GLACIERS are our strategic assets

Greater Kashmir

THE debate about the impact of climate change on food and water security is yet to receive the attention it deserves in the overall discourse on the future of Kashmir. Unfortunately other security concerns have shadowed real and long term dangers to our very survival. The impending disaster due to climate change is now the most debated global concern. Though the reasons for climate change are global, their impact on geographical entities like Kashmir is yet to be understood properly. Our economy and well being is all about water.
Like other Himalayan valleys, our life depends on snow. The water comes from the snow melt – both the snow that falls on the land and provides the moisture for farming and pastures, as well as the snow of the glaciers that gently melts and feeds the streams that are the lifeline of the towns and villages. For centuries, snow has supported human survival in this part of the world.
Climate change is changing this. There is less moisture for growing crops because of lesser snowfall. In village after village, we are witnessing shortage of drinking water. The day is not very far when it will be the end of farming in the villages where snowmelt on the fields was the only source of moisture. Reduced snowfall also means less snow in glaciers, and less stream flow. The shorter period of snowfall prevents the snow from turning into hard ice crystals. Therefore more of the glacier is liable to melt when the summer comes.
All of us have observed that during last 2 decades we are getting more rain, rather than snow, even at higher altitudes. This also accelerates the melting of glaciers. There is a degree of resignation in facing up to this problem. We in Kashmir do not cause the pollution, but we are its victims. This is the direct and cruel face of ‘climate injustice.’
The problem is compounded due to absence of information flow, documentation, observation and scientific research on the local impact and impress of climate change. There is hardly any study in Kashmir that can match the global standards of R&D, both in terms of technologies and expertise. The international concern has at least opened up funding resource for such studies. It is high time that the State and scientific community accesses this flow of funds and technologies. In absence of any worthwhile study one is forced to look at the global situation and draw a parallel. One such study is the Stern report and review commissioned by United Kingdom in 2007. This review has brought out that climate change is global in its causes and consequences, and international collective action will be critical in driving an effective, efficient and equitable response on the scale required. This response will require deeper international co-operation in many areas – spurring technology research, development and deployment, and promoting adaptation, particularly for developing countries.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world and if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the earth keeps getting warmer at the current rate.” According to the IPCC report the total area of glaciers in the Himalaya will shrink from 1,93,051 square miles to 38,000 square miles by 2035.
The Government of India has set up a National Climate Action Plan which has eight missions. One of the missions is for sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem. Himalayas, being the source of key perennial rives, the Mission would, inter-alia, seek to understand whether, and the extent to which, the Himalayan glaciers are in recession and how the problem could be addressed. This will require the joint effort of climatologists, glaciologists and other experts. It is really depressing to find total lack of concern within the academic and Governmental setup on such a critical issue. The concerned State agencies are mere employment and administrative units lacking motivation, skills and sense of urgency. This is not with standing the fact that some of these agencies do have positions manned by otherwise qualified human resource. Some agencies operating at the national level have been looking at Baltoro, Nubra, Biafo and Partachik glaciers in Ladakh. Though the Siachen glacier has been heavily impacted due to militarization and senseless confrontation, we have been hearing voices about declaring the whole glacier as a peace park. No such concern or even a feeble credible voice has been heard about Kashmir glaciers of Kolhai, Durinar, Sarbal, Thajiwas. These are shrinking at a fast pace, incase of Kolhai at a faster pace than the nationally generated data referred to above.
It has often been said that the 3rd world war will be about the control and access to water resources. The political and geo-strategic aspect of Kashmir dispute has very widely been debated. But the control over water resources will determine the future strategies on Kashmir between India and Pakistan, the two adversaries fighting for the control of the territory. An Asia Society report brings out the fact that about 77 percent of Pakistan’s water resources come from beyond its borders, the second-highest dependency ratio in Asia after Bangladesh. The two main water resources of Pakistan, Indus and Jehlum originate from Ladakh and Kashmir. The water concern and supply shortage led Pakistan to negotiate a water treaty with India soon after it gained independence in 1947 despite hostilities between the two states. The present peace signals emanating from that country in resolving the dispute and the negative response to these signals from India have much to do with the water issue. After attacks in Mumbai last November, Pakistani commentators for the first time began to focus on India’s violations of the Indus Water Treaty and suggested that water resources were an underlying cause of the Kashmir conflict. This focus and linking of water with Kashmir conflict opens up a new debate on the role of water in the economic and security strategies for shaping future of Kashmir. The Kashmir intelligentsia has yet to wake up to this harsh reality.

M Saleem Beg
(Convener INTACH and former DG Tourism)