the lake fish. In the place of the birds, the lake now hosts a saline water reed.
The lake also provided large volumes of water for irrigation but this has also been reduced and has resulted in a great reduction in the area irrigated by the lake. Right, Bank Outfall Drain is being built to save the lake from contamination. Fishing communities can no longer survive on Asia’s largest freshwater lake after a massive artificial drain has contaminated water and destroyed fish stocks. There are now only 4,000 to 5,000 people living on the lake, compared to 20,000 back in the 1980s when the water was sweet. Annual fish catch on the lake dropped dramatically from 2,300 metric tones in 1944 to 700 metric tones in the 1980s. Today, it is no more. The problems began in 1982 when the government decided to build a network of channels, known as the Right Bank Outfall Drain (RBOD) to tackle the waterlogging and salinity that was destroying large tracts of arable land along the Indus River near Dadu and Larkana.
But the misconceived project destroyed Manchar Lake and its fish and has brought untold misery to the indigenous fishermen community. Manchar Lake gets fresh water from torrents in the Kirthar hills and through a channel called the Main Nara Valley Drain, built as an inundation canal in the 1930s, which brings water from Hamal Lake and the Indus River. The drains carried sewerage and saline water from agricultural fields into the lake. Experts from the state-run Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) argued the waste would be diluted and so would not harm the ecosystem of the lake. After almost two decades, the government realized the damage caused by the drain and decided to build a new channel to carry effluents into the Arabian Sea.
This project, known as the RBOD-II, has experienced lengthy delays and cost overruns, was to be finished within four years but is still far from complete. Nai Gaj Dam is currently under construction on the Gaj river in the gorge area at the edge of Khirther mountains range at about 65 km (40 miles) north-west of Dadu city. Construction began in 2012 and when complete, its power station will have a 4.2 MW installed capacity. The dam is scheduled to be completed in June 2019, but as per my information not, possible due to the shortage of funds from the federal government. It is estimated that water will be supplied from Nai Gaj Dam to 28800 acres land in tehsil Johi and 300000 acres in other areas of Dadu District. Moreover, Nai Gaj Dam will supply 50 cusecs of water to the lake Mancher for decreasing its pollution. Apart from serving as a continuous flow of fresh water to Manchar Lake, which will improve the ecology of the lake, the Nai Gaj dam will also serve as a lifeline for the people of this mountainous region in Dadu district with the potential of changing their socio-economic conditions. PPP in Sindh is leading political party having the third-time government that must look properly to save Asia’s largest and beautiful lake. I never forget the moment of 1984, when I was an MBBS student and passed whole night at the Mancher Lake.
— The writer is retired officer of Sindh Government.