Receding Kolahoi, other glaciers pose threat of environmental disaster

The Kolahoi, Kashmir’s biggest glacier, according to experts is receding at a fast pace posing a major threat of environmental disaster.

The glacier located in the northwestern Himalayan range situated 26 kilometers north from Pahalgam and 16 kilometers south from Sonamarg is one of the major sources of Lidder stream, a major tributary of river Jehlum.

Its water mainly irrigate the agricultural land and serves as a drinking water source to mainly south Kashmir’s Anantnag district.

Named after Kolahoi peak, the glacier lies at an altitude of 4700 meters. “Over the years we have been observing that the thickness of the glacier has gone down. The rocks and crevasse which earlier was rare can now be clearly found there,” said Mehmood Ahmad Shah, former director of the Tourism Department.

“The major manifestations of global warming are quite evident everywhere. However, it is more pronounced in Kashmir. A slight change in temperature can result in rainfall instead of snow,” Shah said. “The tremendous amount of pressure on mountains and forests has been a major reason for ecological imbalance and hence disasters,” Shah said. He said there has been a depletion of forest cover over the years.

“We would export the timber, but now the time has reached when we are importing it from Europe,” Shah said while emphasising on afforestation.

He said encouraging rotational grazing can also help in reducing pressure on mountains.

“The glacier or cloud burst is a natural phenomenon but these things accelerate the process,” Shah said.

An avid trekker, Riyaz Ahmad Lone says that many small glaciers around Sheshnag have also receded drastically.

“Kanital glacier which is a major source of water for the Warwan stream in Chenab valley has also retreated,” Lone said.

Another environmentalist cites the haphazard constructions in the ecologically fragile zones and on river backs as one of the reasons for the disaster.

“What we have been observing that most of the Jhelum tributaries- Lidder (Pahalgam), Vaishaw (Kulgam), Rambiara (Shopian), Sandran (Qazigund), Brengi (Kokernag), Tongri (Pulwama-Shopian),  Yeth Yathur (Verinag), Aaripat (Shangus) and others over the years have been changing the course, which is quite a natural phenomenon. However, the concrete structures which have come up on its banks can be a major reason for disaster,” he said.

He cited the commercial structures which have come up right on the Lidder banks in Pahalgam.

“A slight imbalance – cloud or glacier burst can turn the situation ugly,” the environmentalist said.

“He said the raising of structures within the 500 meters of rivers should be discouraged.

In Pahalgam, many lives have been lost over the decades in the cloud burst disasters, the major ones reported to have occurred in 1962 near Nunwan hillock (50 deaths) and another in the 1980s.

In 1996 the Lidder river roared due to cloud bursts resulting in major floods.

The cloud burst that occurred in Vishaw Nallah, originating from Kousarnag lake in Aharbal, Kulgam, became the major cause of the deluge in September 2014.