Manchar Lake, also known as Manchhar, is a natural wonder situated in the Sindh province of Pakistan. It stands as the largest natural freshwater lake in the country, and one of the biggest in South Asia. Nestled west of the mighty Indus River, this majestic lake has a rich history, ecological significance, and cultural heritage that captivates all who encounter it.
A Tapestry of History
The banks and vicinity of Manchar Lake are not only a testament to its natural beauty but also a repository of ancient history. Home to several archaeological sites, including Ghazi Shah, Wahi Pandhi Ali Murad Mound, Lal Chatto, Mashak Lohri, and Lakhiyo, these areas bear witness to human civilization that dates back to the Harappan culture. Lake Manchar has been the silent witness to centuries of human history, its ebb, and flow mirroring the rise and fall of civilizations.
A Creation of Nature and Engineering
Lake Manchar owes its existence to the convergence of nature and human engineering. Its origin can be traced back to a time when a branch of the Indus River flowed through the region. In 1921, the lake was connected to Hamal Lake via the Main Nara Valley Drain, reshaping its hydrology. However, the lake faced a dire situation in 1958 when it completely evaporated due to a severe drought, leaving behind parched land.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Lake Manchar is its seasonal variability. During different times of the year, its surface area changes dramatically, fluctuating from as little as 36 square kilometers to as much as 500 square kilometers during the monsoon season. This dynamic nature is a testament to the intricate relationship between the lake and the surrounding climate.
Over the years, Manchar Lake has faced significant environmental challenges. The construction of the Main Nara Valley Drain in 1921 altered the lake’s ecosystem, leading to the inflow of sewage and a decline in water quality. Diversion of water from the Indus, along with reduced storm runoff from the Kirthar Mountains, contributed to a decline in the lake’s fresh water supplies. Salinity increased, causing the death of fish populations. Simultaneously, saline drainage water from agricultural fields in Balochistan and the surrounding areas flowed into the lake.
The environmental degradation of Lake Manchar has not only impacted its ecology but also the livelihood of the thousands of fisherfolk who depend on its freshwater fish. Furthermore, the lake was once a crucial stopover for Siberian migratory birds along the Indus flyway, but the decrease in the fish population has reduced its attractiveness as a habitat for these birds.
Population and Economic Significance
Manchar Lake is not just a natural wonder; it’s also home to the Mohana tribe, often referred to as the “Boat People.” The lake supports thousands of fisherfolk, who rely on the fish in its waters for their livelihoods. The reduction in the area irrigated by the lake due to reduced water flow has had economic implications for the region.
A Hopeful Future
Efforts are underway to address the environmental challenges facing Lake Manchar. The construction of the Right Bank Outfall Drain aims to save the lake from further contamination. Additionally, the Nai Gaj Dam, situated upstream from the lake, is expected to discharge freshwater into the lake throughout the year, potentially improving its water quality and supporting its ecosystem.
In conclusion, Lake Manchar stands as a symbol of the intricate relationship between nature, history, and human intervention. Despite its environmental challenges, the lake remains a source of beauty, livelihood, and cultural significance for the people of Sindh, and efforts are being made to preserve its legacy for future generations.