Per capita water availability in Pakistan has decreased five times since the creation of the country, which was around 5,000 cubic metres in 1947 but now stands at only 1,000 cubic metres, which is the lowest in the region.
This was observed at a ceremony held at Keenjhar Lake on Saturday to mark the World Wetlands Day, organised by IUCN Pakistan in collaboration with the Mangroves for the Future Programme, Sindh Coastal Community Project of the provincial Coastal Development Authority, and Sindh Fisheries Department.
The ceremony was aimed at highlighting the importance of the Keenjhar freshwater ecosystem and it was attended by over 150 people including water and natural resources management experts, students, media persons and the government officials.
The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2013 as the UN International Year of Water Cooperation and Ramsar’s theme for the World Wetland’s Day for this year is “Wetlands and Water Management”.
The idea behind selecting Keenjhar Lake as a venue was to highlight the importance of the wetlands in providing freshwater. Not only it is a Ramsar protected site but 95 per cent of Karachi’s water needs are fulfilled through Keenjhar, making it the largest source of water supply for Karachi.
According to the Karachi Water & Sewerage Board, about 580 MGD of water from Keenjhar is being daily supplied to the city. Study reports on Keenjhar say that the lake hosts around 55 freshwater fish species.
In the opening remarks, Country Representative IUCN Pakistan Mahmood Akhtar Cheema spoke about the constant decrease in water availability in Pakistan.
He said that in 1947, per capita water availability was 5,000 cubic metres, which has reduced to 1,000 cubic metres, adding that vegetative cover was essential for water conservation and ground water storage, which was alarmingly low in Pakistan and stands at 5% of the total landmass, whereas in India it was 23%.
“The neighbouring countries are heavily investing for increasing their vegetative cover as it helps in conserving water. Water is interconnected with agriculture and fisheries and thousands of livelihoods are dependent on it,” he informed.
He stressed the need for Pakistan to work with the neighboring countries to have a dialogue on water as it was a shared resource.
In his keynote address, Shams-ul-Haq Memon, Consultant Sindh Coastal Development Authority, spoke about how Ramsar sites were declared on the basis of the richness of biodiversity.
He spoke about how the term “Wetlands” covers many different water bodies. It includes lakes, rivers, man-made lakes and also water standing in the farms.
“Wetlands not only have a bearing on the fishing industry, but also on tourism industry and others. For sustained life on this planet, we need to keep the wetlands clean,” he added.
Ghulam Qadir Shah, Coordinator Mangroves for the Future Programme Pakistan, highlighted the natural wealth that Keenjhar Lake offered many years ago.
“At one point, the Bengal tiger and Gharial resided in the wetlands of Pakistan but are now extinct. Marine turtles and Indus dolphins are also endangered. There were over 120,000 trees at the Haleji Lake but then they were cut down since the water supply to the Indus gradually decreased with the construction of dams, resulting in the unfortunate loss,” he added.
He said that Kotri and Nooriabad waste were also thrown into Keenjhar, thus affecting its water quality. He spoke about how 15% of Sindh’s GDP was wasted due to the environmental degradation, which was the highest in the world.
Ghulam Qadir Shah maintained that the Mangroves for the Future Programme, with its secretariat based at IUCN Pakistan, was trying to do its bit by giving small and medium-sized grants to the organisations working in the coastal areas and providing training to the communities.
Muhammad Umar Memon, Project Director Sindh Coastal Development Authority, spoke about improving coastal zone management and increasing freshwater for healthier mangroves.
Ghulam Mujtaba Waddal, Director Sindh Fisheries Department, shared a presentation on the Keenjhar Lake.
He spoke about the spillway that the Sindh government has constructed, which has increased the life of the Keenjhar Lake and mentioned that there exist eight centres around the lake where the fishermen sell their fish.
About 45,000 people live around the lake and depend on it for their livelihood.
Ghulam Muhammad Mahar, Director General Sindh Fisheries Department, thanked the participants for sharing their research and raising awareness about the Keenjhar Lake.
Mohammd Hanif Pathan, Director General Sindh Coastal Development Authority, thanked the IUCN and other partners for organizing such an informative programme at an important and most relevant location to the event. He encouraged the participants to do more for the conservation of wetlands.
A ceremonial plantation of the saplings was also carried out in the vicinity of the Fisheries Department’s office and the commemorative shields were distributed amongst the presenters.