Shubhangi Singh: Ever wondered what it is that we lose when we lose a lake? Is it just water that we are losing? Or is it much more than that?
When a significant number of people are dependent directly or indirectly on the wetlands bringing non-linear impact on economic welfare, then metaphorically speaking, can the flutter of a butterfly’s wing ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world? In the case of Ousteri lake, human intervention has proven to create a multifold consequence on the lake and it’s extended surrounding.
Ousteri Lake is the largest water body in the Puducherry region. The tourists visiting the area derive high amounts in recreational benefits, but not all visitors are human. Ousteri’s ability to attract a rich and diverse population of migratory birds, makes it an ecologically important wetland in Asia. Unfortunately, since declaring the wetlands a bird sanctuary, the villagers from around the area have been completely restricted from utilising many of the ecosystem services that they, earlier, had access to. While, this action benefits conservation of the wetland to a fair degree, it could also take away the livelihood benefits from the locals. Ousteri lake in Puducherry can irrigate 3,800 acres of land and plays a crucial role in recharging groundwater aquifers. It has suffered pressure from land-use changes in the catchment area, encroachment, siltation, pollution from industry and agriculture. In addition to that, overfishing, poaching and groundwater exploitation are other factors contributing to the lake’s steady decline in quality. Since 2004, as much as 2,800 acres of land around the lake have been converted for commercial, non-agricultural purposes causing water to stagnate permanently. This constant attack on the lake is further augmented by untreated effluents and solid waste from 250 industrial units that wash up in the wetland, thus, critically damaging the health of the lake. Given the lake’s generous economic returns in the past, we have to account for what really is at stake if Ousteri lake continues to be on the path to steady degradation.
There is a dire need of a practical vision to reduce the repercussions of human activities that have, extensively, damaged Ousteri lake’s health, thus, endangering the co-dependent eco-system including a wide network of birds and animal species that this wetland sustains. Actions to enhance awareness and cooperation among stakeholders and to explore incentive-based institutional arrangements for managing the wetland must be encouraged as a solution. By regulating access to ecosystem benefits such as fishing, and collection of medicinal plants and by monitoring solid waste dumping as well as groundwater exploitation by commercial establishments, this watery treasure trove could be restored from it’s current depleted state of health. If Ousteri could provide in plenty before, then it can certainly re-work it’s magic yet again – because a healthy lake, creates a healthier economy.