I woke up to bone-chilling temperatures on a cold January morning this year and looked outside the window, to realise that Srinagar was covered by a thick blanket of snow.
There was no electricity for the heating equipment to work; no water as the pipelines were frozen. The only protection left was a pheran (a traditional outfit made of wool) and a kangri (a small pot filled with charcoal used for keeping warm).
It ended up becoming a four-day-long spell of heavy snowfall, and it was soon declared a state-specific natural calamity under the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) norms. The Jammu-Srinagar highway, the only road that connects Kashmir with the country, was shut off for seven days. Airport operations were also suspended during this period.
The change in weather patterns is a part of climate change that can be seen in Kashmir. It leads to the disruption of the lives of Kashmiri people, impacts local businesses, and damages the agricultural crops of the valley. An increase in natural disasters is another part of climate change, recently witnessed in the form of the Kashmir floods of 2014.
Moreover, in 2016, the State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC) stated that Kashmir had witnessed a rise in temperature of 1.45°C over the last two decades. This rise in temperatures is melting the glaciers of Kashmir, which might lead to a scarcity of water and a decrease in crop productivity in the coming years.
An impact of climate change on the tribal and nomadic communities of the region is the increased risk during their migration due to the rise in landslides and cloudbursts and increase of invasive species, which is affecting them, as their flocks are getting sick and dying of idiopathic (diseases of unknown origins) causes.
Environment and development are always at odds in places of great tourist interest like Kashmir. This conflict has worsened since the removal of Article 370 and the central government taking over the politics of Kashmir.
As Anmol Ohri, founding director of environmental organisation, Climate Front, said, “Central authorities don’t have to live here. Their priority will always be development, not sustainable development.”
The new land laws of Kashmir give complete control of the land to the central government, which means that the locals have no safety nets in the form of state laws or local politicians having a say in what happens to the land.
Under these laws, agricultural lands can be sold to a non-agriculturist by an authorised officer. This will have serious implications on the farming community as well as the environment of Kashmir like change in soil pattern and decrease in the quality of agricultural produce.
Under these new laws, the government has allowed the armed forces to take over land in Kashmir after declaring it as “strategic”. Once the land is taken over, all decisions regarding construction and use of the land are taken away from the local authorities.
This is bound to place the ecosystem in danger because of the clearance of forest cover and unchecked development on fragile land.
Ohri summed up the situation by saying, “Exploitation has been normalised by the media and the people in power.” This can be seen via the “development-oriented” acts and laws passed by the Indian government in Kashmir.
They will lead to increased loss of forest cover, change in soil pattern and damage to agricultural produce, and increased natural disasters like floods and landslides.
A research conducted by Shakil Romshoo and others, on the “implications of glacier shrinkage under climate change on the streamflow of Lidder catchment in the upper Indus basin”, showed that due to a rise in average temperature, the glacier surface area in the basin is depleting at a rapid rate.
This is causing the proportion of snow to decrease and rainfall to increase, which leads to a change in weather patterns. As the glacial surface area keeps decreasing, it causes a decrease in stream flow which is predominantly fed by snow and the melting of glaciers.
Professor Romshoo wrote in the paper: “The declining stream flows have the potential to adversely affect agriculture, energy production, tourism and even domestic water supplies.”
Global warming in Kashmir is leading to the rapid melting of glacier mass, which is an important part of the ecosystem. Melting of glaciers is causing significant change in weather patterns, flash floods and agricultural damage.
Kashmir has also seen a rise in invasive plant species due to global warming. Afreen Faridi, an expert on the tribes of Kashmir said, “These are weeds that are eaten by the flock, which causes poisoning and it can lead to death in some cases,” as we discussed this aspect of climate change in Kashmir and its impacts on the tribal communities here.
Another impact is the decreased quality of pastures due to increased temperature, which leads to decline in the quality of wool and meat. Faridi also mentioned “freak weather patterns and natural disasters” such as cloud bursts and flash floods, that harm both the flock and the nomads during their migration.
These are just some of the factors under climate change that impacts the ecosystem of Kashmir. A state that is constantly under political turmoil is now battling another monster i.e. rapid climate change.
I am sure that most of you understand that clearing of the forest cover, control over the agricultural land and the uncontrolled industrialisation in Kashmir, is done under the pretext of “development”.
To start a journey towards sustainable development we need to rethink the meaning of development and its characteristics. Policy and lawmakers need to switch from the current, linear, economic model to a circular, economic model.
The linear model primarily focuses on taking a natural resource and turning it into a product, that is ultimately destined to become waste because of the way it has been designed. On the other hand, the circular model focuses on manufacturing products that are reusable.
Circular economy is a system that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.
To quote Ohri, “We are not against development, we just want the development to be sustainable, so that people living here are not impacted adversely.”