The Kashmir Walla spoke with Shakil Ahmad Romshoo, Professor, Department of Earth Sciences and Head Geoinformatics, University of Kashmir, about the impact of worsening climate change situation across the world on Kashmir’s agriculture, air, water bodies and glaciers, and the continuous talks of industrialization.
What is the impact of climate change on Kashmir?
If we ask our grandparents, they will say that one foot or two feet of snow in the month of Chillai Kalaan was very common, but nowadays we have sunny days.
We may have snowless chillai kalaan, like 2015 and 2016, in Srinagar. We may have a year when we receive snow as early as in November and the other times, we may have snowless chillai kalaan. During the time of our parents and grandparents, there was a predictability that winters are going to be cold and summers are going to be hot but now we are not able to predict and that is climate change.
Climate change has an encompassing effect on every sector of the economy and every aspect of human life. In 2018 and 2019, there was an untimely snowfall in November, and there was a loss of millions to the horticulture sector. So, there was a huge impact on the economy. Another aspect of climate change occurred in 2014, in the shape of floods. Usually, September is a dry season in Kashmir but we received 620 mm rain. In Srinagar, the flood depth was up to nineteen feet.
The most important resource for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh is water. We have estimated that we have a hydropower potential of 25,000 megawatts but we are unable to harness electricity from water. Our glaciers, snow, and water resources are declining and these are our most important resources. These are all impacts of climate change.
How has it impacted our glaciers and water bodies?
The increase in temperature is an indicator of the impact of climate change. We have a metrology history of 132 years, starting from 1886. If you look at that, the minimum and maximum temperature in chillai kalaan, on an average, has increased and this affects the glaciers. There is an increase in the temperature and our glaciers are melting. Our water levels in lakes and rivers have decreased, but still, 85 percent of our water bodies are used by Pakistan for agriculture. We still don’t have any water scarcity in Kashmir but we might face that in the future.
We can say that north Kashmir is facing water problems due to climate change but if we talk about Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh as a whole, there hasn’t been much impact because of climate change. There is an impact but that is very minute as of now. If there is water scarcity in Kashmir, I will say, it would be because of our improper water management. Our engineers have not made such infrastructure that we receive water 24/7.
We call this region the water tower of Asia. So, people sitting on a water tower should not have water problems. Sindh and Karachi in Pakistan are using our water but they receive water only twice a week, so maybe after 100 years we will be facing the same problem, but for the next fifty years, we won’t be facing any such problems.
How has climate change affected air quality and agriculture in Kashmir?
Our air quality is very bad. In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that Srinagar is one of the dirtiest cities in the world in air quality. Nowadays, in autumn and winter, our air is very cloudy and that is because we use charcoal or wood heaters in homes and offices. This emits particulate matter. In the same manner, our horticulture has been affected as well. There is a burning of fallen leaves and twigs. At the same time, there are clouds which means that the pollutants can’t escape the atmosphere. That is why air quality is poor during autumn and winter but improves during summer and spring.
There is talk of industrialization in Kashmir, do you think this will adversely affect the environment?
Wherever the industry is set up, be it any place in the world, it has its own environmental costs. They are not good for the environment. But we have certain guidelines. The Environmental Protection Act (EPA) says that clearance has to be taken before setting up any industry. Before building any infrastructural project, even roads, the impact on the environment is assessed first. There are articles and news circulating today about river mining or sand mining. But gravel or sand also can’t be extracted unless clearance is given after assessing its impact on aquatic life and other things. The government has to go for environmentally friendly industrialization. That is the need of the hour. Government has to take care as our environment is fragile.
What measures can be taken in the short term?
There is a lot that can be done. For example, take a look at Srinagar city, there is a rise in the number of vehicles. There should have been efficient public transport provided by the government. If we want to decrease air pollution, then we should have an effective public transport system. If people are burning leaves and twigs, they should convert them into wood pellets, like it is done in America and European countries and our hammam needs wood pellets. You have to look for environmentally friendly technology. Waste management, afforestation, the building of the national highway, all should be done according to environmental planning.