Once a sanctuary of abundance, teeming with fish and flourishing aquatic life, Asia’s second largest freshwater body – Wular Lake – is now battling for survival with the livelihood of thousands of fishermen families at stake. Desperation has spread among the fishermen as they grapple with the harsh reality of their diminishing returns. The once proud tradition passed down through generations now hangs by a fraying thread, threatened by forces beyond their control. For these fishermen the journey ahead is fraught with uncertainty.
Climate change, the silent predator, has crept upon Wular Lake, casting its shadow over the once vibrant ecosystem. The delicate balance of nature has begun to unravel as temperatures rise, glaciers melt, and erratic weather patterns disrupt the rhythms of life. Ghulam Mohammad Dar, a sexagenarian fisherman from Zurimanz village, says as compared to the past, fish turnout in the lake has gone down considerably.
“Earlier a fisherman could catch 15 to 20 kg of fish in a single day. But now it has come down to a mere five kg in a day,” he told DH. Dar says the money he earns from fishing hardly enables him to fulfill his personal needs and the needs of his family. Recalling his childhood days when Wular’s water was pure and pristine, he said, “We used to drink water directly from the Lake. Now we hesitate even to bathe in it because of the heavy pollution,” he said. The fishermen community is mostly illiterate and in the absence of resources, they depend wholly and solely on the lake.
But the increasing sewage in the lake is not only affecting the livelihood of the fishermen community but will also diminish the aquatic species also. For Maqbool Hanji of Lankrishipora village, educating his children has become next to impossible as the income is dwindling with each passing day. “Until a few years ago, I had a steady income as fishing in the Lake was profitable. However, the returns now are dwindling and we fear that the fish might vanish altogether from the Lake,” he said.
Hanji is worried about the way the important water body is being treated by people and the government. “The government is spending a lot of money to protect the Lake. But, I somehow feel the money is not spent properly,” he alleged. Prof Shakil Romshoo, expert member of the Earth and Environmental Sciences and Vice Chancellor of Islamic University of Science and Technology strongly advises taking measures like stopping the silt at source if the lake is to be conserved.
“For that the government needs to start an extensive afforestation program in the catchment areas of River Jhelum’s tributaries (Jhelum feeds the Wullar) immediately,” he said. Wular, which was designated as a wetland of international Importance under Ramsar Convention in 1990, is one of the largest freshwater Lakes in Asia and the largest flood basin of Kashmir.
According to a study by Wetland International, 32,000 families including 2,300 fisher households living on Wullar’s shores depend on it for livelihood. According to fishermen some of the local fish species have even become endangered and threatened. The major causes of this decline are encroachment of water bodies, siltation and pollution. However, amidst the tumultuous currents of change, with every sunrise, the fishermen cast their nets into the waters, weaving a tale of resilience and hope. Together they stand guardians of Wular Lake, defenders of a legacy that stretched back through the annals of time