Feel The Change


by Khursheed Wani



On January 18, a 24-year-old skier from Sweden Daniel Naat fell into a deep gorge in Gulmarg heights and died. When a rescue team reached and retrieved him from a pile of snow, he was bleeding and motionless. Doctors at Gulmarg hospital declared him dead on arrival. An autopsy showed he died due to ruptures in vital internal organs.

Daniel had hit stones in the gorge before avalanched buried him. If Gulmarg had received the amount of snowfall it used to, the stones would have been lying under a thick layer and not turning deadly for a skiing enthusiast.  This is one facet of Kashmir’s changing weather conditions.

“At the time of the incident, the Gulmarg region was experiencing an exceptionally dry winter. The first recorded snowfall on November 16, 2017, measured 20 cm. On December 18, 85 cm accumulated in two days. The next measured precipitation was the morning of January 18,” a snowpack analysis on causes of Daniel’s death mentioned.

The negligible snow accumulation in Gulmarg has already spelt doom on the winter tourism. The fallout would be gradually visible in other fields linked to the fragile and already-stressed economy. The 40-day Chillai Kalan proved a damp squib. Most of the days were abnormally sunny. The open sky nights created even more horror. The night temperature remained below freezing, making the climate more miserable.

Kashmir weather is abysmally taking unpredictable twists and turns. Traditional winter season goes dry and the onset of spring becomes freaky, like 2017 when April was drenched in rain. The earth sciences experts say that the global climatic changes have converted Kashmir into its crucible. The changed weather conditions have impacted the pattern and yield of crops. Last autumn, the saffron fields of Pampore refused to bloom. The crop failed almost 90 percent. The agriculturists squarely blame the dry weather, which is perpetually hitting the cash crop, once a craze in Kashmir.

The Indian Meteorological Department has raised the alarm. It has described January as “largely deficient” rain and snowfall comparing it with the average precipitation of 95.7-mm rainfall. The precipitation is also recorded as unusually uneven. Nine districts received no rainfall at all while 11 districts received largely deficient rainfall during this period.

The statistics at Srinagar Meteorological Centre recorded an average of 49.6-mm rainfall in January, lowest for this month in 10 years.  Worse, the day temperature remained five to six degrees higher than the average and registered a high of 14.2°C on January 21, in Srinagar against the average maximum temperature of 6.3°C.

The situation was not different in December 2017. It was second December in three years that passed off dry and sixth since 1993. The continued dry spell triggered several forest fires causing huge damage to the already depleting green cover.

The low precipitation has a visible and direct impact on the water bodies. Most of the countryside streams have either completely dried up or exist by a trickle. Dal lake has shrunken with motionless water looking turbid and unpleasant. The managers of the lake disallow more water to flow out and maintain a steady level, apparently to keep Shikara, the tourism mascot afloat.

The lifeline of Kashmir, River Jhelum, is not offering a different state of affairs. The river that soared to wreak havoc in September 2014, is flowing at record-low levels since October 2017 when it plummeted to 0.65 feet, the lowest in its recorded history.

The experts of geography, climate and earth sciences link the deficient snowfall in Kashmir to global climate changes. They say the snowfall is fast paving way for rainfall, which has its own impact on the overall environmental behaviour.

Less snowfall, they say, means a reduction in water discharge during the summer. During past several years, this phenomenon has led to a scarcity of water in summers caused by perpetual depletion of glaciers. Since 1985, when Glacier and Climate Commission led by noted glaciologist Prof Iqbal Hasnain researched Kolhai Glacier, the origin of Lidder River in Pahalgam, the glacier has reduced by two kilometres in expanse and around 100 meters in thickness.

The changing weather conditions have wreaked havoc on saffron production in the expansive fields of Pampore. The latest crop failed almost completely much like the drought conditions in 2001, 2002 and 2017 and unusually heavy rainfall in September 2014, drastically reduced the yield in the past.

In the other parts, the paddy fields are converted into orchards at an alarming pace. The paddy cultivation has drastically reduced and the Valley’s burgeoning population is turning more and more dependent on food imports.

For the past several years, Srinagar’s Tulip Garden did not bloom due to extreme cold conditions in March-end. This hindered the tourism managers’ method to begin the tourism season much before its traditional beginning in May. This year the fingers are crossed again. Nobody is sure as to how the famed garden in the lap of Zabarwan hills would behave when the short span of tulip bloom is on the calendar.

While the roaring guns and bombs continue to snatch lives of Kashmiris at a steady pace, the climatic conditions are not turning out to be different. The people of Kashmir are at the receiving end.

Daniel Naat’s unfortunate death is also linked to our existential dilemma.


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