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February 28, 2021

Efforts on to bring life to Manchhar Lake


February 28, 2021

HYDERABAD: A recent meeting held by Inland Fisheries Department officials with fisher community representatives, hailing from around 30 villages around Manchhar Lake, discussed the problems in rehabilitating the largest water body of the province.

The lake has been the source of livelihood for fishermen. It is also a famous picnic resort which offers a home to migratory and local birds, mammals and reptiles.

Once a scenic lake, attracting picnickers from across the province and other parts of the country, it has turned into a large cesspool, receiving pollutants through the Main Nara Valley (MNV) drain.

Inland fisheries department officials apprised the community elders that the Sindh chief minister was keen to rehabilitate the water body with proper planning, with the community onboard. The visiting officials have documented suggestions for further planning for building remaining model villages, improving livelihood options to stop migration within the community and provision of basic facilities.

Ghulam Muhammad Manchhari, a community activist and member of Manchhar Conservation Network (MCN), said, “We saw how the MNV project was launched in 1993, aiming to carry out saline water to the sea through foreign-funded Right Bank Outfall Drain (RBOD).”

Leading experts, who had conducted assessment before launching the MNV project might have imagined that frequent rainfall would wash away the salinity flowing through MNV towards the lake. They thought the waste would not turn harmful for the fishermen communities, but that was not how things happened.

“Now, after 27 years the situation is quite different. We say the assessment was wrong and now all stakeholders have abandoned the fisher communities in this helpless situation,” Manchhri said.

Besides fishers, farmers and herder communities, major departments of Sindh government like Inland fisheries, irrigation, tourism, revenue, wildlife and local government remain stakeholders of the lake, which no longer produces any fish.

Mustafa Meerani, another community activist said, “While the fishermen have lost their natural source of livelihood, the country has lost a major water body, which was declared a reservoir in 1973 to provide water to agriculture in the area with building embankments.”

After starting the MNV drain project, neither were the fish safe nor was the water useful for agriculture. Initially, farmers looked happy about receiving water for irrigation to cultivate lands. But after time passed they lost their fertile lands because of using contaminated lake water for crops.

The Inland Fisheries Department claims to have released millions of fish seed annually to benefit the community, but on ground only fishermen understand that fish seed do not survive in poisonous water, Mirani said.

There is political involvement in all actions, like launching such anti-environment projects, establishing model villages for the community members, development of rest houses to promote tourism, distributing small boats and installing ice boxes on boats.

The poor fishermen families are witnesses to the making of promises that were breached by the same people, who show love by extending a helping hand to see prosperity among the people.

The provincial government during 1995 had decided to build four model villages, comprising 100 houses, each. Presently, there is only one Village Moula Bux Mallah, where families have been settled with basic facilities.

The project for other three villages known after community elders Qadir Bux Mallah, Haji Malook Mallah and Haji Abdul Rehman Mallah remain in doldrums due to political changes. The then government had also identified beneficiary families belonging to the fisher community to award houses to them for living a safe life.

The authorities even purchased pieces of lands for villages. But the families were shifted to live there without structured houses and facilities. They still hope to make their dream come true.

There are four rest houses located in Shah Hassan, Bajara, Jhangara and Shaikh Dhaman, aiming to promote tourism. Shah Hassan rest house was built in British government era. These places are not accessible for the common people. There is no proper road to reach these rest houses.

Community activists said that around 50 residential-boats, accommodating 150 families, could still be seen floating atop the lake despite challenges. Each house boat accommodates two-three families onboard, who live and die on the boats.

Elderly fishermen say that in 1972 there were around 2,000 house boats.

Another 700 boats around the lake offer a source of living to 1,500 families. The lake’s downfall started in the 1970s-1980s. Over the decades, hundreds of fisher families have migrated to marine and fresh water bodies across the country in search of better livelihood.

Many of the families have been settled there permanently. Some others live in marine waters for a few months and return back home when they hear their own water body taking a breath after receiving freshwater through monsoon rains and rising level in the River Indus.

Despite these challenges in terms of loss of livelihood, shrinking scenic beauty, and loss of biodiversity, the government continues to make tall claims about helping the communities and bettering their lives.

Activists believe that the restoration of the water body means rehabilitation of the overall habitat and environment of the lake. Vegetation provides natural breeding grounds to various species, and without its restoration, there can be no hope of restoring the lake to its former glory.

According to the activists, officials at the meeting discussed key steps to rehabilitate the water body in coordination with the community, who were the natural custodians of the water through generations.

However, the people demand the authorities to divert the route of MNV drain, which has poisoned the water, destroying entire water life.