Who will save Kashmir from floods?

Jhelum River near Zero Bridge in Srinagar today afternoon. Photograph by Omair Bhat

The 24-hour rainfall was enough to bring low-lying areas in Kashmir to their knees. People complained that authorities have failed to learn the lessons from the 2014 floods.

Residents of many areas in valley especially in south Kashmir told Kashmir News Service (KNS) that they have been regularly complaining to the authorities to take measures that could safeguard the valley from the destruction that is brought by floods, but they never pay any heed. “In Just two days of rain, see our condition. What if it rains harder in the days to come”? Abid a resident of Anantnag questioned.

After the devastation of the 2014 floods, the government belatedly woke to the need to dredge the river and the flood channel. These had filled with silt over many years.
Dredging contracts were negotiated through the summer of 2015, and finally awarded to a private company in autumn that year. For some reason, only some stretches were designated for dredging. Even on those, work has been painfully slow.

Governor NN Vohra had realized the urgency of the matter when the state was under Governor’s Rule two year ago. After inspecting the dredging operations, he ordered officials to keep regular tabs on the progress of the work. However, Governor’s Rule soon ended, the previous coalition government lost thought and did nothing in this regard.

Sources said that merely few inches of dredging has been done after 2014, when the floods had brought huge additional silt.

Officials said that the least the present government can do now is make arrangements for efficient evacuation and rescue, just in case a flood does recur.

The Jhelum River on September 5, in full wrath burst through embankments submerging everything that came in its way roads, streets, buildings. The Tawi River in Jammu region showed no mercy either. The floods spared no one and resulted in massive casualties in the state besides a colossal loss to property.

People said that more than four year has passed since the floods that claimed lost of huge lives but no lessons seem to have been learnt. “What emerges is a familiar story of agencies failing to communicate, a lack of planning and awareness and the incompetence to tackle such disasters,” said Mohammad Aslam a resident of Padshabagh.

He said now it is high time for the government, both state and central, to work on proper counter mechanisms for such disasters. “One work the government needs to undertake and that would greatly reduce the flood threat, especially to the capital, is massive systematic dredging of the Jhelum downstream from Srinagar,” he suggested.

Scientific dredging of the Jhelum downstream from Srinagar as well as the Wular and river basin wetlands will significantly reduce Kashmir’s vulnerability to moderate floods discharging up to 60,000 cusecs.

Experts believe that the much-talked about “alternate option” of a flood channel from Dogripora in South Kashmir to the Wular in the north needs to be evaluated as well, keeping in view the flat topography of the terrain, holding capacity of the Wular and feasibility of draining some 50,000 cusecs into an alternate channel.

The floodwater in 2014 submerged over 600 square km of land, rising up to 25 feet at some places. In Srinagar, vast areas remained, on an average, under eight feet of water for over a week. The Jhelum overflowed by 3-5 feet, breaching its embankments. As a result, great loss was caused to life and property.

People said that ideally, in the aftermath of the disaster, introspection should have been done at every level government, public, individual about what went wrong in 2014 so as to develop a mitigation plan for future, but nothing of the sort happened. “Such a process has not even been initiated at the level of the state in the past three and a half years. And save for a few measures aimed at increasing the drainage capacity of the Jhelum, no concerted effort has been made to devise a strategy for minimizing flood risk to people and infrastructure, especially in the Jhelum basin,” Shabir Ahmad a resident of Bemina told KNS.

Soon after the 2014 flood, a distinguished group of 40 experts and professionals drawn from various state and central agencies, academia and civil society met and deliberated the “flood problem” in Kashmir over two days. The fruit of the group’s labour was a comprehensive strategy for flood risk reduction.
One of the key recommendations was dredging of the Jhelum and its flood spill channel. Indeed, various major flood alerts have been sounded since 2014. Fortunately, none turned into a deluge.

However one of the senior leaders of the PDP told KNS that since 2014, the government had taken some engineering measures including patch dredging of the Jhelum and its flood channel, restoration of the breached embankments, repair of damaged irrigation infrastructure in the basin.

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