Kashmir region on brink of major flood disaster, colossal loss of life feared

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Balwant Singh Bhau

Kashmir is on brink of another major flood disaster and if at all this prediction comes true, the region is likely to witness colossal loss of human lives.

Respective state governments have remained mum and allowed devastation of natural resources Kashmir valley city and its peripheries. Despite nature having bestowed Kashmir valley with vast network of wetlands and waterways which acts as sponges during floods, the region has of-late seen massive but unplanned and unchecked urbanization.

Somewhere this has been allowed to silence decent, while on other occasion, allegations are that permissions have been granted in lure of huge money. These aberrations have resulted in painful destruction of natural resources across Kashmir valley. This all has been shed by NITI Ayog in one of its reports on the assessment of floods in Jammu & Kashmir.

This has worsened flood susceptibility. Assessment report maintains that there has been loss of nearly 50 percent of the wetlands over the period of 100 years. In 1911, the total extent of water bodies with marshy areas was 356.85 km. However, it has reduced to 158.54 km in 2011. Also it was revealed that the city of Srinagar was facing problem of drainage as these lakes used to act as sponges for floods.

With most of them vanishing, Kashmir region is facing problems of floods from rainfall for three or four days because of excess water flow in river Jhelum. Loss of water bodies had its bearing on local micro-climate with the mean temperature in summers rising to 39.5 degree Celsius in 2006 as compared to 35.5 degree Celsius in 1973. Kashmir region had recorded a huge loss of forest since 1992.  Comparison of forest survey reports for the period show that the valley lost about 10% of its dense forest cover during the period indicating that ability of forests to retain water has been reduced.

It meant more rain water flowed directly into Jhelum River causing flooding. Most of the housing colonies built in the floodplains of Jhelum and along the Jhelum river course stand regularized by the successive governments and thus, encouraging the conversion of the remaining wetlands in the vicinity of the Srinagar and elsewhere to built-up enclosures. The built-up area computed from temporal data for Srinagar City indicated that area under built-up in 1972, 1982, 1992 and 2004 was 18.10, 27.23, 41.80 and 84.50 km respectively.

Thus over the years, the amount of built-up land has grown by about 29.20 percent, nearly three times the rate of population growth. Results also revealed that area under agriculture has drastically reduced by 11.65% followed by the plantation 8.35% and wetlands and water bodies by about 3.77 and 1.49% respectively. Within the 10km buffer of Srinagar, the land use has changed by about 30 percent. Study identified around 43 priority wetlands and water bodies that were analyzed from 1964 toposheets and compared with satellite images which showed significant reduction in the extent of wetlands and their land use changing to built-up and agriculture.

Vulnerability assessment at local government level is often lacking. Most areas of the Asian region lack sufficient observational records to draw conclusions about trends in annual rainfall over the past century. History bears powerful testimony to the fact that in Srinagar city many flood spill channels were dug during the reign of various kings, maharajas, administrators in the past.

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