India’s Largest Lake is Struggling to Breathe – The Major Issues Plaguing Vembanad

Often at times, when people hear of Kerala, they think of, naturally, bananas, coconuts, lush plantations, and of course, the infamous houseboats. When you look up pictures of Kerala and see the beautifully crafted houseboats floating through a clear body of water, it is likely that you are looking at the Vembanad Lake, the largest lake in India, the second largest wetland system in the country, and also one that is inching towards extinction.

Spanning across various districts in the state, the Vembanad Lake is a major hotspot for a plethora of species of aquatic creatures, such as prawns and pearlfish. The lake is also a major area for bird migration, and as a result, the Kumarakom bird sanctuary, a popular tourist destination, is located on the east coast of the lake. The lake has also been labeled a Ramsar site, given its ecological importance, which deems the lake to be of international importance as a wetland under the Ramsar Convention, which is associated with UNESCO. However, given the recent patterns in climate change, scientists estimate the lake’s extinction to occur in the next 50 years.

Another major area of concern arises with regard to the pollution found in the water. A study conducted by the Kerala State Pollution Control Board found the water to be highly saturated in heavy metals and pesticides, while another study highlights the concentration of microplastics found in the waters. This is alarming, especially when you consider that these contaminants are ingested by the organisms residing in the waters, who contribute a major part to the diet of locals. This sets off a chain of events that eventually results in biological magnification, which is in turn unimaginably harmful to human health.

This is especially concerning to those residing in the Kuttanad region, also known as Kerala’s “rice bowl” through which the lake flows, as large parts of the water body were reclaimed for paddy cultivation following the Bengal famine.

Kerala’s history with paddy, and as a result, rice, has been turbulent. Rice cultivation in the state can be traced back to 3000 BC, and since then has remained a staple in the diet of the people residing there, as well as a major part of the state’s economy, although there has been a sharp decline in its cultivation over the past few decades. Although rice cultivation is not as economically important to the state as it once was, the crop still remains crucial ecologically, as the flood-prone state benefits from the natural drainage and water-conserving properties of the crop.

Kuttanad, which is the area with the lowest altitude in India, lacks proper drainage facilities, and as a result, is the area that suffers the highest levels of threat as a result of Vembanad’s current situation. The region’s low-lying nature and poor facilities have led to an accumulation of pollutants, such as insecticides and pesticides. These pollutants, naturally, contaminate the paddy crops in the area and make them harmful to consume. The lake, which has also reported high levels of fecal contamination in other districts and areas around Kuttanad has led to reported cases of cholera, typhoid fever, and E.coli.

Waste from houseboats, a study found, is also a major cause of pollution for the freshwater body. Houseboats alone dump roughly 23 thousand liters of waste into the waters, and matters were made worse due to the dysfunctional nature of the sewage treatment plant for houseboats. This treatment plant was even shut down in 2019 as it was found that the waste is not being treated properly, rather, waste was dumped back into the lake.

The above problems surrounding the Vembanad Lake have led to people pointing fingers all over. Individuals blame corporations, while corporations, unwilling to admit responsibility, somehow find their way out of the hefty penalties one must face for causing such damage to a natural resource. However, this time-consuming game of pointing fingers has led to a certain conclusion: everyone is responsible in one way or another. Whether it is the individuals by the banks, those on houseboats, corporations responsible for cleaning up, or governments in charge of tracking pollution, all of who have been engaged in blaming each other, the damage has been done and continues to take place.

Rather than assuming that one group of people is solely liable, it is about time everyone begins to work together, to bring back the species who once called the lake their home, reverse the decade-long damage, and ensure that this important ecological and economic site is able to thrive and flourish for the next generations to be able to nurture.

Sources: 0-years-study/article15005270.ece ad-lake-in-kochi-poses-major-health-hazard-2061853.html stics%20were%20pre says-study/articleshow/12917029.cms show/45950144.cms vembanad-lake/article66707746.ece arine%20nature%20of%20the,other%20fishes%20of%20commercial%20value. okes-vembanad/articleshow/71568777.cms

Published by LakesOfIndia

Lakes of India is an E.F.I initiative aimed at sensitizing the larger public on freshwater habitats across the country. A blog platform where one can read about lakes across India. You can become a guest blogger to write about a lake in your hometown and initiate an action to protect that lake.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: