by Sobhapati Samom
Imphal-Urbanization and encroachments, conversion of the low lying areas into farms, disposal of garbage, leaching of chemical fertilizers, and toxic chemicals besides aging and the climate change are the major causes of degrading, polluting and ultimate dying of the wetlands in Manipur. Lakes are known as ‘pats’ in Manipur.
Wetland cover nearly 2.37 per cent of Manipur’s total geographical area (22,327 sq km).A study on ‘Shrinking water area in the wetlands of the central valley of Manipur’ by Abha Lakshmi Singh and Khundrakpam Moirangleima of Aligarh Muslim University’s geography department said. There are about 155 wetlands of which 153 are located in the central valley while 2 in the hill districts.
Loktak,the largest fresh water lake in north eastern India(including 4 tiny wetlands-sanapat, laphupat, thaunamchapat, utrapat and keibul lamjao floating park) covers an area of 24,672 hectares during monsoon(post monsoon-23,246 hectares).
These lakes play a vital role in the socio-economic and cultural life of the people. Experts believed that a key future sustenance of human society’s lies in the sustainable management of wetlands as more than three quarters of the food required for mankind is still being derived directly from wetlands in the form of rice and fish alone.
But the existing surviving lakes are also on the verge of extinction at fast rate as they are threatened climate change besides other natural and anthropogenic forces.
A strange hurricane like strong wind has started to reach Manipur in between April-May period for the last three consecutive years since 2008,uprooting many standing crops in hundreds of hectare besides destroying houses in the last three years. Though there’s no official figure of damages, state had claimed to have been spent Rs 60.45 lakhs to provide relief to natural calamities including fire, flood and hailstorm,according to latest annual report of Relief and Disaster management department.
“I never experienced such a strong wind that hit the state in my life,” Ecology Professor B Manihar Sharma of Manipur University’s Life Science department said. “Such wind which came with dust and rain help to raise the lake current besides polluting it and subsequently sensitive fish and plants die fast”.
He suspected that the wind might be originated from Arab countries as their names such as nargis,bijilina,laila,phed,Agatha etc sound Arabic.“Coming of such wind in the region is one clear example of climate change impact,” the professor felt.
The arrival of such strong wind and subsequent rise of temperature has been affecting the ecology of the wetlands.A decade back, the maximum temperature in Manipur’s capital city Imphal was about 30 to 33 degree Celsius. But it rose up to 35.7 degree Celsius last year though it goes down to 34.3 degree Celsius this year like that of previous years(2007 and 2008).
State Environment and Ecology Wing’s analysis Dr T Brajakumar said,“Artificial eutrophication coupled with climate change is another threat to our wetland as it reduces oxygen level and increases carbon dioxide level in the lake water.”
State’s popular Loktak, Pumlen, Ikop, Waithou, Nagkrapat and the Loushi lakes are found to be much threatened due to artificial eutrophication and human pressure for cultivation and fish farming. According to the Economic Survey of Manipur 2009-2010 report, Manipur ranks second among the northeastern states in respect of urbanization while run-off from agricultural fields helps in siltation and pollution not to speak of draining 4.9 million tones of solid waste and sewage to lakes. The State consumes around 20,368 tonnes of chemical fertilizer in an average per year in between 2000-09, according to Statistical Abstract Manipur 2009.
“Besides the impact of strong wind,the warming up of lake water due to sudden rise in temperature also affected habitat of sensitive plants and soft scale local fishes such as Porom, Meitei Ngamu and tiny fish species Ngakha and Ngasang,” Professor Manihar added.
Waithou lake located at the adjoining areas of Imphal East, West and Thoubal district, was once known to be the breeding place for the threatened fish species Ngaton (Labio bata) but after the construction of the Cheksabi barrage and ringbund during 1970s, the habitat of the fish has been completely vanished from the lake. State fish Pengba (Osteobrama belangeri) also extinct in wild but bred in ponds.
Likewise around 15 out of more than 200 fish species in Manipur were endangered “critically endangered” while 50 to 60 are highly vulnerable due to overexploitation, pollution, flow modification, destruction or degradation of habitat, invasion by exotic fishes and notably due to climate change, Professor Dr Waikhom Vishwanath of Manipur University’s Life Sciences Department observed.
“Earlier many local fishes and plants were available in Waithou lake. But many non-local fishes (common or grass or silver carps) replaces them”, Laishram Sanakhomba,67 of Saijin Pallak,a village located on the bank of the lake,said. “Many plants have also been disappeared”.
Sanakhomba who now heads a 10-member family migrated from Haokha Kiyam Siphai in Thoubal district to the existing Saijin Pallak in Imphal East district with the hope of getting a self sustainable livelihood two decades ago.
But like Sanakhomba most of the 30 households of Saijin Pallak village including a cultivator L. Nanda(42) started to look out for other form of occupation to meet their ends as the growth and production of economic species like trapa (heikak), Euryale ferox (thangjing), nelumbo nucifera (thambal) nymphea (tharo) have been found much decreased in the recent past. Earlier the lake has as many as 35 macrophytic plants including eatable aquatic plants.
However no scientific study has been done to confirm the exact number of highly endangered plants or fishes available in Manipur’s wetlands due to factors relating to climate change and human pressure.
Earlier Sanakhomba depend their livelihood on Waithou by catching or collecting a minimum of Rs 200 to 300 worth local fishes or aquatic plants daily. Oinam Yaima,65,a resident of Chandrapur village near Moirang township in Bishnupur district who lives in a floating hut in Loktak for the last one decade also has a similar story.
“The cyclone type wind which hit the lake early this year(April-May) had affected our environment besides destroying many floating huts”, Yaima recalled. More than 10,000 individuals live on floating huts for their livelihood.
Meanwhile, state’s Environment and Ecology Wing under forest department adopting the theory of ‘Late is better than Never’ under the directive of Chief Minister O Ibobi Singh decided to take up proper conservation and management of 19 lakes in November 2010 following a decision.
They are Pumlen/Khoidum/Lamjao, Ekop (Kharung), Loushi, Waithou (Punnem), Ahongbeekhong, Ushoipokpi, Sanapat, Utra, Tankha, Karam, Lamphel, Yaral pat, Zeilad, Heingang, Jaimeng, Khayang Kachophung pat, Lampelchoi and Loktak pats (lakes).The total water area covered by these pats is 397.82 square kilometer (39782 hectares).However the government’s move is yet to convince the state’s environmentalists as some of them had expressed dissatisfaction over the outcome of projects which are being taken up in the State to save the major wetlands.