Lake Manchar is considered as the largest freshwater lake not only of Pakistan but also in the Asia continent. According to various studies, Manchar Lake evolved before 8-10 thousand years when Indus River changed its course. Since Manchar Lake formed from Indus River therefore, its total environment is like a river. Owing to fresh-water, this lake became the life line for the people called Mohanas.
Lake Manchar and its surrounds, used to be a popular resting ground for the migratory birds and there were more than fifty different varieties of fish and only source of income of fishers. Mohanna community possesses one of rich culture which is still unexplored properly. In addition to that, there are multiple symbols of civilization in Manchar by which it can be assume that Manchar Lake enjoyed thousands years of happiness. Once this Lake was the center of fishers and they were custodians of their rich and beautiful culture.
In Sindhi language the word Manchar means Man plus Char. Man means heart and Char means wide which means “wide heart”. Others historians have mentioned “Meenh-Char” which means vast expense of water after rain (“Meenh” means rain in Sindhi). Hence, Manchar is an ancient place in Sindhi culture. According to Tarikh-e-Mazhar Shahjani, the BhagoThoro mountain range and Manchar used to have ancient tribes called Numeer who occupied the hilly tracks and were said to be very powerful.
Manchar Lake is fed by three main sources of water. These sources permanently or periodically pour their water into the lake throughout the year. The first of feeders is drained off rain water from the Kirthar range and when there is heavy rain fall, the water overflows into Badu Lundo, Manchar and Lakki hills. The main hill torrents are the Naiangri and Naigaj. From an ecological perspective, Manchar Lake is a wetland having complex ecosystems which occupy the interface between the land and water, which is an important habitat of wildlife.
However, Manchar Lake is classified as an unprotected wetland located on the way of the Indus flyway. Manchar was declared as Ramsar site, i,e. an inter-governmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its members countries to maintain the ecological character of the wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the “Wise use”, or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories (Ramsar Wetland Convention 1971). There were sixteen villages around Manchar. And the residents of the lake regard themselves as the original inhabitants and therefore remain on their ancestral lands.
Manchar Lake was a vast ecosystem with much biodiversity, Fish and aquatic plants. Almost 2,600 species of plants, animals, fish and a habitat for migratory birds was provided by this lake. Fishing has been the main livelihood of inhabitants of the area surrounding Manchar. The water in this lake provides the major sources of livelihood for fishermen as well as the agricultural community. According to local community they have lost their “paradise” and the community has many remarkable memories regarding the Lake. The Mohana community lived in their Boat Houses along with this unique culture. During winter season, when the Lake water receded, the community built mud and straw huts on the banks of the Danaster canal and Aral Wah (canal).
In 1993 the Right Bank Outfall Drain (RBOD) was built to drain liquid waste from Balochistan, and Northern Sindh into the sea. This toxic waste which contained trace metals and effluents entered Hamal Lake and then flowed via the MNVD into Manchar increasing the pollution level of the water. Regrettably, Environmentalists have termed this as an “Ecological Coma”.
The RBOD is fed by small drainage channels which transport agricultural runoff from the area located on the right bank of Indus. Woefully, in June 2004, 30 people died from drinking contaminated water. This occurred because when the water table falls in the Indus, the concentration of toxic’s in the Lake increases and typhoid, diarrhea, gastroenteritis, hepatitis, and water borne diseases spread easily, effecting women, children, and elders of the community. As life in the lake was destroyed the livelihood of the communities was affected.
The fishermen lost their means of survival, farmers were unable to use the land to grow crops, and the women of Manchar suffered the brunt of these changes. As the wellbeing of community changed, women’s health deteriorated, infant mortality increased, children suffered from various water borne illness, and a prosperous community gradually slipped into poverty.
The wildlife vanished, and fertile agricultural land became saline waterlogged wasteland which forced over 40,000 fisher folk to migrate. Most pathetically, a unique lifestyle of Mohanas, fisher folk living on houseboat has been lost to poverty, disease, and displacement.
Hence, the largest freshwater lake of Asia continent is dying gradually due to improper management and social engineering. Drastic decrease in Fish Catching from 700 million tons in 1990 to 75 million tones today, indicates that the fishing communities and marine life has been badly affected by this rapid change.
Enforcement authorities of the Pakistan must need to act before it’s too late. Because this alarming situation of ecological rift, affecting the Fishing Communities, marine life and other biodiversity simultaneously. For the revival of Manchar, immediate actions should be taken such as monitoring upstream industrial sector and those must be advised to restrict their emissions.