WATER TOWER OF ASIA
WATER is the most precious natural resource on our planet and without it life on earth would be non-existent. More than half of humanity relies on the freshwater that accumulates in mountainous regions like Himalayas. With glacier coverage of 33,000 sq. kms, the Himalayan region is aptly called the Water Tower of Asia as it provides around 8.6 million cubic meters of water annually. Glaciers from this region mother several rivers and streams in the sub-continent which support economy and the livelihood of millions of people in several countries like China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. Water resources of the world are collectively experiencing
markedly accelerating rates of qualitative and quantitative degradation. Over the years, growth of human population, expansion of industrial base and higher demands for drinking water have put tremendous pressure on various water bodies in different parts of country including the state of Jammu and Kashmir and most of these are now threatened ecosystems.
Jammu and Kashmir is unique in having more than 6% of land area under freshwater ecosystems that include subtropical lakes of Jammu, floodplain lakes of Kashmir Valley, high altitude Himalayan lakes, perennial rivers of the Indus system, wetlands of different dimensions, ponds, snow-fed streams, springs, reservoirs etc. No other state has so much of diversity of freshwater ecosystems as Jammu and Kashmir. The State is unique in the whole country in having a wide range of aquatic habitats – glaciers, mountain and floodplain lakes, wetlands, springs, ponds, streams, etc. In the backdrop of looming water crisis in most of the Africa and even Asia, we, the custodians of the Water Tower of Asia, can not afford to be complacent but need to work with other stakeholders for developing a robust strategy for the sustainable development of water resources in the region.
THE NEW CHALLENGES
Recently, Kashmir has been witnessing drastic decrease in the snowfall. This reduction in snowfall together with the fast receding glaciers has resulted in water scarcity for irrigation and hydropower generation in some seasons. The data shows that the magnitude and frequency of flooding has increased in the valley during the last few decades. Coupled with the unplanned urbanization and mismanagement of the Jhelum floodplains, the situation is going to be alarming in near future. One can well imagine the future scenario, with most of the wetlands that used to act as sponge during flooding, being urbanized and converted into concrete landscape. Most of our wetlands and water bodies are already fighting a loosing battle for their survival.
Wetland habitat, productivity and process, being linked to the hydrological cycle, are getting adversely affected due to seasonal changes in the precipitation and runoff. Most of the wetlands have less biodiversity in terms of fauna and flora compared to the situation, say, only 50 years back. In the process, obnoxious weeds and other aquatic life have succeeded the more productive and useful biota. Long term viability of any existing and potential developmental schemes in the fields of irrigation, agriculture, horticulture, hydropower, tourism and drinking water supplies in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is intimately dependant on the availability of snow, glaciers and other water resources.
MANAGING THE RESOURCES
Since water is a basic and essential component of life, therefore not only managing it wisely but also safeguarding water resources from further abuses is absolutely essential for their sustainable long term use. We can be optimistic about the future only when our knowledge of freshwater systems is adequate to allow us to use the water resources on sustained basis. Studies on various aspects of water resources have assumed great importance because of rapid depletion of the water assets. In order to take stock of the various freshwater resources in the Kashmir Himalaya and implement management plans for their conservation, it is imperative to conduct in-depth studies of the present status of water resources of the region.
ROLE OF THE UNIVERSITY
For robust planning of water resources, it is essential to have credible baseline of the all the water resources available in the region. As a first step, University of Kashmir is already on a mission of generating data on the water resources like snow, glaciers, wetlands, lakes etc. and how they have been changing over the time. The
research on water resources, being sponsored by reputed national organizations like Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF), Govt. of India, UGC and Ministry of Water Resources, Govt. of India, shall help to identify the pressures on these resources and suggest mitigation measures for their management and restoration. In due course of time, we intend to develop online basin-wise Information Systems on the water resources of the state and it is expected that these database systems shall go a long way in ensuring the maximum use, dissemination and implementation of the information and knowledge that shall be generated through these research projects, ensuring judicious planning of the water resources in the state.
We are pleased to mention that the University of Kashmir has identified the following aspects related to the water resources in Kashmir Himalayas as the thrust areas of research in different University departments and research centres;
a) Snow and glacial resources and the causes of their recession;
b) Riverine resources and the factors responsible for their decrease,
c) Lake eutrophication and its mitigation;
d) Ground water resources and the factors responsible for drying of springs;
e) Management and restoration of aquatic habitats, including wetlands;
It is expected that the ongoing research on these topics shall thus help us to answer certain critical and scientific questions. These ongoing research programs at the University shall help to evaluate alternative lake and watershed management scenarios for their protection, restoration and mitigation.
University of Kashmir has already prepared several management plans for a number of degraded lakes, wetlands and other water bodies of the valley. A number of research projects pertaining to hydrology and aquatic ecology have been successfully completed by the University. Under these projects, a number of students have successfully completed M. Phil. and Ph.D. programs in various departments of the University. University of Kashmir is conscious that for the optimal utilization and implementation of the research findings, it is necessary to make the user agencies active partners in these research programs right from the very inception. We are making efforts to network with all the relevant government and non-government agencies at local and national level to optimize the outcomes from these research programs. Last year, we conducted the 3-day national symposium on 'Water Resources in India: Concerns, Management and Conservation' primarily to build and strengthen the inter and intra-institutional research partnerships to further our efforts towards water resource conservation and management in the state. The constitution of the Working Groups on Climate Change and Dal Lake, with membership from the University, government, NGOs and the civil society, are some of the other steps taken by the University administration to initiate a new paradigm of Academia-Government-Civil Society Partnership to ensure full utilization of the knowledge that shall become available during and after completion of these and other ongoing and pipeline research programs in the University.
Dr. Riyaz Punjabi
(Vice-Chancellor, University of Kashmir)