The 2014 Kashmir floods were a sign of things to come, Jalal Ud Din Baba writes and points out how water scarcity would increase in the day ahead
The two-thirds of human body is water. Beyond doubt after oxygen, water is the second precondition factor as a life-sustaining natural bounty on earth. If availability is interrupted or its scarcity is inevitable, should be a cause for concern and apprehension to one and all. Water inspires thought, respect and conservation besides judicious use. Every drop of water is going to become expensive than milk, holier than honey and precious than human blood in times to come.
From tiny creatures underneath to the mighty Himalayas, anything and everyone is dependent on water. Water is the most precious commodity on the earth but at the same time most vulnerable as well. Unwarranted use of water, pollution of water bodies and massive encroachment is becoming more and more alarming. It is said that in the coming times “wars will be fought over water”. To my mind, it has already begun. Water dispute as the tool of bargain, has already started, for instance between neighbouring countries India and Pakistan, even between two provinces Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Haryana, Delhi and Haryana. One needs to understand how precious water is going to become in times to come, with depleting resources so proper conservation is the only solution.
Kashmir, the multi-faceted vale, surrounded by the Himalayas from all sides, serves as a great source of water to our rivers, lakes, glaciers, streams and forests. The ancient Satisar, place of gushing streams and rivers, the habitat of the glacial troposphere, reservoir of freshwater lakes and wetlands, is no longer a reality, rather a stalk reality which everyone should ponder upon before it is too late and unforgivable. Times are not that far when the visitor’s paradise may turn into clamorous Mathura. Droughts, erratic weather, untimely rains and snowfall, forest fires and flooding are becoming a new reality. Climate change is real, on ground, altering the livelihood of ordinary people.
Kashmir the water bastion of Himalayas is in real trouble because of anthropologic interferences in natural ecosystem. Water sources are drying up thick and fast, the underground water table is deepening in reach, rivers are turning into drainage carriers, wetlands are alarmingly turning into paddy fields, apple orchards and human habitations.
Unfortunately, right now nobody is bothered about an uninviting situation where people will be facing a daunting task of irrigating agricultural fields. Valley known for its exquisite beauty, emerald meadows and dense forests may slowly turn like hotspots of mainland India where even the dirking water is a luxury of sorts.
Nevertheless, since decades humankind has pursued unending war with nature, in particular with earth, its water bodies, lakes, wetlands, rivers, streams and surrounding atmosphere, which in turn has caused enormous environmental complications besides miseries of mammoth penalties beyond human comprehension and resolve. Water has become the weapon of punishment, wars, diplomacy, disputes and bargaining besides well-organised corporate commercial merchandise with huge profitability. Political arm-twisting and its rationing is the new formulation and the mantra of governance and partisan ruling.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) recent report, Srinagar, the capital city of Jammu Kashmir has earned a rare distinction of being the 10th dirtiest city of the world out of 15 cities across the globe, although 14 other cities of India are sharing the honour of absurdity. There may be other numerous pitiful reasons to this ridiculous discrepancy but the major and weighty act is the water pollution from the length and breadth of Kashmir. Be that breathlessly gasping Wular lake in extreme north, shamelessly so-called glamorous Dal lake, repugnantly smelling Anchar lake, vilely looking Gilsar, or disgusting Babadem. Our lakes of existence, these water bodies have started to show their wrath and might with unimaginable costs and disastrous future.
Water the sustainer, under threat and plunder, has set the carbon emission footprint on earth’s biosphere to create greenhouse effect of monumental consequences across the continents regardless of socio-economical status, development and advancement in science and technology. Man may have reached the Moon and Mars but on the ground, his very survival is under danger of extinction. Rapidly growing cosmopolitan phenomenon, urbanisation is engulfing agriculture and grasslands, unabated industrial growth, fossil fuel powered traffic and transportation is playing havoc with the atmosphere; pollution, freshwater resources be it lakes, rivers, streams or glaciers are fading fast and turning biodiversity upside down, thus resulting in global warming and climate change with unprecedented consequences from Kashmir to Africa and Europe to Americas.
In Kashmir, the so-called Paradise on Earth, Switzerland and Venice of Asia, the waterfall of nature is no way unaffected. The changed lifestyle we are witnessing in Kashmir since last two to three decades are clear indications of the climate change. Our environmental behaviour has gone through drastic overturns be it our lakes and wetlands like Wular, Dal, Anchar, Highgam are turning like solid waste dumping sites or the alpine glacial reservoirs from Thaajwas to Kolahai, Sheshnag to Siachen are melting faster than anticipated by researchers and environment scientists with unforeseen disasters and calamities. The precipitation in the form of rains and snowfall in recent years has altered immensely. Erratic climate and unfavourable conditions have taken its toll on the ground with colossal cause and effect.
The alarming rate with which our water bodies are turning sewage dumping sites, sheer gutter of dirt and trash, there is hardly anything left unaffected for reclamation. Obnoxious and distastefully we live in these surroundings and it doesn’t evoke any outrage from us anymore. Conflict deadlocks, land grabbing, unabated encroachments, official treachery and brute corruption have blinded us beyond belief although the stalk and pressing reality is, we need these lifesaving water bodies more than anything else. Even the nuclear flashpoint Kashmir and conflict resolution may wait years and decades but preserving our environmental marvels is the only answer with us to rejuvenate and progress forward.
The ongoing yatra to Amarnath cave at a height of 14,000 feet above the sea level in Kashmir Himalayas is the toughest religious journey taken by humankind in the entire world to have a Darshan (seeing) of the Ice-Lingum (ice phallus of Lord Shiva). Hundreds of thousands of yatris annually brave the difficulties posed by the journey over difficult terrain, rocky and snowy mountains with inclement weather. The mountains are so high that scaling the Mount Everest seems an achievable feet. The heights are such that even an enemy would not dare to push you up there. But for the devotees and Kashmiri labour class Muslims, the height becomes the essence, gasping breaths turn into strength and exhaustion changes into accomplishment. Though a religious journey, the undertones are of humanity and compassion.
But then there is a paradox, as the yatra assumed political texture, only the number of the yatris pouring in mattered to the government and it touched 6 lakh in 2011 without consideration of the fact that the virgin routes through which the yatra occurs are not naturally suited to so much human presence. With the increasing numbers, the yatra period too got extended from one month to two months. The virgin glaciers, mountains, rivers, lakes and streams have started to diminish. The consequences of this human impact may not be gauged right now but in the longer run, there is a huge cost to be paid.
These Himalayan glaciers en route to the cave are no more to be seen any longer. Meltdown is thick and fast. Lifespan has got reduced to a mere five months. Hardly any glacier lasts long enough till the journey is over. They vanish by the middle of the yatra. People associated with the journey for more than 10 years are amazed and reasonless what is happening around them? What they were used to see earlier is the thing of the past. Thus the main freshwater sources of Kashmir from south to north are challenged.
Time is not so distant when these Himalayan giants will turn ugly and start to show their might and wrath, paving the way for coming battles in times ahead. Kashmir floods 2014 already played havoc with the people of Kashmir, inundating colonies and villages alike, raising entire habitations to the ground, shattering properties and commercial hubs, schools and hospitals, putting life out of gear for more than a month. Those were the signs and symptoms of environmental disaster we are headed for. And the nipping point is fast melting glaciers.
The recent warnings from SKUAST-K not to grow paddy in north Kashmir is an eye-opener for policymakers, researchers, scientists and civil society in general for retrospection and for taking retrospective majors to reclaim the lost glory the Valley is known to the world. Recent devastating forest fires from south to north Kashmir are an alarm regarding the incoming dangers we would be facing in years ahead.
India as the second populous country on the world with 1.3 billion people is facing its worst water crisis in the history. As per the recent NITI Ayog report, by 2029-30 around 600 million people will face high to extreme water shortage and about 200,000 people will die every year due to inadequate access to potable water. The water crisis will get worse, as India’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply. This means that hundreds of millions of people may face extreme water scarcity and India will suffer a whopping loss of 6 per cent of the GDP.
As far as Kashmir is concern, the erratic climate and wayward weather patterns are taking its toll on the livelihood of farmers from south to north. Climate change is turning a reality in practice rather just a catchy slogan. Kashmir, known for its snowy spectacle is its latest victim. The reasons are not difficult to find upon for this human-made catastrophe. At plains, human encroachments on lakes, water bodies, rivers and streams, and most of all, the wanton cutting of trees and deforestation of alpine jungles, fast fading glaciers in the backyard of Kashmir Himalayan range has started to show its might and wrath with unthinkable consequences. Despite the huge mountains, forests and glacial cover, Kashmir and its farming community are puffing for breath. Agrarian based economy is in great duress. The major commercial crops of valley cherry, paddy, almonds and saffron are feeling the heat right now and the next immediate victim might be the apple, the backbone of the State’s economy. Thus the conservation of water needs our absolute attention.
(The author is Kashmir-based an award-winning Green Filmmaker. His much-acclaimed documentary ‘Saving The Saviour’won the best film award at ‘We Are Water Foundation, Madrid, Spain’ where he delivered a key speech on ‘Water, Crisis and the Way Forward’)