While last year’s monsoon rains reined havoc and devastation for 20 million people across Pakistan including Sindh, this year’s much anticipated rainfall came as a ray of hope for many individuals that were dependant on nature for their livelihoods, such as the fishermen at Manchhar Lake who are looking to receive a hefty catch with the incoming fresh water. However, their expectations are laced with fear as the fish may be washed away through the drains that link the lake to the Indus River.
One of the largest lakes in the province and spreading over 233 square kilometers, Manchhar is mainly replenished through the Main Nara Valley (MNV) drain but the water along with its fish inhabitants may be washed away into the Indus River through the Aral Head, Aral Tail and Danstar Wah waterways.
Fearing another natural disaster this year, the government drained out the entire lake into the river, leaving local fishermen communities high and dry over the last four months. However, the recent rainfall washed away a lot of their burdens as the MNV drain, which was constructed to bring saline water to the lake, was now carrying fresh water and breathing new life into Manchhar. However, fishermen feel that their hopes may be short lived because thanks to ill planning on the part of the government, the fish eggs that spring from the breeding season, will move on towards the river and leave the lake devoid of life once again.
The aforementioned drains that link the lake to the river have a dual function. They not only relieve the Manchar Lake of surplus water by releasing it into the river, but also work to divert excess water from the river to the lake. The latter has historically been a natural process by which the lake’s water has remained leveled.
The MNV drain does not only carry rain water to the Manchhar lake, it also diverts excess water from the Rice canal and its tributaries, Dhamrah wah and Rawat Minor; all of which replenish the lake’s fish populations. According to local a fishermen, Mustafa Meerani, the Aral Head, Aral Tail and Danstar Wah were continuously draining the lake’s water as well as its inhabitants into the Indus River, affecting the livelihood of 20,000 people in their wake. The community demanded that government authorities block these canals for the time being to help improve the water level in the lake, which was presently at 6.9 feet. “We want the government to fix the water level in the lake which should always be maintained in order to benefit fishermen and the water bodiy’s own ecological systems,” Meerani argued. The communities living in the area also depended on the lake for drinking water and the only way to replenish it was through the river or rainfall. Herdsmen have built small ponds which they fill up during the monsoon season. The water also improves underground water.
Given that it was presently breeding season for fresh water fish, these creatures were vulnerable to climatic conditions as well as ecological environments. Due to fish breeding coinciding with the monsoon season, eggs were brought into Manchhar Lake at this time. Thirty years ago, 50 different fish species enriched the waters of Manchhar and sadly very few remain. With a combination of weak planning as well as harmful policies, fish populations have declined considerably, forcing fishermen to look to other water bodies for their daily bread and butter.
The story of Manchhar Lake’s supply system does not end there. It is also fed through 18 natural waterways that come from nearby hilly areas such as Gaj nai, Naing, Angai, Soul, Khandhani, Halevi, Taki, Nail, Gungrach, Jhangari, Bajari, Kachi, Khuweji, Salari, Mazarani and others. According to locals, this water would take two days to stream into the lake in the event of a heavy downpour in the aforementioned areas. They also play a vital role in improving the water level in the Manchhar lake.
Irrigation department officials argue that according to the forecast of the Metrological department there may be more rain in the coming days which will improve water levels and if they were to block the three canals linking the lake to the river, the results could prove dangerous. Recapping past records, they said that in 1994 the water level in the lake was five feet but after heavy rainfall, the lake flooded within 24 hours. They added that the community was well aware of the risks involved with blocking the canals which may play a vital role in the future in case of flooding in the river or the lake itself.