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Reclamation from lakes disturbing ecosystems, communities

Land reclamation, in the name of promoting farming, has disturbed the ecosystem as well as the connected economy in Sindh.

After grabbing 2.2 million acre forest land, which was leased out to the people associated with successive ruling political parties, now is the turn of fresh water lakes, ponds and wetlands, which are being occupied for the same purpose.

The adverse effects of cutting down the forest were obvious when the disturbed insects moved to fruit orchards and human settlements, causing health problems. This deforestation also resulted in habitat loss of rare bird species.

However, the government authorities are yet to realise the loss of nature and resources. Recently, two fresh water lakes in Thatta district were allegedly encroached by the landlords backed by the ruling political party. They put the community fishermen out of work on gun point.

Activist reports gathered from Khalifa Kori lake, located near Kharo Chhan, and Kun Parao lake in Ghorabari, reveal that more than 600 fishing families were being forced to stay idle at homes.

The community dependent on Khalifa Kori lake suffered harassment after the water body was taken over by the henchmen of landlords overnight, who claimed that the government had leased the land in their name.

Seven community people were injured when an argument erupted between them, and later armed men were deployed at the lake to stop fishermen from operating their vessels. According to local activists, police are reluctant to come or register an FIR against the perpetrators.

Khalifa Kori lake is part of River Indus, which meets the Indus Delta near the creeks. The river always brings silt and fish seed during the monsoon season, recharging the ecosystem. Whenever the river recedes, it forms a lake and fishermen enjoy the catch and live comfortably. It is fishing season now, but influential people have created hurdles for the fisher folk, who have been custodians of this lake since their forefathers.

Researchers and those working on the inland water fishermen’s life said there is no demarcation of lakes in the province. Earlier, nobody dared to come and disturb the community or wildlife, and neither did they clear the shrubs for any purpose. All the waters were considered natural resources and hence the community people do not know of any boundaries or covered area of the lakes.

The situation at Kun Parao lake is also the same. Around 450 families dependent on the lake for sustenance have been deprived by certain landlords who claim the government has leased the land to them.

The problem is that since there are no demarcations, the government also seems to be unaware of the boundaries and has simply allotted the land to those who applied for a lease. There are five government departments – irrigation, fisheries, revenue, wildlife, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – who are the main stakeholders of the natural resource, along with the communities.

According to community activists, when they contacted the inland fisheries department officials, they pleaded that it was the revenue department’s responsibility to demarcate the area and to respond if there was any violation.

Though the long-time contract system has been replaced with issuance of licenses to bona-fide fishermen by the provincial assembly, the new emerging phenomenon of reclamation of lakes has rendered local communities helpless.

Fishermen claim to have lost around 300 fresh water lakes out of total 1,209 in the province, some have been grabbed by sea erosion; some poisoned by receiving waste from sugar mills; and some major lakes have been declared water reservoirs for irrigation purposes, while a few have been disconnected from their feeding sources and leased to the landlords after being dried.

The purpose is same to allocate the dried land to the influential people for cultivation. It is fast move to reclaim the small and major fresh water lakes.

Community activists said Kalankar Lake, which is a cluster of a dozen waters in Achhro Thar (white desert) near Umerkot is under threat and landlords have disconnected them from their feeding canals to dry up parts of lakes and use the land for farming. There is no check on these activities, despite the fact that there are environmental laws and policies.

The bigger Keenjhar Lake is also not safe despite the fact it is a famous picnic spot, attracting more than 30,000 picnickers on weekends and holidays. Keenjhar is also a main source of water supply for Karachi.

Local community leaders say that certain people have reclaimed parts of the lake to establish farmhouses and were using land for development.

Similarly, great Manchhar Lake, spread over 223sq km, was declared a reservoir for irrigation. Since there has been no fresh survey of Manchhar with its boundaries, demarcation, fish stocks and water quality, the local people point out the areas which are being encroached. They urge the provincial government to save their livelihoods.

Land reclamation from natural lakes and wetlands is an emerging threat to ecology, with adverse impacts on human lives as well as wildlife. But the provincial government’s officials representing relevant departments are reluctant to share the exact situation and their role, while the province is experiencing huge environmental losses.

Khaskeli, Jan. Reclamation from lakes disturbing ecosystems, communities. The News, June 21, 2017.

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