Hundreds of dead fish of different sizes, tortoises, turtles and several other animals that died mysteriously were found floating on the surface of the Keenjhar Lake on Tuesday evening.
Environmentalists and nature conservationists are terming it the biggest environmental disaster of the near past.
Expressing grave concern, they said that if the situation prevailed, disaster could shift to Karachi, as Keenjhar Lake is the only source of drinking water for Pakistan’s biggest metropolitan.
Keenjhar Lake, which is Pakistan’s second largest natural freshwater lake, a Ramsar site (internationally protected under the International Convention on Wetlands or commonly known as Ramsar Convention that was held in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971), a protected game sanctuary under the Sindh wildlife laws and also the only source that fulfils the drinking water requirement of Karachi.
Despite tall claims made by the government at various levels to make Keenjhar Lake pollution free, the promises have yet to materialise, as the lake continues to suffer from acute water shortage and increasing pollution.
Though pouring of highly contaminated industrial effluents comprising highly toxic waste from hundreds of industrial units of Kotri and Nooriabad in this protected site is not a new phenomenon, the current disaster could be fatal on a large scale.
Besides industrial waste, the practice of washing vehicles in the lake and picnickers littering it also contribute to rise in the lake’s pollution. One could see tons of empty soft drink cans, food item wrappers, polyethylene bags, plastic bottles and papers near the edges of the lake.
The locals told me over the phone that in many parts of the lake, the colour has changed to blue or green with a strange odour, with dead fish and other animal carcasses floating in it.
They also said that the dead fish decomposed within no time, and at many places, the locals also found dead birds.
Rehmatullah Chutto, a local journalist of Thatta, told me that there are several industrial units on upstream Keenjhar Lake and they throw highly contaminated industrial water without treatment into a seasonal stream Harolo.
These chemical are being dumped into the stream, but during the recent rains in the district, these chemicals moved with the rainwater into the lake.
Despite discussing the issue in the local newspaper and on Sindhi television channels, the provincial government has taken no notice.
The Karachi Water & Sewerage Board (KWSB), the only state-run department responsible for providing potable water to the city’s residents, which often runs revenue collection campaigns as well, has never bothered to check the water quality of the lake.
Though several public sector departments, international donors and organisations, local community-based organisations (CBOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are running different projects on the site, no one has bothered to come forward to work for the lake’s preservation and making it pollution-free.
The Sindh Irrigation Department claims that it owns the lake, as the department provides water to the lake. The Sindh Wildlife Department (SWD) maintains that the lake is its most important site, as it serves different migratory birds and other wildlife.
The district government declares the lake as its part. The lake is also very important for the KWSB, as it is the only source that provides drinking water to 1.8 million people of Karachi.
For the Sindh Culture & Tourism Department, the lake generates huge revenue, as the department runs residential huts, picnic spots and conducts other activities. The World Wildlife Fund for Nature, the United Nations Development Programme and several local CBOs and NGOs are running several projects near the lake, but none of them are doing anything for its protection.
Besides being the main water supply source, the lake is also considered to be an important site for breeding and a passage for water birds that migrate to Pakistan in winter from Siberia and other cold countries. The official record of the SWD reveals that the lake used to be birdwatchers’ heaven and almost 300,000 migratory birds of about 200 species were reported to be seen near it, but the rise in pollution, especially in industrial waste, has drastically changed the ecology of the lake.
A large number of people of the Thatta district and their livestock also consume water from the lake, so there are possibilities that the first prey of the disaster would be the residents and the livestock of the district.
PFF calls to save Keenjhar Lake
The Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) on Wednesday slammed the irresponsive approach of the government institutions, which could not check the streaming of poisonous water into the Keenjhar Lake.
The toxic water that has been streaming into the lake has killed tons of fish near the scenic Jhampir locality.
PFF Chairman Muhammad Ali Shah said that the forum has already raised the issue several times that the Kalri Baghar Feeder (popularly known as the Karachi canal) is receiving chemicals from more than 100 industrial units and urban waste that not only is a threat to the marine species, but is also dangerous to people living nearby.
Earlier, water experts and environmentalists emphasised the need to conduct a fresh survey of a famous picnic resort and Ramsar site to ascertain the water quality, as the fresh water body spread over 145 square kilometres is the main source of supplying water to Karachi.
He pointed out that similar natural drains carrying effluents from the Nooriabad industrial area contribute more to pollute the freshwater lake.
Shah said that Karachi is the largest beneficiary of the Keenjhar Lake, receiving around 500 million gallons daily to take care of the needs of more than 15 million people.
However, the city does not spend a single penny on its maintenance, despite the fact that the Karachi Water & Sewerage Board earns a substantial amount on account of water charges.
Several companies operating in these major industrial areas drain their untreated and poisonous waste into the lake in the nearby Jhampir.
This has been killing a large number of fish on the one hand and destroying the natural ecosystem of the lake on the other hand.
PFF activists who visited the area to observe the situation said that plenty of fish are dead and it might further pollute the freshwater body.
Despite this horrible situation, nobody from the government has taken any notice to investigate the matter.
It is already too late to say how many fish are dead and how the water could be dangerous for the marine species, the wildlife and the human population, because the major water body is the source of water for the locals.
Hundreds of people, including school-going children, throng the famous picnic resort every weekend, and they might face a disastrous situation in case the lake is poisoned.
A large number of wildlife species that inhabit there would also be facing this most dangerous situation.