2013 was the “United Nations International Year for Water Cooperation” and the Ramsar theme for World Wetland’s Day this year was “Wetlands and Water Management”.

World Wetlands Day is celebrated globally on the 2nd February each year. This day marks the date of the Convention on Wetlands adopted on 2nd February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Also known as the Ramsar Convention, this Intergovernmental treaty provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.  Each year government agencies, non-governmental organizations, conservation organizations, and groups of citizens and communities celebrate the day to raise public awareness about the importance and value of wetlands.

Water is the most precious natural resource as it is pivotal for all forms of life. Yet it is also a finite source and UNESCO considers the minimum water requirement of each person to be  20-50 liters a day to ensure domestic needs. Today 2.5 billion people live without even basic sanitation. Every 20 seconds, a child dies as a result of poor sanitation. More than one in six people don’t have access to fresh water sources. To improve this dire situation and for maintaining a global hydrologic equilibrium, vital ecosystem and human development, wise use of water resources and wetlands are essential.

Healthy freshwater ecosystems – rivers, wetlands, floodplains, and estuaries – provide clean water, food, fiber, energy and many other services that support economies and livelihoods around the world. Among freshwater resources wetlands are a substantial source of fresh water and thanks to their natural beauty and biodiversity make ideal locations for tourism. They further take care of water storage and provide key services such as water purification, food, erosion control etc. The income generated from wetlands can be significant and support livelihoods locally and nationally.

Unfortunately, due to lack of awareness and human activities these vital natural resources are seriously impacted and are continuously degrading at an alarming rate. Half of the world’s wetlands have been lost since 1900. Every day 2 million tons of human wastes are disposed of in fresh water. In developing countries 70% of industrial wastes are dumped untreated into waters where they pollute aquifers and the usable water supply, further causing a rapid decline to wetland associated aquatic and bird species.

The overall water situation in Pakistan is not much different.  The country can currently be considered aa water scarce country and is projected to be an extremely scarce water country by 2025. Agriculture is the largest water consumer by using 93% of water supplies, 4% is used for domestic purposes and the rest used for industrial and other uses.

Pakistan is blessed with a variety of wetland ecosystems. There are nineteen Ramsar sites, covering an area of 1,343,627 hectares (3,320,170 acres).  Among these, 2 wetlands fall in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 3 in Punjab, 4 in Baluchistan and 9 in Sind Province and 1 is shared by Sindh and Baluchistan Province.

Keenjhar Lake, commonly called Kalri Lake,  is a Ramsar site and Pakistan’s second largest natural freshwater lake as well as a protected game sanctuary under the provincial wildlife laws. It is situated in Thatta District, Sindh,  with an area of 134.7 km². The lake is a biodiversity hotspot and provides habitat for many resident and winter migratory birds like Ducks, Cormorants, Herons, Egrets, Ibises, Terns, Coots, Geese, Flamingos and Gulls. The lake is also a breeding area for Night Heron, Cotton Teal, Purple Moore hen, and Pheasant Tailed Jacana.

About 12 acres-size patch of freshwater mangroves exists which is a unique feature of the lake area. There are many hypotheses  about the origin of this patch; some people believe the seeds of Avicennia marina may have been brought by local people with the fodder to feed their cattle. Others believe that the seeds may have drifted into the area and were trapped and germinated, eventually became full-fledged trees.

The beauty of the lake attracts a large number of visitors on a daily basis from Karachi, Hyderabad, Thatta and adjacent areas, who enjoy picnicking, swimming, fishing and boating.The Sindhi legend of Noori Jam Tamachi took place around the lake, and there is a shrine in the middle of the lake marking Noori’s grave, which is visited by flocks of devotees.

Discharging of untreated industrial effluents at different sources in Keenjhar Lake is a serious pollution problem, which has not only affected its water quality (the lake is the main source of drinking water for the people of Karachi and Thatta). Overfishing in the lake has resulted in loss and reduction of fish stocks, which has adversely affected the fishing communities who have become jobless and are forced to migrate.Fish Fauna studies on fish biodiversity report that Keenjhar lake  hosts 55 freshwater fish species.

This article was developed on World Wetland Day. Keenjhar Lake, Thatta was focused as to highlight its importance as a pristine freshwater ecosystem that is also a lifeline for Karachi and neighborhoods.