Kashmir is facing terrible climate change!

The crude Chila-i-Kalan left without a flake of snow, I mean the type that counts. This phenomenon of dry Chila-i-Kalan might actually point to a disturbing, and a looming reality of climate change that engulfs the valley. For a few decades now, the Kashmir valley is gradually showing signs of change in its climate patterns. It is witnessing snowless ‘Chilla-i-Kalans’ for many years now. According to many scientists and experts, if such a trend continues in future, it will have serious ramifications for the valley. The scientists also say climate change is hitting the region very hard and is causing  unstable weather patterns. The director of the meteorological department in Kashmir, Sonam Lotus says that there is a major shift in weather phenomena in the Kashmir Valley. Kashmir is getting more snowfall in the month of February and March now, while earlier, it used to be in the month of January. The volume of rainfall has also increased considerably.

The valley of Kashmir in future will witness extreme weather conditions such as excessive rain, wintry summer, rising winter temperature, increasing hailstorms and cloudbursts. Sonam Lotus further pointing to this problem says that the prevailing dry weather in the month of January is a cause of concern. Last year, too, there was no major snowfall in the month of January. Normally, there is 56 millimeter of precipitation in January, enough for a good snowfall, but like the previous year, this year too, January remained dry. We see climate change as a global phenomenon, but it is also visible here in Kashmir.

Though decreasing precipitation is not the only cause of worry here, rising temperatures in the region are an equally humongous concern. An international organization, ActionAid has in its climate change report on Kashmir stated that temperatures on an average in the Kashmir region have shown a rise of 1.45 celsius while in the Jammu region the rise is 2.32 celsius. The Indian meteorological department’s monitoring testifies that temperatures are increasing in both Jammu region and the Kashmir valley, with a significant increase in maximum temperature of 0.05 degrees celsius per year.

The rising temperatures in these regions could directly affect the snow and glacial cover of mountains. A prominent climatologist Shakil Romshoo  said  that the mountainous regions are generally more susceptible to the climate change impacts, and climate change is going to affect every aspect of the environment; social and economics systems.The increased temperatures and changing rainfall patterns could adversely hit many climate-sensitive sectors of the economy like agriculture, tourism and forestry which is the basis of livelihood, for a large number of people. The adverse impact on water availability due to the recession of glaciers, decrease in rainfall and increased flooding in certain pockets threatens food security, extinction of natural ecosystems and species that sustain the rural livelihoods. The scarcity of water can further escalate the political turmoil in the Kashmir region as it has ramifications for millions of people of Pakistan who depend on Kashmir for water.

Unlike the Eastern Himalayan rivers such as the Brahmaputra, which are mainly rain-fed, most of the water that goes to the Indus river comes from snowmelt, which includes glacial melt. According to many studies, global warming-induced changes in climate patterns have adversely affected, among others, snowmelt runoff patterns. The executive director of Global Change Impacts Studies Centre in Pakistan, Dr Irshad Muhammad Khan says

The Indus water system is the lifeline for Pakistan, as 75 to 80 percent of water flows to Pakistan as melt from the Himalayan glaciers. This glacier melt forms the backbone of irrigation network in Pakistan, with 90 percent of agricultural land being fed by the vastly spread irrigation network in Pakistan, one of the largest in the world. Also any disruption of water flow would cause a grave impact on agriculture produce in Pakistan.

Dr. Parvez Amir, a senior economist also notes that until now, the Indus Water Treaty has worked well, but the impact of climate change would test the sanctity of this treaty. Under the treaty signed in 1960, the two countries also share five tributaries of the Indus river, namely, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. The agreement grants Pakistan exclusive rights over waters of the Indus and its westward-flowing tributaries, the Jhelum, and Chenab, while the Ravi, Beas. and Sutlej rivers were allocated to India. Dr. Amir further says that it is not only the matter of Indus water treaty between India and Pakistan, but also the water-sharing treaties elsewhere in the world such as those in the Middle East that also face a severe threat of climate change. Adding to that, Prof. Sultan of Kashmir University also says transboundary water sharing between India and Pakistan will become an extremely difficult proposition as surface water would become a scarce commodity with the depletion of water reserves up in the mountains.

These observations have led the Washington D.C based Rockefeller foundation to predict a “water war” between India and Pakistan by 2027. Thus, climate change is going to have a myriad of serious ramifications for the Kashmir valley. Not much is being done by the powers to tackle this issue. Jammu and Kashmir state, being a mountainous region, needs micro-level scientific assessment at the district and village levels for effective planning and implementation of measures to combat climate change. For proper understanding and recording the local specific changes in climate, existing institutions and the available expertise must be involved since climate change is a multi-disciplinary and multifaceted subject.

In order to combat the imminent disaster of climate change, Prof. Romshoo argues that through checking pollution levels, relentless afforestation and diminishing use of fossil fuels, we can save the valley.  If these measures are not taken to mitigate the impact of climate change on Kashmir, it is surely headed towards a disaster.

(The author is a Major in Accounting, and he writes under the nom de plume, Alan Wilson Watts)

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