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Pakistan

Standing still

Text and photos by Amar Guriro

No one can feel the pain of a fisherman who realises that the vast wetland or natural lake that had served as the only source of livelihood for him and his forefathers will soon be no more.

The pain was evident in the eyes of Ghulam Nabi Mallah, who was sitting in his Batilo, a small traditional wooden boat and idly playing with the wooden oars. The resounding silence of the 18-year-old, who has aged much more than his age due to the contaminated water he and the area residents have to rely on for survival, speaks volume about their desperation.

Mallah’s small boat was anchored on the edge of the vast and unique wetland of the province, the Kalankar or Kalangar Lake. According to the locals, the lake is spread over seven different zones, which comes to around 20 km. The lake is situated in the matchless White Desert or Achhro Thar in district Umerkot (formerly known as Amarkot district).

The beauty of the desert even took us by surprise. When we set off from the historical town of Dhoronaro, the image in our minds was that of a small, simple lake with a few small boats anchored. However, all the fatigue of the hour-long drive through the desert went out the window as we reached Goth Bachal Mallah and right after crossing the small village, the wonderland.

The vast body of blue water between the sand dunes and the resultant cool breeze were shocking to say the least. The water was calm and the area was wrapped in a mysterious silence, as if mourning the worsening situation. Dispersed all around the lake were small villages with traditional Thari huts, locally known as Chawanra.

Achhro Thar or White Desert is Pakistan’s strangest desert and is spread along the eastern boundaries of Sindh, along with the Indian border. There are several wetlands throughout the desert, most of which remain undiscovered.

The known ones include the Bakaar, located near Khipro district of Sanghar and commonly known as Khipro lakes, and the lakes in district Umerkot, which include the Kalankar, Seeroi, Burthi, Bodarr, Daisaen, Paalaaro, Modakar and several other small lakes.

Out of these, several have the potential to be protected under the Ramsar Convention.
However, nothing is being done at the official level, with the lake not even having been studied in detail. These wetlands have the potential of being wonderful tourist spots or game sanctuaries but the concerned authorities seem oblivious.

“The lake has become, more or less, useless, as there are no fish remaining and without fish, any water body for us is dead,” said Mallah. He lives in a small nearby village that was home to about 200 fishing families in the past but most of the residents have moved to other places as the water contamination levels surged.

The reason for this contamination is the fact that fresh water has not been introduced in the lake over the past ten years. Although, the Sindh Irrigation Department had established a minor canal from the Nara Canal to supply fresh water to the lake, over the past decade, some influential landlords and political personalities, a few of whom even belonged to the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, have been siphoning the water for their own land.

“This lake was our source of drinking water but, now, due to the lack of freshwater, the water has become so stagnant that even the fish are unable to survive,” said an elderly fisherman, Khano.

The federal government is celebrating the current year as the national year of environment but it seems that it is merely a media campaign, as no practical steps are being taken.

Quoting official data, Ideal Rural Development Program (IRDP) Secretary Imtiaz Laghari said that due to the rampant environmental degradation, the environment debt has risen to Rs 1 billion per day, which comes to Rs 365 billion per year.
He said these wetlands have long remained undiscovered, even at the government level, and called for a detailed official survey to be carried out as soon as possible.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Small Grants Program National Coordinator Masood Ahmed Lohar said that Pakistan is a signatory of different international conventions including United Nations Conventions to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), biodiversity conservation convention and climate change and eco-region preservation conventions, therefore, it needs to realise that the maintenance of these wetlands is essential for the conservation of the entire eco-region.

The wetlands are not only important for the general ecology but several traditional ritual and social norms of the indigenous fishermen are also entirely dependent on these water bodies. In the past, the fishermen of the area arranged annual melas, where special markets were set up providing toys for children, cosmetics for fisherwomen and fishing tools for men, along with special folk music shows.

These melas provided a chance of recreation to the entire community but since the stagnation of the water and the resultant decrease in fish catch, even such social gatherings have become a distant prospect.

Friday, February 06, 2009
Daily Times

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About WashMedia-South Asia

WashMedia-South Asia is a group of South Asian journalists working on water, sanitation and hygiene issues. Theses journalists are from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

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