Education and Participation Help Conserve the Dal Lake

Rashmi Gangwar, Centre for Environment Education

Dal Lake: the Pride of Kashmir
Dal Lake, is a Himalayan urban lake, famous for its pristine beauty. It harbours a rich biodiversity of plants and animals. There is a very rich presence of birds. Several migratory bird species arrive every year. A variety of fish are found in the Lake, some are rare and endangered ones. Referred
to as ‘Heaven on Earth’, Dal Lake is a favourite tourist destination. It attracts thousands of tourists every year. Shikaras or houseboats are a major attraction to enjoy the pristine beauty of the Kashmir valley while living on the Lake. The Dal Lake is also one of only very few water bodies in the world having permanent human settlements within its confi nes. It is an important source of livelihood for above 60,000 local people residing in 125 hamlets, 602 houseboats and 272 doongas (smaller boats for ferrying people and goods) though the services like tourism, water sports, fi shery, cultivation of vegetables on the ‘floating gardens, providing a variety of products like lotus seeds and rhizomes, vegetables and fruits etc. Many aquatic plants growing in the lake are used as food, fodder and compost for agricultural fi elds. Lotus grows abundantly. The lotus rhizomes are harvested and sold for use as a vegetable and fetch a good price.

There are many old buildings having rich traditional architecture. The life in the interiors of the Lake depicts a live picture of the rich traditional skills like carpet weaving, embroidery, paper mashie, arts and crafts etc. The Water of the Lake is supplied for drinking and other domestic purposes to some Srinagar localities. The Lake is also a sink for the sewage from human settlements in and
around it.

Major Threats
Due to rapid and unplanned urbanization, large quantities of untreated sewage are discharged in the lake water, which might pose health problems in the near future. The unhealthy infl ux of nutrients in the form of sewage mostly comprising of nitrogen and phosphorus acts as a superfertilizer.
This results in an explosive growth of duckweed, water ferns, and algae that eventually deplete the oxygen of water vital to fi sh and other aquatic life. Eutrophication or excessive weed growth is prevalent throughout the lake.

Large peripheral areas have been reclaimed and converted into floating gardens. Expanding agriculture in the Dal catchment area also contributes serious levels of fertilizer and other agricultural chemicals through run-off. Rapid deforestation in catchment area of the Lake has accelerated soil erosion. Over 80,000 tons of silt are deposited in the Lake each year despite the siltation tanks constructed by J&K Lakes and Waterways Development Authority.

The Lake drainage system is clogged with little wind to aerate the water and the result researchers refer it as ‘a Lake in peril’. The anthropogenic factors have resulted in astonishing shrinking of the Lake from 24 to 11.41 square kilometers in the past 50 years. Experts predict that if pollution in lake continues at the same rate it will perish
within next few years.

Impact of Pollution in Dal Lake on the Lives of People

Sringar, the summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir state although surrounded by lakes, streams, rivers and mountains faces shortage of a clean drinking water supply for domestic use! An appallingly high infant mortality of 1 in 5 due to common water borne infectious diseases is directly related to unclean water supplies throughout the valley. Forty percent of all illnesses are related to polluted water supplies, resulting into frequent outbreaks of ineffective hepatitis, gastroenteritis, poliomyelitis, typhoid and cholera.

Designing an Educational Intervention
A survey found that 90 percent of the lake residents were not fully aware that they were contributing to the degradation of Lake. CEE initiated an educational initiative with a view to focus attention of the local people and other stakeholders on the status of the Lake, the practices and systems contributing to the deterioration and possible ways to address the deterioration.

The school system was considered on priority to strengthen ongoing Dal Lake conservation efforts of the local government. The programme also involved community members including, boatmen, women, religious leaders and youth.

The School Programme
With support from the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development, CEE Himalaya initiated the Dal Lake Conservation through Education programme in 2004.
Twelve schools from within the Lake and eight from the main catchement area of Dal Lake were chosen to begin with. Principals/Head Masters of these schools were oriented about the need for and simple ways of lake conservation. Local leaders, government officials, J&K Lakes and Waterways Development Authority and academicians were also involved in the process. It was
observed that the children and their parents living in the Dal lake, interacting with Lake environment day and night and earning their livelihood from it do not have anything about Dal lake environment in their syllabus and curriculum. To supplement the curriculum and make school education locally relevant, some educational material was developed for both teachers and students.

For teachers a resource book on Dal Lake, the related aquatic environment and water quality monitoring has been developed. The students’ book contains ideas for small scale conservation projects in their schools and locality to contribute their bits to keep lake clean.

Eco-clubs were formed in each school. The teachers in charge of the eco-clubs were trained in organising students, maintaining records and accounts, writing reports and conducting ecoclub activities. Methods of monitoring the local environment and to understand pollution in the Lake were explained in great detail. CEE’s portable water quality monitoring kit was used and demonstrated
for monitoring physical characteristics like odor, colour, suspended particles, pH, hardness, dissolved oxygen etc. In addition, the relationship of biodiversity, solid and liquid wastes to the health of the lake was discussed.

Teachers were guided to produce their own locale specific education material and to facilitate real life learning for the students. Small scale conservation projects were designed with the help of teachers through which the students could study the threats to the Lake and think about solutions.
The students collected local environmental status data such as on water quality and solid waste. This helped the students as well as the larger community understand the damage to the Lake much more vividly. This also inspired them to take corrective measures that were easy and possible for them. Some Student Activities

  • The things we eat (the contribution of the Lake to the local diet)
  • Algal Bloom (to understand lake pollution)
  • Biodiversity Register of Dal Lake (richness of biodiversity the Lake harbours, demographic changes in recent years, local fi sh, fruits losing out to exotic ones)
  • Let’s Make a Dustbin (red and green coloured) (demonstrated segregation of solid waste and its proper disposal)
  • Drop of water (explained the value and availability of water and fresh water being so scarce on earth)
  • Filter your own water (demonstrated purifi cation of water through simple, low cost methods promoting hygiene and avoiding water borne diseases)
  • Making a Compost pit (to teach proper disposal of wet waste, how to reduce waste to be disposed off and making good use of it in kitchen gardens)
  • Water Use Chart-Let’s Calculate!(promoting conservation of water and avoiding its misuse and wastage)
  • Waste segregation into biodegradable and nonbiodegradable, paper recycling
  • What’s the news? (advocacy of important environmental issues) Who am I? (demonstrating interactive and interesting way of teaching and learning)
  • Seed Bank (about local crops and richness of varieties and their importance)
  • Reach out to the Community (creating awareness and seeking community participation in improving quality of environment and quality of life of people)
  • Convincing the Tourist (promoting environment friendly tourism, providing tourists simple dos and don’ts)

Community Awareness Programme
A number of formal and informal meetings were done with the local community including, boatmen, women, religious leaders and youth etc. about the deterioration of Dal Lake and its impact on the quality of life of the people living in the Lake. Dal-dwellers recognise Dal Lake as their cultural
heritage and were unhappy with the government policies and initiatives for conservation of the Lake.

The discussions highlighted the direct relationship between deterioration in Dal Lake and the livelihoods of people. Citizens expressed their anxiety on Dal Lake being used as sewage disposal site for Srinagar city. Other issues like rehabilitation of people in the city and poor infrastructure facilities for the Dal Lake inhabitants emerged during the meetings. People shared how clean the water of Dal Lake used to be some years ago that it was being used for drinking.
They agreed that infl ow of untreated sewage into the lake was one of the major causes for its deterioration.

In addition, awareness programme on the impact of using polluted water on the health of community, the need for sanitation and personal hygiene were done with the help of J&K Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Srinagar. Health camps organized focus on educating the people about the need for keeping the lake clean and that the outbreak of various diseases is due to polluted water.

Besides local NGOs, concerned government departments like J&K Lakes & Waterways Development Authority (LWDA), Department of Education, Forests and Wildlife, State Pollution Control Board, Tourism etc. were involved in the programme implementation.

Women and adolescent girls living in the Lake are important stakeholders in the management and conservation of the Lake. With support from the Mridula Sarabhai Foundation, a project titled “Women’s Participation in Dal Lake Conservation through Environmental Awareness and Appropriate Technology Demonstration” was taken up. This support helped in addressing sanitation, health and hygiene issues of women and adolescent girls to some extent, through awareness programmes and health camps.

Citizens also expressed the need for more dustbins and for more frequent clearance of dustbins. Awareness campaigns were done to bring about an understanding about techniques of domestic waste minimisation and management through segregation and composting. The consequences of direct disposal of solid waste and sewage into the Lake on water quality were described.

Local NGOs have become interested in waste management programmes in the confi nes of Lake. The LWDA has now arranged door to door collection of household waste which is brought outside the Lake and taken to the municipal dump site. Dustbins have been installed at suitable places
and people are encouraged to use them and to not litter the Lake and surroundings. Use of plastic carry bags is banned in the Lake area. People are now using dustbins provided by the local administration, thereby reducing the direct disposal of solid waste into the lake.

For more information contact:
Abdhesh Gangwar
CEE Himalaya
Kanli Bagh, Baba Rishi Road, Baramulla
Jammu & Kashmir 193 101
Ph: 095-2210440, 095-2235695