Challenged by extreme weather conditions, what can we do now to save ourselves?
It has been more than a year now since the last year’s devastating flood of September and issue of Kandizal remains one of the most debated and controversial issues of September 2014 flood. Many articles and documentaries on September 2014 flood have repeatedly pointed at Kandizal.
Kandizal is located some 22 km upstream of Srinagar (near Kakapora) and it breach on its own on the morning of September 04, 2014. Experts from different field have commented on it; some saying delay in breaching Kandizal resulted in submergence of Srinagar and some saying Kandizal breach would had no impact on reducing the devastation of September 2014 flood. But one thing remains common in all these diagonally opposite views – no one has come out with any analysis (figures) which would support his/her assumption (hypothesis).
So, is it an asset or a liability, a saviour or just a myth? Let’s put it to test, let’s do some simple maths and take some help from a commonly used software “Google Earth”. Let’s check how much flood water volume can be absorbed by flood plains of Kandizal, or lets go a step further let’s check how much water can be absorbed by the entire flood plain of River Jhelum from Sangam (Anantnag) to Srinagar. The method to check this is simple; calculate how much volume of rainfall took place in 4 days of September 2014 and subtract the volume of water that River Jhelum carried in those 4 days and the volume of water retained in its flood plains from it. Let’s check this at Sangam for simplicity because whatever happens at upstream is followed by events downstream.
The rainfall from September 03-06, 2014 at Anantang = 402 mm, Kulgam = 540 mm, Shopian = 406 mm, Pulwama = 293 mm, let us assume 100 mm rainfall took place per day for 4 days and it took place only in the catchment above Sangam i.e. 4200 sq km (Total catchment of River Jhelum upto Srinagar is about 6200 sq km)
This excess volume of 484 MCM was the water which was flowing 1 to 1.5 m above the bund with the width of 2 to 3 km. This is about the same quantity of the water that Wullar Lake, the largest fresh water lake in Asia can retain (when it’s fully saturated). It was as if the entire Wullar Lake was poured over the Srinagar on September 07-08, 2014. If Kandizal was cut two hours earlier or two hours later or ever if it was cut on September 03, 2014, it would have made no difference.
Deliberate breaching is done in different parts of the world on many rivers to intentionally flood the less important infrastructure in order to protect the vital infrastructure but to do so the geography (topography) of the place must be in line with your plan. Our topography is such that we have mountains from left and right with some flat portion in the middle and a river flowing all along (just like a drain). If a lot of rainfall takes place like 2014 the entire thing gets filled with water (with water flowing 1 to 1.5 m above the bunds). This is why Kashmir has a long devastating history of floods and the areas truly resilient to floods are very litter. Even though huge and was available in low lying areas but habitation in the past dwelled in small clusters on high grounds like downtown Srinagar.
Another topic that is debated in safeguarding Srinagar is “the deliberate flooding of Dal Lake”. Dal Lake is about 20 Sq km in area and the level of water that can be safely increased in it is about 1 m (after that the habitation around Dal will begin to submerge). That puts the total volume that can be absorbed by Dal Lake at 20 MCM, against 484 MCM this 20 MCM will provide no protection.
Lastly, since last one year we are living with an illusion that dredging/desilting will be our ultimate saviour against floods, as the river is full of silt, and some are saying that silt up to a height of 9 feet is in Jhelum. This idea has reinforced in our minds because since February 2015 to August 2015 we witnessed constant high water levels in Jhelum with Jhelum levels crossing the flood declaration mark four times this year. The reason for this was not silt but regular rains since February to August. As per the IMD’s rainfall data from July 01, 2015 to August 15, 2015, J&K received 68 % excess rainfall over normal. Since August 15 we have received very little rains and the water level in Jhelum has dropped to 2 to 3 feet at most of the gauge recording sites. If the assumption of 9 feet of silt would have been correct, such low gauge reading couldn’t be recorded (because gauge plate would have been buried in silt). Dredging can increases the carrying capacity of Jhelum marginally and can provide protection against smaller magnitude floods. In no case can dredging provide any protection against 2014 like flood. It may increase the carrying capacity of Jhelum by 10%, from 60000 cusecs to 66000 cusecs but we will still be left with 474 MCM of excess flood water at Sangam, if faced with 2014 like situation.
It’s time for us to gauge the reality we are faced with and put our money where our mouth is. We as a community needs to educate ourselves about the topography we live in and the climatic conditions we are faced with e.g., the flood on September 23/24, 2015.The maximum rise of gauge level at Sangam in one hour was 2.00 ft during the flood of Sept 2014 (probably the highest up September 2015) but on Sept 23/24, 2015, the gauge at Sangam increases 3.20 ft in one hour. Not to mention, we had snow in upper reaches, ground was unsaturated (dry) and the water level in Jhelum was very low, still the water level at Sangam increased by a staggering 3.20 ft in just one hour.
The report on climate change by United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC-2013) &Indian National Network for Climate Change Assessment (INCCA) predicts that the rainfall intensity and duration to increase by 5-10 days in Himalayan region by 2030. Kashmir needs to prepare accordingly because such extreme climate changes combined with the role of our topography, have the potential to produce extreme floods that can result in incalculable losses. The mitigation measure to the flood threat to Kashmir doesn’t lie in dredging or breaching of Kandizal. It lies in correct coordinated corporation of different units of our community (Organisations).
Under the ambit of Indus Water Treaty – 1960 we are allowed to store about 900 MCM of flood waters in the tributaries (catchment) of the River Jhelum. This can be the easiest, cheapest and most effective method to mitigate floods. Other than that an addition channel from Sangam to Wullar Lake can also serve the purpose of flood mitigation but it will take long time to construct as land compensation is involved in it. Also the outflow from Wullar Lake needs to be calibrated with the addition inflow discharge not to mention the effect on downstream irrigational, flood control and electricity generational infrastructure needs to be analysed too.
The wetland conservation needs to be taken seriously, although they will not play any role in mitigation of floods at Sangam (there are no wetlands from Sangam to Srinagar) but at a localised level their conservation will help in the adsorption of flood water, thus flood resilience to the adjoining areas (of a wetland) will improve. Lastly, a new type of conservation is needed for mitigation of floods in valley that is the conservation of flood plains. Our flood plains from Sangam to Srinagar are getting filled at an unbelievable pace, this is mainly happening because of the new Expressway. Firstly, the new Expressway is criss-crossing through our flood plains and it is encroaching and dividing the flood plain. Secondly, unlike the railway line, this line will provide commercial benefits in future once vehicular traffic will start to ply over it. So the land owners around it are filling their lands in order to build shops, hotels etc. This activity will result in the reduction of in-flood water retention capacity of flood plains thus not only the south Kashmir region but Srinagar will also suffer extensive damage (higher than 2014), if faced with the similar magnitude of flood as September 2014.
The flood mitigation in Kashmir is a multi-prong process. In addition to construction of flood mitigation infrastructure, we need to plan our city in a proper manner and encourage the expansion of residential and commercial infrastructure (by way of multi-story buildings) in the areas resilient to floods. The common masses need to change their lifestyle. We build more than we need and best investment is considered as investment in land (property) even if it’s in low lying area. This thinking needs to be corrected.
Floods will visit us again and if we have truly learnt anything from our pervious mistakes, we have to make a collective effort to safeguard ourselves, or it will be a collective failure