Located about 33km west of Sehwan, Manchar Lake was once the largest sweet-water lake in Sindh. With a water area of 64,000 acres, the lake had a water level standing at 13ft RL above Mean Sea Level and contained 420 million cubic meters of sweet water.
The Manchar is still very much there. But the sad part is that instead of it being Sindh's largest sweet-water lake, it now exists only as a small saline water pond.
Till recently it used to support 10,000 fisherman and their families. These people used to depend on the 3000 ton of sweet-water fish that the Manchar brought with it every year. The fish supply from the lake amounted to nearly 25 per cent of Sindh's total needs. Today, the water is saline and the fishes are dead. The fishermen have left their traditional abode in search of job and food.
Manchar Lake was created in the 1930s when Sukkur Barrage was built. Its source of water is the Danister Canal and the Aral Wah Canal. These two are fed by the River Indus.
Environmental Degradation: Manchar's sad journey into oblivion started many years ago. But it was only in 1991 when the decline really started. At that time, the water was still of drinking quality. But the diminishing floods in Indus and the storm runoff from Kirthar Range, due to drought conditions, cut off the fresh water supplies. At the same time, saline drainage water from the agricultural fields from Larkana, Shirkarpur and other surrounding areas started flowing into the Manchar.
Manchar used to be first stop on the Indus flyway for the Siberian migratory birds. As per the bird census, upto 25000 birds were counted in the winter of 1988. In 2002 this number had fallen to 2818. This was of course the result of non-availability of their food, the lake fish, which are extinct due to the highly saline water. A saline water reed has replaced the beautiful white and dotted colour birds from Siberia.
In better times, the volume of water between RL113 to RL107 used to be available for irrigating 33000 acres of land in the vicinity of lake. Also the receding level from RL113 to RL107 used to release another 26000 acres of lake bed with enough soil moisture to raise good crops. All this is now lost and the farmers have now migrated and abandoned their land due to non-availability of water.
Manchar also used to be the only source for drinking water for the folks living in the vicinity. Now it is saline and its use is creating water borne diseases. The typical fauna and dense forests associated with the lake, have also vanished. Forests like Cinkara and the wildlife like ibex are a vanishing species in the Manchar area.
Restoring Manchar: Is there a way of restoring Manchar's glory?
Yes, why not. If the Thames, after it had become London's sewage channel, can be restored to its original beauty, then definitely Manchar, too has its fair chance of survival. Manchar is not a hopeless case and with some do's and don'ts it can be brought back to its past beauty.
The first step in this regard has already been initiated. The Main Nara Valley Drain (MNVD), which flows into Manchar brining with it the drainage saline water from the north, is being diverted into the 273km long Right Bank Outfall Drain (RBOD) whose construction has started at Karampur Village. RBOD will by pass Manchar and carry the saline water into Arabian Sea via Gharo Creek. However there is a point to note here, MNVD, during late August, September and October, also carries good quality water drained from the rice fields of Larkana and Shikarpur. Arrangements should be made so that this water is allowed to flow into Manchar.
Instead of waiting for floods in the Indus, water from the Rice Canal, which is a non-perennial canal, can be a source for water for Manchar. There are times when the water in the canal is more than the area requirement. This
extra water is often wasted and should be diverted into Manchar.
It is time to bring Indus under control by building a series of reservoirs upstream and then releasing water for the needs of the downstream reservoirs and lakes like, Hamal, Manchar, Kinjhar and Haleji, located along the route
of Indus. In this case Manchar would not have to depend on the unpredictable floods in Indus.
In a final effort for the restoration of Manchar, there should be a massive plan for afforestation of the Kirthar Range, particularly its eastern slopes which generate the storm runoff from rainfall, for filling up the Manchar Lake. Forests will attract more rain and stop erosion of the eastern slopes, resulting in reducing the sedimentation processes of Manchar.
The rehabilitation of Manchar and its restoration is not only an environmental need but also a socio-economic necessity and should therefore occupy a priority position for water recourses projects of Pakistan.