The unabated removal of the forest cover and conversion of forest lands into agricultural fields has reduced the water retention capacity of the soil thereby increasing soil runoff
The looming threat of floods in Kashmir has been generating a lot of discussion.
Previously it would be during the months of September and October that floods were perceived a threat, but nowadays floods have become a mercurial occurrence.
There is concern, and the scramble is on to find answers. It is not the first time that the outcry has prompted need for preventive and protective measures and rewriting of policy issues. Changes in the climate patterns aside, it has been known and well documented that problems to a great extent lie in the diminishing vegetative cover of the landscape.
The unabated removal of the forest cover and conversion of forest lands into agricultural fields has reduced the water absorption/retention capacity of the soil thereby increasing soil runoff. Besides encroachments on drainage and waterways, the excessive soil runoff has significantly reduced their water carrying capacity, thus resulting in a spillover. Given the present scenario of economic boom and not-so-stable political situation, the ongoing detrimental trend will continue.
The demand for firewood, timber and more of agricultural land will always tempt individuals and the system to circumvent the rules, no matter the consequences.
Setting up agencies like Forest Protection Force and the likes, alongside drafting rules to prevent and punish timber smugglers and forest encroachers, as well as rewriting forest policy, may only solve the problem on paper. This temporary mollification may allow us to boast of changes, but the fact remains that nothing gets done or will get done. As long as there is need for firewood to cook food and to keep warm during harsh winter months my fellow Kashmiris will without hesitation venture into the nearest forest and satisfy their demand. The dearth and exorbitant price of timber will always prompt my fellow Kashmiris to seek alternate arrangement of cheaper and home delivered timber from illegal means. This has been the practice in our land no matter who drafts, mandates, and implements rules. There is a need, call it demand, and the only available source, call it supply, are the forests no matter how well you guard them. The arrangement worked till late with less serious ramifications, but now that the population has grown and keeps growing, the improved economic status will prompt the public to venture into satisfying their insatiable thirst for more firewood, timber, and agriculture land. Among other things, the valley in general will invariably see an increase in flash floods, leading to greater damage to the life and property.
In order to survive, Kashmiris will have to formulate and implement effective plans to ward off the looming crisis. The needs of our growing and affluent society will have to be met, but steps must be taken to ensure that we will successfully sustain and achieve preventive, protective and productive measures.
Back in 2007, as Managing Director State Forest Corporation, I had proposed to the government to provide cooking gas cylinders to households at a minimal cost, making it feasible and cost effective against firewood purchase. Similarly, I proposed import and sale of quality timbers from outside of the State/Country. A wide variety of sound quality timbers are readily available in the international markets at much cheaper rates thus making it economically viable and a better option versus illegally smuggled timber. All kinds of timber and firewood operations inside the forests were proposed to be put on moratorium for at least twenty years.
Doing so would have enabled us to declare designated forest areas as carbon reserves and thus receive enormous compensation (also known as carbon credits) from major international global industries. These credits would have more than offset our financial needs for making alternate arrangements for firewood, timber and other agricultural needs. As a matter of fact there would be more than enough to plan and execute other developmental needs. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. Now who amongst us will have the foresight to prevent a repetition of events and the eventual demise of our natural greenery? The carbon credits are still available in the international markets, all we need to do is to qualify for them.
(The author is on the Board of Parks and Recreation Department, League City Texas and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)