Every year in the month of May people across Kashmir are troubled by the pollen allergy. This year the problem for the people became even worse because the season falls in Ramadan.
The roads, streets and corners particularly in southern Kashmir are no different with this problem. The falling of cotton flakes, which resembles snowfall in densely populated poplar areas, has forced people to wear masks while venturing out.
Thousands of Russian poplar trees are still intact in Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian districts giving people tough time.
These trees are surprisingly still intact in hospitals, schools, colleges and other government offices. Hospitals across south Kashmir are recording a sudden and sharp spike in the number of patients, especially children, with respiratory diseases.
During the holy month of Ramadan hospitals across south Kashmir are jam packed with patients and people find no alternative except wearing masks and covering their face with handkerchiefs.
“Compared to other months the admissions with regards to allergies and infections are on the higher side. Our ENT and paediatrics departments are overloaded during this month,” Dr. Abdul Rashid Parra, medical superintendent district hospital Pulwama, told Greater Kashmir.
Every season Russian poplar trees release pollen that accumulates in the form of cotton balls causing multiple allergies like running nose, chest infections, eye allergies and skin rashes.
“It certainly intensifies respiratory diseases particularly among children, the cotton-like substance is an irritant that causes allergies. The irritation caused by the pollen results in running nose, red and watery eyes,” said a paediatrician from Kulgam.
An ENT specialist at district hospital Pulwama, Dr. Irfan Ahmad, said, “Numerous pollens exist in the atmosphere so it is not only the Russian poplar which is the culprit. There are other carriers causing allergies like lawn grass, Deodar, Budul, Kikkar and Chinar. Different people are allergic to different other pollens as well. It may be one factor but not the only one.”
Another doctor at sub-district hospital Tral said: “The patients suffering from allergies are advised precautionary measure like wearing masks, medicines include anti-allergic tablets and in case the infection is high then anti-biotic is prescribed.”
Despite orders by the Jammu & Kashmir High Court in 2015 to axe all the Russian poplar trees, the administration has failed to remove these trees across Jammu and Kashmir.
“In various Bijbehara villages multiple notices were served to people who own these trees but not a single tree was cut down by administration during these years,” said Shabir Ali, a resident of Bijbehara Anantnag.
“I can assure you that some trees were cut down from main town Bijbehara and Anantnag but not a single tree was removed from outskirts,” he added.
Residents near Wazir Bagh and K.P road areas of Anantnag said the poplars create problem for everyone in the areas. Government fails to cut down these trees by themselves. People claimed to have sent multiple letters to administration and are waiting for action.
Students from different private and government schools also said that the poplar creates severe health concerns for them. “We can’t breathe properly due to these pollens allergies. Most of my classmates are suffering from cold, throat infection, pink eyes and fever. Now we wear face masks and handkerchiefs to avoid these irritant pollens,” said Abid Majeed, a 7th standard student.
According to a report, the Russian poplar is actually not the tree variety of Russia. The poplar trees originate from the United States and were introduced in Kashmir Valley in 1982. It outnumbered the local poplars and became popular because it grows quickly within 10-15 years compared to the local variety that takes 30-40 years.
Many people argue that Russian poplar trees should not be axed because it boosts rural economy. “The Russian variety is vital and grows faster than the local species. It is also a source of livelihood for many people particularly band saw owners and wood cutters. The wood of Russian poplar is mainly used in the construction of housing roofs in the valley,” said Mubashir Hussain, a band saw owner.