Sambhar Lake in Need of Restoration!

Sambha | Lake | Need | 30th August 2021 | Virtual Wire

A study was undertaken by the Central University of Rajasthan’s School of Earth Sciences on the ecology of the Sambhar lake. The world-famous Sambhar Salt Lake is located in the state of Rajasthan about 80 km southwest of Jaipur.

The Sambhar Lake is the country’s largest inland saline water body. Sambhar Lake is a wetland of ‘international importance’ under the Ramsar Convention. The lake is known for being a habitat for a large number of migratory species during the winter season. It includes species like flamingoes, pelicans and waterfowls among others.

The study notes a reduction in the wetland area of the lake. The lake has been shrinking with the degradation of soil and water quality. This is said to be contributing to a decline in the population of migratory birds to the lake. The study notes an increase in settlement, vegetation cover, salt pan encroachments and barren land around the lake.

Almost 30% of Sambhar Lake’s area has been lost to mining and other activities, including the illegal salt pan encroachments. This has been leading to a shrinking wetland. Sambhar is being choked by illegal salt extraction. The proliferating salt pans and illegal bore-wells have been causing a massive degradation of the lake ecosystem.

Sambhar Lake is totally dependent on the seasonal rivers that flow into it during the monsoon. But now this water is being sucked away before it reaches the lake, causing it to dry up. The lake receives water from about six rivers, namely Samaod, Khari, Mantha, Khandela, Media, and Roopangarh.

The farmers in the upper catchment area of the lake have built surface embankments across the rivers, obstructing their downstream flow into the lake. They have sunk tube wells along the rivers and laid pipelines to transport water to their fields, choking the rivers and ultimately threatening the wetland ecosystem.

The degradation of the wetland ecosystem will have a marked impact on the migratory birds and biodiversity of the region. In 2019, more than 20,000 migratory birds foraging in the Sambhar marshlands had died due to avian botulism.

The environmental impact does not augur well for the human settlements in the region in terms of food and water security. The degradation of the ecosystem threatens the livelihoods of local people who have always lived in harmony with the lake and its ecology. The salt brine-based industry is estimated to be around $300 million.

There is a need for urgent action to restore the lake’s ecosystem for protecting the birds and biodiversity as well as the salt production.

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