Prolonged dry spell coupled with heat wave in Jammu and Kashmir clearly indicates how climate change is gradually affecting our fragile eco-system.
On September 12, 2023, Srinagar recorded Hottest September day’ in 53 years, at 34.2°C temperature.
On September 1, 1970. The all-time highest September temperature in the summer capital was recorded at 35 degrees Celsius on September 28, 1934.
On June 23, 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. High temperature coupled with low precipitation is having disastrous effects on eco-system in J&K.
Water level in rivers and water bodies is at lowest severely affecting flora and fauna. Water level in river Jhelum, which is considered to be the lifeline of J&K, has dipped to ground level. Level at Jhelum’s Sangam gauge has decreased to 0.09 feet and Ram Munshibagh to 2.15 feet. As per records these are lowest levels in the river in September. How can we forget how continuous rains in the first week of September 2014 caused devastating floods in Kashmir. From the flood prone, Kashmir has become drought prone. This must set the alarm bells ringing.
Indicators of climate change are gradually showing up. Kashmir 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.
Global heat waves have intensified wildfires in Canada and Hawaii and triggered intense heat in South America, Japan, Europe and the United States.
According to American space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Earth experienced the warmest June-August period on record this year. It was the hottest summer in the Northern Hemisphere and warmest winter in the Southern Hemisphere.
NASA states that the months of June, July, and August were 0.23 degrees Celsius warmer than any previous summer in NASA's record and 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than the average summer between 1951 and 1980.
Greenhouse gas emissions have been identified as a major trigger behind climate change and the worldwide warming trend that resulted in such a sweltering summer.
Till a few decades ago, J&K was not facing the effects of global warming and climate change. But haphazard development especially in eco-fragile areas has disturbed J&K’s unique environment.
There has been over 80 percent rainfall deficit recorded in Kashmir particularly in Srinagar in August this year. India Meteorological Department states that Srinagar district was severely dry with a Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) value of -1.73.
Srinagar is bearing the brunt of climate change. As per Climate Resilient City Action Plan (CRCAP) for Srinagar City, GreenHouse Emissions of Srinagar city have increased at an estimated CAGRof~0.96% from 591.67 kilotons of CO2 equivalent (ktCO2 e) in 2005 to 676.09 kt CO2 e. Emissions from the energy sector increased from 479.51 kt CO2 e in 2005 to 538.14 kt CO2 e.
Besides, emissions from the waste sector increased from 67.11 kt CO2 e in 2005 to 108.77 kt CO2 e respectively. As per projections, the Energy sector will be the key driver of emissions in the city, accounting for ~78% of the total GHG emissions in 2030.
Heat waves and scanty precipitation have triggered rapid melting of glaciers and snow cover. There is an acute shortage of drinking water in Kashmir including Srinagar. This is an unimaginable situation to have water scarcity in a place like Kashmir which has abundant glaciers and water resources. Glaciers are retreating fast.
Kolahoi, the largest glacier of Kashmir valley’s Jhelum Basin, is melting rapidly due to a spurt in temperature triggered by global warming and extreme pollution.
Kolahoi Glacier has lost almost 23 percent of its area since 1962 and has fragmented into smaller parts. In the last over a decade, the average mass balance of the glacier has increased recently and it is losing mass at the rate of about 1.0 m water equivalent annually— which is significantly higher than the glaciers in the rest of the Himalayas.
Thajiwas, Hoksar, Nehnar, Shishram, and glaciers around Harmukh are too retreating. Experts fear that mass loss of glaciers is expected to exacerbate in future as a result of projected climate changes. Subsequently this will further diminish the stream flow of trans-boundary rivers emanating from the region. The problem is compounded by below-normal snowfall during last winter accompanied by high winter temperatures.
We have to understand that Kashmir valley is bound by Pir Panjal and Greater Himalayan mountain ranges and these do not allow air masses to find an escape route.
Temperature inversion in late Autumn and Winter restricts vertical mixing of air and triggers build-up of haze primarily comprising dust (PM10 and PM2.5) and smoke (black carbon). It is alarming that the PM2.5 concentration in Srinagar’s air on January 9 this year was 28.2 µg/m³, which is 5.6 times over the World Health Organisation’s air quality values.
Who is responsible for this situation? It is rulers and people. We have failed to prevent vandalisation of water bodies, wetlands, forests, mountains and glaciers. We are undertaking constructions and increasing human activities in eco-fragile zones.
There is no concept of sustainable development in J&K.
Little do we realise how climate change is spreading its tentacles on J&K. Due to high temperatures and prolonged dry spell, our food, energy, and water security is under severe threat.
We need to learn lessons about how developed nations are struggling due to climate change. Damage done to the environment is irreparable. There is a need to undertake massive plantations, minimise pollution and emission from industries, cement plants, brick kilns and vehicles.
We can only prevent further damage by mitigation and eco-friendly measures. As our ancestors did, we are duty bound to preserve the environment for our future generations.
Author is Executive Editor, Greater Kashmir