Quetta's major tourist attraction Hanna Lake has completely dried up

Nestled deep in the midst of towering mountains, Quetta’s historic tourist point Hanna Lake has completely dried up. Cracks have started to appear in the lakebed as there has been no rainfall here for months. “The natural cycle of rainfall has been severely affected as a result of deforestation,” Niaz Khan Kakar, a well-known environmentalist, tells Dawn.

Tourists flocking to enjoy the scenic beauty of this fabled lake are instead treated to the sight of small dead fish ringing the edges of the dried lake. “It is heartbreaking to see these dead fish,” says Tayyaba, a teenager from Jacobabad, Sindh.

A file photo of the lake before it dried up.— Photo by author
A file photo of the lake before it dried up.— Photo by author

And yet, the area around Hanna Lake reverberates with the sound of lilting Pashto music and the tinkling laughter of young tourists, including a large number of women and children. It is a mellow Friday and a crowd of youngsters have gathered at the centre of the lake dancing to the beat of the Darya (a hand-held drum).

Hanna Lake was built by the British in 1894 with the objective of maintaining the water table, to recharge the Karezes (an ancient irrigation system), surrounding springs and to provide water for agricultural purposes. At that time, there was no concept of tube wells and wells were being dug in and around Quetta to pump water for drinking and agricultural purposes.

Every summer, tourists from across the Pakistan and various parts of Balochistan throng Hanna Lake for respite from the scorching heat. “We have come to enjoy the fresh air of Quetta,” says Ehsanaullah Khosa, a tourist from Jacobabad.

There was a time when tourists could take boats into the lake and enjoy the idyllic atmosphere. That is not the case anymore. A group of tourists stands at the edge of the lake staring down morosely at three abandoned boats. “Last year, we took a boat to the centre,” Muhammad Ajmal, who lives in Quetta, says. “We are frustrated…the government must do something to bring back the beauty of Hanna Lake.”

The lake had provided nesting grounds for migratory birds from Siberia till the 1980s. But unchecked hunting and water scarcity drove them off with the passage of time.

Gone are the days when migratory birds used to beautify Hanna Lake, says Amjad Rasheed, who heads the Taraqee Foundation (TF), a non-governmental organisation. The mountains ringing the lake were once the stomping grounds for livestock and other animals, but as the lake dried up, so did the grass and vegetation.

It is ironic that Hanna Lake, built by the British, would one day dry up for want of attention from local governments.

It can help maintain the depleting water table of the area if it is full of water, recharge the dried springs and karezes and provide water for farming, Mr Rasheed says.

The water table in Quetta and parts of northern and central Balochistan is getting depleted at a rate that is alarming. Experts believe that mandatory plantation could offset the lack of rainfall and the drought-like conditions. “Maximum plantation can mitigate the dangers of drought,” Mr Kakar points out.

Local communities need to be made aware about the benefits of plantation and forestation, he adds.

Environmentalists warn that Balochistan is prone to natural disasters and a rapid climate change could have devastating consequences.

They predict an apocalyptic scenario for Quetta in which the looming threat of drought would stoke migration on a massive scale. “By 2030, people will not be migrating from Quetta due to terrorism but will be driven by scarcity of water,” says Mr Kakar, who heads the Quetta section of the Forest Department.

The writer Syed Ali Shah is a correspondent of DawnNews in Quetta

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2017