Kashmir floods – a story of destroyed ecology

New Delhi, September 16, 2014

The ravaging Kashmir floods have another story to tell — devastation of local ecology and natural water system by unplanned development for political reasons. Half of the Srinagar’s water-bodies have been lost and the natural linkages waterways cease to exist.

A research paper by Humayan Rashid and Gowhar Naseem of Jammu and Kashmir Remote Sensing Centre found that over 9,000 hectares of water bodies and marshy land was lost due to encroachment and unplanned development between 1911 and 2004.

In 1911, around 13,425 hectares of land was marshy and 4,000 hectares was occupied by water-bodies. A stark change was visible in 2004 with marshy land being just 6,407 hectares and water-bodies occupying 3,065 hectares. The land lost was taken over by infrastructure including roads and buildings very close to river Jhelum, which had caused massive floods in Srinagar valley last week.

The study based on comparison of satellite mapping of 2004 with the ground study in 1911 said the expansion of the city had not only been at the cost of productive crop land and orchard but at a large number of water-bodies and marshy land.

Except Dal, all other lakes in the city are degraded, the study said. A Comptroller and Auditor General’s report said that Dal’s lake water area is half of its original because of pollution and encroachment. Half of 314 square kms of catchment area of Dal lake is prone to soil erosion because of loss in the forest cover.

Rashid and Naseem’s study presented at World Lake Conference in 2008 also said that the city of Srinagar was facing problem of drainage as these lakes used to act as sponges for floods. With most of them vanishing, the city was facing problems of floods from rainfall for three or four days because of excess water flow in river Jhelum. 

Loss of water bodies had its bearing on local micro-climate with the mean temperature in summers rising to 39.5 degree Celsius in 2006 as compared to 35.5 degree Celsius in 1973, the study said.

"Srinagar has lost all but one water body and it has been because of some ill-advised urban planning," said Salim Beigh, member of the National Monument Authority at a seminar in Press Club of India. "The government needs to restore the flood plains and rejuvenate water ways to act as cushions for floods".

That’s not all.

The Kashmir region had recorded a huge loss of forest since 1992. Comparison of forest survey reports for the period show that the valley lost about 10% of its dense forest cover during the period indicating that ability of forests to retain water has been reduced. It meant more rain water flowed directly into Jhelum river causing flooding.

In 1992, the weather department’s report showed that there was almost same amount of rainfall but the water quantity in Jhelum river was about 30,000 cusecs less.

And it was primarily because of better quality forests and water channels to remove excess water from the river, experts said.