Vembanad Lake continues to shrink and degrade, 20 years after Ramsar marking – The New Indian Express

By PTI

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Vembanad Lake, the second largest wetland system in India after the Sunderbans in West Bengal, is shrinking and its unique biodiversity is under threat of ecological degradation despite being declared a Ramsar site 20 years ago.

The lake, which is a source of income for Kuttanad’s farmers and fishing community, continues to suffer ecological degradation from pollution and unauthorized construction on its shores, with experts calling for ‘committed efforts’ to save its wetland ecosystem.

With a gradually reduced area of ​​over 2,000 square kilometers and a length of about 96 km, it is one of the largest lakes in Kerala and the longest in the country and is bounded by the districts of Alappuzha, Kottayam and Ernakulam.

According to ecology experts and various studies conducted over the years, the lake is facing severe environmental degradation due to recurrent flooding, increased pollution, reduction in the landspreading area of water and increased weed growth.

Experts like EJ James, who was a member of the National Wetlands Committee and a former director of the Center for Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM), believe the measures the state government claims to be taking remain on paper and nothing is ever implemented. at ground level.

Recently, when the issue was raised in the House, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that an inter-ministerial committee had been set up to conduct a comprehensive study on checking existing backwaters and take other steps.

READ ALSO | Diving idols in artificial lakes: Delhi Jal Board

James, who was part of the expert group that lobbied for Vembanad to be declared a Ramsar site, said the solution to the threat of ecological degradation facing the lake is not as simple as eliminating the encroachments or the construction of an exterior dike to prevent silt. deposit in the Thanneermukkom dyke.

The levee was built to regulate saltwater intrusion into the freshwater lake.

“After it was declared a Ramsar site, almost nothing was done to protect the wetland system or maintain the ecological balance there,” he said.

A Ramsar site is a wetland site designated as being of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, also known as the “Wetlands Convention”.

A similar view was also expressed by CPI(M) MP for Alappuzha AM Ariff who said that after declaring the lake as a Ramsar site, nothing has been done to protect or conserve it.

“Everything has been left to the state government. The state government is taking action, but it is not enough. Many projects have been announced regarding the conservation of the lake, but they have yet to be implemented “, he told PTI.

Ariff also said that the levees on the lake are collapsing in some places making fishing difficult and in addition the body of water also requires regular dredging and desilting.

Apart from environmental concerns, pollution and recurring flooding in the lake also paints a grim picture regarding the livelihoods of the region’s fishermen and farmers, as Kuttanad, also known as the Rice Bowl of Kerala, sits on the southern part of the body of water, James told PTI.

He said the lake must be managed in such a way that the farming and fishing sectors can complement each other.

“This requires scientific and efficient operation of the Thanneermukkom embankment and the Thottapalli spillway,” he said.

Even the 2011 Swaminathan Foundation report and a subsequent 2012 joint study by teams from IIT Madras and CWRDM were of the same view.

The foundation in its report had said that the Thanneermukkom seawall had partly failed to fulfill its purpose, mainly due to the unscientific way in which it is operated.

Regarding the spillway, James said it was not built according to the original plans and it would now be difficult to change its dimensions.

All of this leads to a situation where farming or fishing would be possible, but not both together.

“This is one of the major conflicts in the region,” he added.

Another conflict, he pointed out, was tourism, which, although a major boost to the state’s economy, could pose a threat to the ecology and water quality of the lake and its surroundings. its wetland system if waste disposal and treatment along the lake were not closely monitored.

In this regard, Ariff said residences and resorts located along the shores of the lake dump their waste into the river and many houseboats do not have eco- or bio-toilets.

“There is also no sewage treatment plant there,” he added.

James also said it needs to be seen whether effluent from homes as well as houseboats, as the lake is a major tourist destination in the state, is treated before it discharges into the body of water.

“Kerala’s biodiversity and its water bodies are the main assets of the state. They also give a boost to the tourism sector. We must protect them.” James, who is now pro-vice chancellor at Karunya University in Tamil Nadu, further said that regarding encroachments, the huge constructions by private landowners or builders and the government along the shore of the lake are the ones that pose a major problem and instead of focusing on them, going after the ordinary people who lived there was not a solution.

The CPI(M) MP was also of the view that the lake was being overrun by residents living along its shore as well as those operating resorts to expand their properties.

“As a result, Vembanad is shrinking and also facing ecological issues,” Ariff said.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Vembanad Lake, the second largest wetland system in India after the Sunderbans in West Bengal, is shrinking and its unique biodiversity is under threat of ecological degradation despite being declared a Ramsar site 20 years ago. The lake, which is a source of income for Kuttanad’s farmers and fishing community, continues to suffer ecological degradation from pollution and unauthorized construction on its shores, with experts calling for ‘committed efforts’ to save its wetland ecosystem. With a gradually reduced area of ​​over 2,000 square kilometers and a length of about 96 km, it is one of the largest lakes in Kerala and the longest in the country and is bounded by the districts of Alappuzha, Kottayam and Ernakulam. According to ecology experts and various studies conducted over the years, the lake is facing severe environmental degradation due to recurrent flooding, increased pollution, reduction in the landspreading area of water and increased weed growth. Experts like EJ James, who was a member of the National Wetlands Committee and a former director of the Center for Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM), believe the measures the state government claims to be taking remain on paper and nothing is ever implemented. at ground level. Recently, when the issue was raised in the House, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that an inter-ministerial committee had been set up to conduct a comprehensive study on checking existing backwaters and take other steps. READ ALSO | Immerse idols in artificial lakes: Delhi Jal Board James, who was part of the expert group that lobbied for Vembanad to be declared a Ramsar site, says the solution to the threat of ecological degradation facing the lake is not as simple as removing encroachments or constructing an outer dyke to prevent silt deposition into the Thanneermukkom dyke. The levee was built to regulate saltwater intrusion into the freshwater lake. “After it was declared a Ramsar site, almost nothing was done to protect the wetland system or maintain the ecological balance there,” he said. A Ramsar site is a wetland site designated as being of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, also known as the “Wetlands Convention”. A similar view was also expressed by CPI(M) MP for Alappuzha AM Ariff who said that after declaring the lake as a Ramsar site, nothing has been done to protect or conserve it. “Everything has been left to the state government. The state government is taking action, but it is not enough. Many projects have been announced regarding the conservation of the lake, but they have yet to be implemented “, he told PTI. Ariff also said that the levees on the lake are collapsing in some places making fishing difficult and in addition the body of water also requires regular dredging and desilting. Apart from environmental concerns, pollution and recurring flooding in the lake also paints a grim picture regarding the livelihoods of the region’s fishermen and farmers, as Kuttanad, also known as the Rice Bowl of Kerala, sits on the southern part of the body of water, James told PTI. He said the lake must be managed in such a way that the farming and fishing sectors can complement each other. “This requires scientific and efficient operation of the Thanneermukkom embankment and the Thottapalli spillway,” he said. Even the 2011 Swaminathan Foundation report and a subsequent 2012 joint study by teams from IIT Madras and CWRDM were of the same view. The foundation in its report had said that the Thanneermukkom seawall had partly failed to fulfill its purpose, mainly due to the unscientific way in which it is operated. Regarding the spillway, James said it was not built according to the original plans and it would now be difficult to change its dimensions. All of this leads to a situation where farming or fishing would be possible, but not both together. “This is one of the major conflicts in the region,” he added. Another conflict, he pointed out, was tourism, which, although a major boost to the state’s economy, could pose a threat to the ecology and water quality of the lake and its surroundings. its wetland system if waste disposal and treatment along the lake were not closely monitored. In this regard, Ariff said residences and resorts located along the shores of the lake dump their waste into the river and many houseboats do not have eco- or bio-toilets. “There is also no sewage treatment plant there,” he added. James also said it needs to be seen whether effluent from homes as well as houseboats, as the lake is a major tourist destination in the state, is treated before it discharges into the body of water. “Kerala’s biodiversity and its water bodies are the main assets of the state. They also give a boost to the tourism sector. We must protect them.” James, who is now pro-vice chancellor at Karunya University in Tamil Nadu, further said that regarding encroachments, the huge constructions by private landowners or builders and the government along the shore of the lake are the ones that pose a major problem and instead of focusing on them, going after the ordinary people who lived there was not a solution. The CPI(M) MP was also of the view that the lake was being overrun by residents living along its shore as well as those operating resorts to expand their properties. “As a result, Vembanad is shrinking and also facing ecological issues,” Ariff said.

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