Govt forgets restoration of dying wetlands

Govt forgets restoration of dying wetlands

In absence of conservation measures, most of the wetlands including Hokersar, Wullar, Haigam, Mirgund, Shalabugh have lost their carrying capacity mainly due to extensive siltation and pollution.

Failure of successive regimes to restore the dying wetlands in Kashmir is taking a heavy toll on fragile eco-system in the Valley. 

World Wetlands Day commemorated on February 2 in many countries, marks the signing of convention on wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, on this day in 1971 for conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands. However, the annual global event in Kashmir is usually marked by customary seminars and functions. 

In absence of conservation measures, most of the wetlands including Hokersar, Wullar, Haigam, Mirgund, Shalabugh have lost their carrying capacity mainly due to extensive siltation and pollution. 

 Wular lake and its associated wetlands comprises an important habitat for migratory water birds within Central Asian Flyway and supports rich biodiversity. It is also a major fishing resource of the Valley. In recognition of its immense ecological and socio-economic importance, the Wular was designated as wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1990. However, in absence of sustained conservation measures, its area has reduced by 45 percent mainly due to conversion to agriculture and plantation. 

These wetlands are an important refuge for migratory waterfowls, shorebirds and trans-Himalayan species in winters and act as water absorption basins. Situated on the outskirts of Srinagar city, Hokersar wetland has been marred by siltation and encroachments. A study carried out by the Department of Earth Sciences, Kashmir University states that Hokersar has shrunk from 18.75 Sq Kms in 1969 to 12.8 Sq Kms at present. Its open water body has shrunk from 1.74 Sq Kms in 1969 to less than one sq.Km. 

Being a Ramsar Site, the Government of India as its signatory is bound to conserve Hokersar. However, on ground no initiative has been taken to conserve the wetland. Haigam Wetland Conservation Reserve, has also shrunk considerably mainly due to paddy cultivation.

“Despite their tremendous scientific and societal importance, wetlands of Kashmir are shrinking due to rapid and unplanned urbanization, reckless deforestation, increased pollution and silt load from the catchments,” said Prof Shakil Romshoo, Head Department of Earth Sciences at Kashmir University. 

Elaborating, he said over the years, increased sediment and silt load from catchments has caused a reduction in the size and depth of most of these wetlands impacting their functionality. 

“For the last fifty years, we have lost 20 wetlands and water bodies in and around Srinagar city only to urbanization and agricultural activities. This rapid urbanization of the catchment together with reckless deforestation and uncontrolled use of fertilizers and pesticides in the catchment are responsible for the excessive nutrient load and decrease of most of the wetlands,” he said. 

He said the loss and deterioration of wetlands in Kashmir during the last five decades is the important factor for exacerbating the flooding scenario in September, 2014. 

“Delay in restoration of these wetlands worsened the flood vulnerability scenario in Kashmir, Most of the wetlands that used to act as sponges during flooding have been urbanized and converted into concrete landscapes. Deterioration of wetlands is taking toll on Valley’s eco-system,” Romshoo said. 

Pertinently, river Jhelum broke all its previous records, submerging habitations on both sides of its embankments. The summer capital Srinagar bore the brunt of floods as most of its localities including the city centre Lal Chowk were submerged.

“Unfortunately, the past remedial measures, advocated by the planners and decision makers for revival of various wetlands have mainly focused on engineering practices, and sometimes, unscientific ecological practices. The apparent achievements accomplished by following the injudicious engineering approaches supported by enforcing legal frameworks cannot be sustained in the long run and have mostly proved counterproductive,” he said. 

He said there is need for a cross-sectoral and participatory approach to restore the wetlands. “An integrated and comprehensive catchment scale conservation approach would facilitate scientific and sound conservation planning degrading wetlands. In absence of such comprehensive plans and community participation, the degradation of the wetlands would go unabated despite expenditure of huge finances,” he said. 

Regional Wildlife Warden Shuja Hyderi said the department has last year submitted comprehensive management plan for conservation of Hokersar and other wetlands to the Government of India. “Hopefully, the management plan will be approved this year and on the basis of its recommendations, we will start restoration of wetlands,’ he said.