Srinagar, Sep 26: In a dramatic shift for the region, Kashmir is grappling with the alarming consequences of climate change. The picturesque landscape of the Kashmir Valley, nestled between the Karakoram and Hindukush Himalayan ranges, is no longer shielded from the effects of global warming. Rising temperatures, prolonged heatwaves, and dwindling water resources have become the new normal, leaving residents and farmers struggling to adapt.
This unprecedented situation is exemplified by the receding waters of the Jhelum River, one of Kashmir’s major rivers. Currently, more than a dozen men are seen fishing from a small peninsula that has emerged along the Jhelum’s exposed riverbed. The Jhelum had previously swelled beyond its capacity due to excessive rainfall earlier this year, sparking fears of a repeat of the catastrophic floods experienced in 2014. However, the tables have turned as the region is now grappling with a heatwave that has sent temperatures soaring to levels not witnessed in over a century.
Jaivd Ahmad, a local resident expressed his amazement at the lowest water levels of the Jhelum he’s ever witnessed. “People are engaging in various activities on the exposed surface of the river that looked threatening a few months ago,” he said.
The absence of rainfall and the relentless heatwave have triggered severe water scarcity in many parts of the Kashmir Valley, even in some areas of the capital city, Srinagar. Residents have been forced to collect and consume contaminated water from streams, with some resorting to extensive filtering and boiling to make it potable. Despite pleas to the Jal Shakti Department, responsible for clean water supply, for assistance, the villagers’ cries for help have largely fallen on deaf ears.
Ashok Kumar Gandotra, chief engineer of the Jal Shakti Department, acknowledged the drinking water crisis and the drying up of water sources, including the Jhelum River. “People are facing a crisis. When there is a problem in the source, how can there be no problem?” he questioned, emphasizing the department’s efforts to supply water through tankers in areas with acute storage issues.
Environmentalists like Aijaz Rasool attribute the rising temperatures in the Himalayan region to climate change and global warming. Rasool highlighted that the Kashmir Valley recorded its second-hottest day for September in 132 years, with temperatures reaching 34.2 degrees Celsius on September 12, far above the typical range of 24 to 28 degrees Celsius for that month.
“Kashmir is located between two Himalayan ranges — the Karakoram and the Hindukush — both experiencing the impact of climate change and global warming,” Rasool explained. “Glaciers are melting, rivers and streams are drying up, and our water reservoirs are getting depleted. As a result, our valley is suffering on multiple fronts.”
Rasool urged both developed and developing countries to collaborate in combating climate change. The 2015 Paris Agreement set a goal to limit the increase of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but recent data from the United Nations World Meteorological Organization shows that temperatures between June and August of this year were the hottest ever recorded.
The effects of the heatwave are also crippling the horticultural and agricultural sectors, with cash crops like apples and saffron, vital to the region’s economy, being severely impacted. Bashir Ahmad, an apple trader and farmer, lamented the damage caused to his crops, as apples require a temperature range of 20 to 30 degrees Celsius to thrive. The prolonged heatwave has disrupted this delicate balance, leading to smaller fruit sizes and increased susceptibility to diseases like scab.
Sonam Lotus, director of the Meteorological Department of Jammu and Kashmir, offered some hope, indicating that relief from the heatwave is on the horizon. “The lower regions received rain recently, and we expect temperatures to decrease in the coming days,” he assured.
As Kashmir grapples with the harsh realities of climate change, the call for collective action to preserve its natural resources and mitigate its impact has never been more urgent.