Climate Change in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh

Dr. Seema Mehra Parihar
Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh are very pivotal in estimating climate change phenomena in India. Presently, climate change has become a real and more prominent challenge to human survival in Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir region. Theoretically, climate change in a region can be observed by the study of temperature and precipitation. Seeing the temperature variation in Jammu region, it is to be seen that the decadal temperature change is varying at the rate of 0.3 to 0.6 degree Celsius per decade and in Kashmir valley the rate of temperature variation is from 4 to 5 degree per Celsius per decade. Similarly, the temperature of Leh has seen rise of temperature at the rate of 1.6 degree per Celsius. The temperature in the winter season is higher than that a decade before. A trend has also been observed that the maximum temperature has increased to a greater extent than the increase in minimum temperature.
The aspect of climate change was first addressed by UN General Assembly in 1988, at that time UN considered it as purely environment concerns that can be managed through mutual cooperation and aid, the climate change was thought of as an environment issue similar to that of pollution. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) got conveyed by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) this body was to see the danger which climate change has created for the world, it was to assess the threat due to climate change on humankind. The body came out with its first report in 1990. The report saw climate change as a global threat that has long term impacts. It also called for action against such potential threat to humankind. This lead to the formation of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which got espoused in 1992 at the Rio de Janerio Summit, this summit is also called Earth Summit. Agenda 21 was set during this summit; these agendas draw a clear connection between development and climate change. Development thus came into the discourse of climate change.
Millennium Development Goal was set up in 2001 that brought the connection between poverty and climate change, it declared that climate change has been an obstacle toward development and poverty reduction. After this some NGOs came into picture who said that there should be participation of industrials in order to mitigate the threat. This was done by some positive measures suggested to the industries. World Bank and other such financing institution started to perform a test before a project is passed for implementation, this came to be known as climate proofing.
Considering the case of precipitation we observe that the annual rainfall has decreased both in J&K and Ladakh. Besides this, daily rainfall has also been decreasing. The daily range of rainfall in Jammu region has been decreasing in a kharif season from 2 to 6 mm but the decrease in kharif crop have not been seen any fixed change. In comparison to this the Kashmir region has worse conditions. The global warming and its impact had started in the late 1960s and have been effectively decreasing the cold desert type of climate of the Himalayas. There are lots of testimony of the elders in the valley who complains that decades before the winter were more severe and the snowfall more intense. Many have also noted the change in precipitation type from snow to rain in certain regions.
Huge mountain range on the northern boundary of North India is the cause for western disturbance which is the cause for precipitation in the region but the change in the snow content have change the precipitation level. The glaciers which have been shrinking in the region caused the loss of fertility in the plains, leading into less per acre production. Srinagar is witnessing the higher carbon emission due to air pollution; the intensity of pollution is of the level of Delhi.
“The snowfall have decreased considerably since the last decade in the valley, it has been common complain of the tourists that the snowfall has been decreasing.” says Nilza Wangmo, the founder of Alichi Kitchen in Alichi, Ladakh and Nari Shakti Puruskar Awardee.
Accordingly, development cannot be painted in one brush when it comes to climate change. Development is the qualitative change in the material conditions of human coming that comes directly from the human nature interaction. This interaction with nature brings quantitative change in the living conditions of human. The change so produced is the basis for any qualitative change which then can be called development. Thus any sort of development which human achieves at any particular set of time and space is the result of its interaction with nature. The idea to delink development form nature is the tool to make development above the concerns of environment protection. There is a whole process to make environment as a separate concern having a separate set of agenda for manoeuvring the irregularities in it.
The Ice Stupas in Ladakh are an ingenious idea to build artificial glaciers at lower altitudes using pipes, gravity and ice to combat climate change and water crisis. “This idea crystallised in my mind when I was crossing a bridge in the Himalayas. Now Ice Stupas are a major tourist attraction in Ladakh and many visitors also enjoy the restaurants”, says Sonam Wangchuk, the innovator of Ice Stupas.
Rakesh Kumar, from Human Organisation for Patronisation of Environment (HOPE) NGO in Rajouri has been a pioneering installer of Watermills at the waterfalls locally known as Chambs says that “Due to climate change, the volume of water in the waterfalls has increased and also caused flooding to seasonal rivers. We had to lose two watermills due to this changing climate. These are the new challenges that we are facing nowadays when we install watermills”
These perceptions from local entrepreneurs and NGOs view development has got threatened by climate change and hence it needs to be fixed. Therefore they don’t want to put a question mark on the development process. But the fact remains that only in the present mode of development we the human have entered into such a serious existential threat. So any discussion on the climate change cannot evade the questions on development process.
Following are the major sources of climate change that came up from the development projects in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh:-
Tourism: Tourism as an industry has impacted the ecology in its own ways. The region of Jammu and Kashmir has regularly been portrayed by the state as the most desired tourist destination. This depiction is particularly based on the pictography of water landscape. Mass pressure on the land due to tourism industry has depleted water resources. Along with that air and land pollution have degraded the ecosystem of the region to a considerable extent.
“I was in Leh in 2000 as a tourist with my colleague Mr. Sanjeev Grewal, Professor from St. Stephens College, Delhi and recently when we were here again we had to travel a longer route on the camels to see the ice clad mountains” , says Dr. Premendra Kumar Parihar, Dyal Singh College, University of Delhi.
Urbanization: There has been a rapid urbanization in the region. The developments of urban infrastructures in the recent decades have gone above the limits. Extent of urbanization can be gauged from the fact that flood plains of Jhelum are being used as the site for developing urban settlements. Many have said that such the floods of Kashmir in 2014 were due to the engulfing of flood plains by such unplanned construction. Urbanization rate in Jammu and Kashmir at present is 27.3 per cent.
“The Bakarwal community is also facing many challenges due to urbanisation and climate change. Few meadows have now become tourist spots and hence the route for grazing the goats and sheep by the Bakarwal community has been affected. Now the Bakarwals have to travel many kilometres further into the mountains to graze their goats and sheep. Also a significant percentage of the Bakarwal community have migrated to the plains due to climate change, says Dr. Seema Mehra Parihar, Project Director of ICSSR Project “Mapping Geospatial Dimensions of Hydro Politics in Jammu & Kashmir”, 2020 who is also an academician and avid geographer.
Hydrological Power Projects: Large scale construction of dams and hydro power projects in the region has created conditions for the massive loss of ecological balance. The most important ecological impact of dams is that it divided the river in two different systems; one is upstream system and the downstream system. The ecological loss to the riverine ecosystem is huge. The reservoirs in the dams destroy forest covers on land. Besides dams and reservoirs traps the sediments of the river, the loss in the nutrient level of rivers have caused decline in productivity of arable land.
Deforestation: The felling down of the tress for urbanization for the hydrological power and construction of roads has caused deforestation in the region. The construction of roads is an important tool to channelized resource at a certain localised site for certain kind of development at different location. There must be at least 33 per cent of forest cover in the plains and 60 per cent of forests in the Himalayan mountainous region as per Government norms. However, now only 20 per cent of forest cover is present due to deforestation. Deforestation also gives rise land degradation, soil erosion etc. Leading to the depletion of diverse flora and fauna.
Efforts to address climate change threat in Jammu and Kashmir
The more we are confronted with the problem of climate change the more convinced we should be with the idea of more equitable, less greedy system where we are in tandem with the nature and are not in a contradictory relation with it. But having said this, we must also recognise the efforts which the present efforts that have taken to mitigate the threat before us. Though these are reformist but still we have to recognise their success in mitigating threat to certain degrees. The efforts like climate proofing is an effective way to mitigate the effort of climate change in the region.
Action Plans formulated by the Government for Climate Change contain both adaptation & mitigation measures to cope with the climate change. The Action plan aims to develop, apply and diffuse technologies, practices and processes that control, reduce or prevent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases in all relevant sectors, including water, energy, transport, industry, agriculture, forestry, waste management and health sectors. It is recognized that such Action Plans cannot be implemented without the financial and other resource assistance from multilateral institutions. Sectors/mission namely power, water, sustainable habitat, sustainable agriculture, tourism, sustainable Himalayan ecosystem, health, disaster management, solar mission, and renewable energy and enhanced energy efficiency are covered in the Action plan. The wide range rainbow cover of the issues to mitigate the climate change threat has to be implemented in true tone. In developing regional policies for climate change there is definitely a reason to work towards enhancing community resilience.
There is a fresh need to formulate an effective framework which is holistic and balanced and includes multiple issues that touch local communities for addressing outmigration, joblessness, and changing demographics due to climate change. Adaptation measures should be designed and aligned with local conditions, resources, and needs and aim towards building community cohesiveness in PPP mode.
With recent changes, the government and local communities are finding ways to tackle the climate change with new approach to foster relief for the people against threat of global warming and climate change.
(The author is Head & Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi)