By RK Ranjan Singh
Inland waters are the repository of all terrestrial pollutants, as well as many airborne pollutants – all as a consequence of gravity. It is gravity and determines the flow of water down a stream or river. It is the same gravity that makes all soluble and small particulate matter moves inexorably towards the lowest point – the drainage of inland water, moving from gullies to streams and streams to rivers to lakes and swamps. Given such an obvious fact, inland waters can be viewed as systems under severe stress in relation to their water qualities and biodiversity components. Subsequently, aquatic organisms have a great disadvantage in relation to terrestrial types – they are unable to move without water of the right chemistry. Except in some exceptional cases, fish do not effectively traverse dry land, and more sensitive tax are even further restricted. In a state like Manipur where the areas of unpolluted inland waters are decreasing at an exponential rate, the ability of many species to survive is being lost. Correspondingly the life and culture of the indigenous population of the surrounding inland waters on wetland areas have been tremendously degraded. However, to testify the effects of acute problems of the inland water qualities of the Manipur Valley is yet to be studied scientifically. In this context, it is urgently called for a co-coordinated and interdisciplinary effort of all concern involving the major stakeholders to save the wetlands of Manipur valley.
It may also be mentioned that dissolved solids, suspended particles of chemical pesticides, weedicides and fertilizers are of increasingly univocal. Loss of inland water endemic biodiversities and bio-resources becomes certain. For instance, decrease of endemic fish fauna population may have correlations with increase in the pollution load in the inland waters of the Manipur valley. However, there is also a corresponding increase in the population of exotic fishes with an increase in pollution loads. The species of fish changed from natural to exotic as the ecosystems changed from clean to polluted ones. Thus, in a sense inland water systems are disproportionately rich and disproportionately imperiled. Inland waters are the critical link between landmass and the wetland and virtually every human action is eventually reflected in them. Given human dependence on their products and services, the loss of inland aquatic biodiversity has enormous ramifications.
Dramatic changes have been made to inland aquatic systems, and there have been dramatic declines in species and services. Twelve per cent of all animal species, including 41% of all recognized fish species live in 1% of the earth’s surface that is fresh water. At least 20% of the world’s 9000+ fresh water fish species have become extinct, threatened or endangered in recent years. The immediate causes of these losses include; habitat degradation, physical alteration of inland water systems, excessive withdrawal of water especially for power generation and irrigation, pollution, invasion by non-native species and abuses of fisheries and its mismanagement.
Human changes to the landscape are extensive and accelerating. Construction of Dams and surface road communication, flood control and irrigation structures are the most obvious signs of human intervention in the aquatic environment, but even in the absence of visible engineering works, the cumulative effects of human activities in the terrestrial landscape can be profound. Logging, mining, grazing, agriculture, industrialization and urbanization – all these degrade inland waters and the lands they drain in ways that make them less able to support life and to provide valuable ecosystem services. For example, 80% of China’s 50,000 km of major rivers no longer supports fish. In the same way the Imphal, the Iril and the Thoubal rivers in Manipur Valley no longer are supporting fish. Ultimately, it may happen that the entire drainage system of Manipur may become devoid of many habitat types – such as wetlands, flood plains, waterfalls and rapids – and the resident and migratory species adapted to those habitats.
The extent of physical changes to inland water systems has increased tremendously during the last few decades. For example, the surface road construction (in between Uchiwa to Arong Nongmaikhong) cutting across the eastern portion of the Loktak Lake (1960s), surface road construction from Mayang Imphal to Thoubal across the Loktak Lake, Moirang-Sendra to keibul Lamjao surface road connection across the Loktak Lake. Construction of Dams and Barrages across the rivers of the Manipur Valley viz., Sekmai, Imphal, Ithai, etc. are the best symptoms of physical modification of the Manipur valley have already been physically modified, reclaimed and encroached upon. Further, it may also be mentioned herewith that all the inland water bodies of the valley particularly Loktak and its associated lakes on the western side of the Manipur River and also other lakes of the eastern side of the Manipur River, namely Pumlen, Kharung, Khoidum, Ikop, etc. formed a wetland regime. Lakes of both sides of the Manipur River and its interfluves region together constitute the major inland water bodies or wetlands of the Manipur valley. These wetlands occupy about 419 sq. km. i.e. 21% of the Manipur valley area. The total drainage area of the Manipur River is the catchment areas of these wetlands. In a sense, these inland water bodies (wetlands) provide fundamental ecological functions including the regulation of water regime as well as providing habitats for flora and fauna of the region. Therefore, the wetlands of Manipur valley provide globally significant social, economic and environmental benefits. However, the loss and degradation of inland waters in the valley of Manipur is driven by several factors. Increased demand of agricultural and piscicultural land associated with population growth and along with abuses of wetland resources continues to be a significant cause of wetlands loss in the valley of Manipur. Infrastructure development and river flow regulation constitute another major cause of wetland degradation and loss as well as the invasion of non-native species and pollution.
There has been little attention given so far by the State Planners and policy makers to the relationship between climate change and the conservation and wise use of the inland waters of the Manipur valley. Further the State Authority needs to understand the varied components of inland water ecosystems which provide resources for direct human consumption including – water for drinking, fish, vegetable and fruit to eat, reeds for thatched roofs, peat and fuel for fire. It should also properly understand that the harvesting of inland water products while respecting the production rate and the regenerative capacity of each species could provide significant benefits to society. Over and above, wetland ecosystems also provide opportunities for recreation, aesthetic experience and reflection. Recreational uses including fishing, bird watching, photography, filming and water sports. Given that tourism is one of the leading income generating industries globally, the economic value of these can be considerably high. However, maintaining wetlands and capitalizing on these ecosystems. Therefore, generally we understood that the degradation and loss of wetland/inland water of the Manipur valley would certainly degrade and ultimately deprive us to those benefits and services.
The Way Forward:
Vertically every part of the globe has lost fresh-water species and ecosystems and none have escaped the cascade of unintended and unanticipated economic and social disruptions that follow the loss of healthy ecosystems such as more frequent and devastating floods and droughts. Inland waters, along with their entire watershed and all their physical, chemical and biological elements, need to be viewed as part of a complex, integrated system of which human inhabitants are a part. In an ecosystem-based approach, resources can be managed over large enough areas and long enough time scale to allow their species and ecological processes to remain intact while still allowing human activity. On a social level, involving all stakeholders in defining problems, setting priorities and implementing solution is essential.
Our top priority is halting the further degradation of these systems. in places where the landscape has already been highly altered like Loktak Lake, Loushi Pat, Poirou Pat, rehabilitation may be required, but it needs not be highly disruptive to existing uses and users of the landscape. For example, restoring just 50% of the wetlands lost in the Manipur River system will solve all the flood and drought problems of Manipur and also will be able to provide good quality drinking water to all sections of the people of Manipur. considering all these angles of consequences, every citizen of Manipur, particularly the major stakeholders of the inland waters of the valley, should make a coordinated effort for conserving and preserving the wetland resources for sustainable development and wise use of it. We may have a sincere approach for National Heritage conservation particularly of wetland with the following concrete issue viz.,
1. The State should have water policy for sustainable wise use of inland waters.
2. All the catchment areas of the inland waters of the Manipur valley should be protected as per the Law of Environmental Protection Act, etc.
3. There should be a system of inter-linkage networking of different institutions and people who are in the field for the conservation to ensure direct involvement of the masses.
4. There should be constant monitoring of the inland water ecosystem degradation and checking of water quality.