Asia’s Largest Walur lake fresh water is dying government unmoved

.From the last two-and-a-half decades,Wular lake has been dying a rapid death.Pollution, encroachments, sleeping Government, and greed of local residents killing this natural heritage of valley.

By Adil Abdullah

Bandipora, Jan, 15, : Located between Bandipore and Sopore, some 70 km from Srinagar, Wullar Lake is often termed as mother of all lakes in Kashmir due to its sheer size. According to state tourism department, surface area of Wullar varies between minimum of 30 to maximum of 260 square kilometers depending on the season. The lake is about 16 km long and 9.6 km wide with ill-defined shores.
However, the figures released last year by National Wetland Atlas reveal a grim scenario. “Originally occupying an area of 20,000 ha (200 sq km), it (Wullar) has now shrunk to a mere 2400 ha (24 sq km),” says the Atlas, which was prepared by Space Applications Centre (ISRO) Ahmedabad and University of Kashmir as part of the project on National Wetland Inventory and Assessment.
Situated at an altitude of 1,580 m, Wullar used to be one of the largest fresh water lakes in South Asia. The local population used the fresh and clean water for drinking. But now pollution has taken its toll of water quality, while encroachment and siltation has shrunk it way below its old glory.
According to statistics with Tourism department, the maximum depth of the lake at present is about 14 meters but as the rampant pollution level is increasing, the depth too has got reduced to about 2 meters at some places. But Wetland International Southasia (WISA) contends the figures and says that Wullar is a shallow lake with a maximum depth of only 5.8m. The discrepancy in figures suggests that the government has never fully assessed or investigated the lake.
The WISA report also points out that, “As per the Directory of Wetlands of India (MoEF, 1990), the area of the lake is 189 sq km. The Survey of India maps of 1978 indicate the lake area to be only 58.7 km in winter. The revenue records, however, indicate the lake area to be 130 sq km,” says the report.
Benefits of Wullar The biodiversity and its ability to support a wide range of ecosystem gives Wullar a central role in regulating an ecology that stretches far beyond its borders.
According to WISA report, “Wular with its associated wetlands supports rich biodiversity and provides important habitats for migratory waterbirds within Central Asian Flyway.” Every winter millions of birds of different varieties come to Wullar as well as its connecting network of marshes and wetlands to breed. The lake supports thousands of families who live along its shorelines and rely solely on fishing in this vast water body. According to some estimates sixty percent of entire fish catch in Kashmir valley comes from Wullar. Water Chestnut farming follows fishing as the second biggest trade that provides livelihood or additional income to around 40,000 people. Besides protecting Kashmir from floods, Wullar also regulates water sustaining agriculture and hydropower projects that are located downstream, both of them are under the danger of becoming unviable and costly if the water level in the lake goes on decreasing.
“The catchments of the lake support coniferous forests, alpine pastures and orchards, adding to the natural grandeur of the wetland,” the report further says.
The lake is bound by hills in the north-east and north-west and the floodplains of the Jhelum cover it in in south-east and south-west. Together with its marshes it used to act as a sponge to absorb excess floodwater. The lake is also referred as delta of river Jhelum. Together with Manasbal Lake, it is also the deepest water body in the valley and is drained by the Jhelum river into Indus river downstream in Pakistan. Wullar also gets its water from other streams and tributaries like Ningli, the Pohru, the Madhumati, the Arin and other small rivulets.
The lake is also one of the Kashmir Valley’s important tourist attractions. Zainalank, an artificial island created by King Zainulabidin in 15th century, is an important tourist spot in the lake. The island built to provide refuge to fishermen during storms floats on huge logs of wood.
In 1990, realizing the importance of Wullar as a wetland of great biodiversity and highest socioeconomic value, India designated it as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.
The lake is also one among the five protected wetlands in Jammu and Kashmir besides being designated by Ministry of Environment and Forests as a national wetland.