Lakes and Wetlands in PakistanWritten by Nisar A. Khan
Pakistan’s Lakes and Wetlands resources consists of numerous natural and manmade lakes and wetland complexes. Distributed all over Pakistan these unique resources includes high altitude alpine and glacial lakes, manmade reservoirs and dams, tropical freshwater and saltwater lakes and the wetlands of Indus river and Arabian Sea coast.
These lakes and wetlands are important sources of water supply and on the other hand these support a unique biodiversity of flora and fauna consisting important plant, bird and animal species, including eighteen threatened species of wetlands mammals and twenty threatened bird species. Importantly these resources are also situated at the crossroads of Asia’s major bird migration routes, serving as transit points for migrating birds.
Overall lakes and wetlands in Pakistan cover an estimated 9.7% of the total surface area. Around 225 places have been identified and listed as significant wetland sites, which are distributed all over the Pakistan from sea coast in the south to high mountains in the north. However only 46 of the listed sites have some sort of protected status like National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Game Reserves, including 15 Ramsar Sites of international importance.
The broader classification or categories of lakes and wetlands of Pakistan include Alpine Lakes, Manmade Reservoirs, Tropical freshwater and saltwater Lakes, Indus River and Coastal area wetlands.
Alpine Lakes and wetlands
Pakistan’s northern mountainous regions of Karakoram, Himalaya and Hindukush are bestowed upon some of most picturesque high altitude lakes in the world. These consist of several glacial, kettle and valley bottom lakes ranging from 2500m to 4600m in altitude. Rush Lake is Pakistan’s highest alpine lake at 4661m, located at the western edge of Karakoram Range near Spantik Peak in Nagar Valley of Gilgit Baltistan.
Karomber Lake is another important high altitude lake situated in the Hindukush range at the altitude of 4300m on the north most boarders of Chitral and Gilgit region and Afghanistan. It is the 31st highest lakes in the world and is approximately 3.9 kilometres long, 2 km wide and 52 meters deep.
Other important alpine lakes includes Saucher Lake, at 4,150m on the Deosai Plains, Rama Lake, 3550m in Astore valley near Nanga Parbat, Saiful Malook Lake, 3200m, Lalusar Lake 3450 m, Daudipatsar lake 3900m in Kaghan Valley, Saral Lake, 3700m, and Ratigali Lake 3700m, in Azad Kashmir, Gudar Lake, 3800m and Kandul Lake, 3400m in Swat valley and Shindur Lake 3700m in Chitral.
These high altitude lakes are important source of fresh water and most importantly they support a number of animal, birds, fish and plant species. These scenic lakes are also important source of tourism. However most of these resources are not under any kind of protection or management, resulting in degradation of its rich flora and fauna.
Tropical Lakes and wetlands
Despite its semi-arid climatic conditions the central and southern plains and plateaus of Pakistan are home to a number of Tropical fresh and salt water lakes and wetlands complexes.
· Freshwater Lakes and Wetlands
Tropical fresh to slightly brackish water lakes receiving their water from canals, springs and streams includes Lake Manchar which is the largest freshwater lake in Pakistan and is also one of Asia's largest, covering an area of 350 to 520 km². It is located west of the Indus River, in Dadu District, Sindh. The lake collects water from numerous small streams in the Kirthar Mountains and empties into the Indus River.
Another significant fresh lake is Haleji Lake which is one of Asia's greatest water fowl reserve. It is situated 70 km from Karachi and is also an important source of water supply for the mega city. More than a hundred thousand birds fly down each year to Haleji Lake in winter from the cold of Siberia. Haleji Lake supports a very diverse fauna and flora, including several threatened species, and is one of the most important breeding, staging and wintering grounds for waterfowl.
Other such fresh to slightly salt water lakes includes Patisar Lake in Lal Suhanra National Park, Punjab, Kinjhar Lake and Hub Dam in Sind and Baluchistan.
· Saltwater Lakes and Wetlands
Salt or brackish lakes with smaller catchment areas are found mostly in the Salt Range of north central Punjab. These lakes include Nammal Lake, Khabbaki Lake, Ucchali Lake, Jahiar and Kalar Kahar Lakes. Another type of salt lakes which are fed by seepage from irrigation system etc includes Malugul Dhand and Thanedar Wala Lake in Khyber Pakhtoonkwa, Kharrar Lake in Punjab, and Phoosna and a number of other lakes in Sind Province. These salt lakes and associated wetlands also support a unique diversity of flora and fauna.
Manmade Lakes and Reservoirs
Pakistan has been bestowed with a number of large and small rivers. Over the years several water reservoirs and barrages have been constructed to meet the needs for hydro power and irrigation water. These reservoir lakes are also playing an important role in supporting a large number of plant, birds and fish species and are important transit points for the migratory birds.
These include Turbela Dam which is the largest dam in Pakistan and believed to be second largest in the world in terms of structural volume. Constructed on River Indus from 1968-74 in the Province of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, it its spread over an surface area of 240 km². This is the country back bone in terms of hydro power with total installed capacity of 3500 mega watt. Most importantly it serves as vital source for regulation of irrigation water supply.
Another such large water reservoir is Mangla Dam, situated on Jehlum River in Mirpur District of Azad Kashmir, it is the sixteenth largest dam in the world. Constructed in 1961-68 is has a total surface area of around 160 km², it also produces around 1000 Megawatt of hydro electricity and is a source of irrigation water supply. Other reservoir lakes include Warsak dam in Khyber Pakhtoonkwa (KPK), Chashma Barrage,Taunsa Barrage and the Marala, Rasool and Qadirabad Headworks in Punjab Province.
Beside these large reservoirs there are also a number of small water storage dams like Kandar, Tanda, Baran and Darwazai Dams in KPK, Nammal Lake in Punjab and Hub Dam, Hanna Lake, Akara Dam and Band Khushdil Khan in Baluchistan Province. As mentioned earlier all these lakes and associated wetlands are supporting a unique biodiversity of plant, animal, birds and fish species including large number of migratory birds from the north.
River Swamps and Coastal Wetlands
These are marshes and mudflats which receive their water either from rivers and irrigation canals or consisting of Indus delta swamps and coastal creeks of Sind and Baluchistan. River swaps are mostly found in the Sind Province, receiving its water from Indus River and associated irrigation canals. These include both saline and freshwater marshes like Pugri, Kur and Kharki wetlands in Sind province and swamps of Beroon Kirthar Canal and Kund Lake in Baluchistan Province.
Coastal wetlands are distributed along the Arabian Sea Coast including among others Indus delta in Sind and Astola Island and Jiwani Coastal Wetlands in Baluchistan. Needless to mention that these coastal marshes support a number of plant, fish and bird species including threatened marine turtles, the endangered Marsh Crocodile and is home to large seasonal accumulations of migratory birds