Owing to its unique topography, Jammu and Kashmir is prone to natural disasters. It has a history of earthquakes, floods, landslides and an off-late erratic climate.
Environmentalists believe that most of these natural disasters are triggered by haphazard developmental activities and vandalisation of our natural resources including water bodies, orchards, agricultural fields, mountains and forests. Increased human activities are also responsible for rapid melting of glaciers in J&K.
We have seen that how haphazard execution of developmental projects disturb fragile eco-system. But we are not learning lessons. We are not having any mercy on nature. In return, nature too reciprocates in the form of natural disasters.
On September 7, 2014, massive flow of water from higher reaches following heavy rainfall led to overflow in Jhelum, Chenab, and Tawi basins causing devastating floods in J&K. As per estimates flood water measuring about 120,000 cusecs had in 2014 floods surpassed the carrying capacity of Jhelum by five times.
Flash floods in Jammu division had also caused massive destruction. More than natural, environmentalists blame man-made reasons for floods. In absence of regulation, wanton constructions in flood plains of Jhelum have taken place in the last several decades.
Wetlands on the left and right of Jhelum acted as reservoirs of the floodwaters. However, in the last five decades, most of the wetlands have lost their carrying capacity mainly due to conversion into agriculture land or concrete landscape.
Ecologically important wetlands in the Jhelum floodplains like Hokersar, Bemina wetland, Narakara wetland, Batamaloo numbal, Rakh-e-arth, Anchar lake and Gilsar have been degraded due to rapid encroachment and urbanisation. Deterioration of wetlands has affected their capacity to absorb flood water.
Unscrupulous people don’t spare even flood channels and wetlands which can save us from floods. But we act as mute spectators. Aren’t we responsible for floods?
Similarly haphazard constructions in fragile zones pose risk to lives and property. The Srinagar-Jammu National Highway frequently gets closed due to landslides, especially in Ramban district. Experts mince no words to blame haphazard constructions and use of heavy machines on the highway for recurring landslides.
Despite falling under the high seismic Zones IV and V making J&K vulnerable to earthquakes, constructions are being undertaken in fragile areas. We forgot how a powerful 7.6 magnitude earthquake rattled J&K on October 8, 2005, causing massive destruction in the region.
Doda has emerged as one of the most eco-fragile areas in J&K due to its unique geoclimatic conditions. It is prone to earthquakes and witnessed nine temblors within 60 hours in August last year.
Several developmental projects are underway in the mountainous Doda district. Chenab Valley housing huge dams on Chenab including Dul Hasti in Kishtwar, Baglihar in Ramban, is prone to natural disasters.
There are several hydropower projects in the Chenab region. It is imperative that stringent policy guidelines are formulated and implemented to minimise damage to the fragile environment.
The vulnerability of the geologically young unstable and fragile rocks of the district has increased many times in the recent past due to various unscientific developmental activities. Deforestation, unscientific road construction and terracing, and encroachment on steep hill slopes have increased the intensity of the landslides.
During the ongoing four-lane Srinagar-Baramulla-Uri highway project, many apples and popular trees, which fall under the road alignment, are being felled. The famous tree-line on both sides of Srinagar-Baramulla highway was one of the major tourist attractions.
Development is mandatory and so is expansion of roads to cater to huge traffic flow. The point is that road projects must be formulated in such a way to ensure minimum disturbance to trees. Authorities should have explored ways to make these trees part of the road network.
It would have been a percent example of sustainable development. We lost hundreds of trees during construction of various road projects. We have to understand that it takes years for trees to grow and these are important part of our eco-system.
Loss of trees cannot be compensated and it is irreparable damage to our environment.
Over the years, we have been facing an erratic climate in J&K. The valley has been witnessing heavy spells of snow in winter. In March and April this year, Kashmir received incessant spells of rain and suddenly in June, there was dry spell amid scorching temperatures.
On June 23 this year, Srinagar recorded its hottest June day after 18 years at 35.0 degree Celsius. This matches the previous record set on June 3, 2018, when the temperature also reached 35.0°C. Famous hill station Pahalgam in south Kashmir recorded 30.2 degree Celsius, the second highest maximum temperature in June in 15 years.
This month, we experienced a strong heat wave. These are stark indicators of climate change. We have lost the majority of snow cover and glaciers including Kolahai, Thajiwas, Hoksar, Nehnar and Shishram, are also retreating slowly.
Glaciologists on the basis of studies state that during the last few years, glacier melting in Kashmir and Ladakh region has been highest as compared to the rest of the Himalaya and the Alps.
Though the Union Environment Ministry earlier this year formulated Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in the aftermath of Joshimath crisis in Uttarakhand where thousands of people have been rendered homeless due to cracks in their houses following caving in of the foundations.
J&K government too stated that it will implement the SOP on mandatory disaster management plans, risk assessment and eco-fragility studies in development projects especially construction of highways, roads and tunnels within 100 km of the International Border (IB) or the Line of Control (LoC). But the SOP must apply to the whole J&K.
In view of massive damage to our forests nearly three decades ago, there is a need to go for massive plantations. Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently rightly stated that environmental protection was possible only by planting trees.
“A tree planted today would provide oxygen to many future generations. Increasing pollution, the ozone layer was being damaged, and as a result, in the future, solar rays would directly impact the Earth, due to which the Earth would not remain safe for human life.
The only way to prevent such a scenario was by planting as many trees as possible and reducing the emission of carbon dioxide,” the Home Minister stated.
There is dire need for sustainable development. It is not that late. By ensuring Environment Impact Assessment before executing projects, at least we can prevent further damage to our environment.
The author is Executive Editor, Greater Kashmir