With Kashmir emerging as the crucible for climatic change, the freak weather has started taking a toll on the small agrarian economies, reports Mariah Shah

Blooming Sight: For centuries the Badam Wari was the first to reverberate with life with the onset of the spring season in Jammu and Kashmir. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

The considerable change in temperature in Jammu and Kashmir this year has had a dramatic effect on Srinagar and Jammu – the two main cities. Hot weather left its mark, especially in the month of March; setting a new landmark. While Kashmir saw the hottest March in 131 years this year, Jammu set the record for the hottest March in the past 76 years.

The mean maximum of 20.7 degrees Celsius was recorded in the city of Srinagar; the warmest temperature since 2004 and the mean minimum temperature was recorded as 6.7 degrees Celsius; the highest since the year 1892. Meanwhile, the Meteorological Department recorded the highest temperature in Jammu at 37.3 degrees Celsius; the hottest March registered in 76 years. The previous highest temperature of 37.2 degrees Celsius was recorded on March 31, 1945.

It was not Srinagar alone that recorded the highest temperature. In fact, every major habitation in Kashmir witnessed an increase in temperature.

India Meteorological Department (IMD) had previously unveiled a seasonal forecast from March to May 2022, suggesting Jammu and Kashmir was also on the list of regions to witness a rise in temperature. The weather outlook further predicted the world to have multiple climate imperilments in the following couple of decades. This will lead to global warming of 1.5 degrees celsius. The pivotal report unveiled by IMD remarked that the immediate change may bring adverse effects, some of which are immutable.

Besides, the report suggested the increase in the global temperature will result in considerably severe effects on agriculture in the exposed countries (including India). This could impact food security.

The data also disclosed no major wet spell in November 2021 in Srinagar compared to the five wet spells in 2020, 11 in 2019, and four in 2018. December 2021 saw three wet spells but no snowfall unlike the four snow spells in 2020, three snow spells in 2019, one in 2018, and eight snow spells in 2017.  Though the report mentions, that minus 19 per cent to plus 19 per cent is considered normal rainfall for the region.

The IMD data further supported that January 2022 witnessed 10 wet spells compared to January 2021, which saw eight major wet spells, mainly snowfall; 10 spells with snowfall in 2020, 13 spells with snowfall in 2019, and one spell with major snowfall in 2018.

This apple tree in a Heerpora, Shopian orchard tells the story of costs that Kashmir will pay for an early snowfall. The upper reaches of Kashmir are witnessing massive snowfall starting early October 23, 2021.

“Early sprouting is visible this year. Srinagar is witnessing a seasonal variation. Winters are heading more towards spring-like weather,” Dr Mohammad Muslim, Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Kashmir University (KU) was quoted as saying.” We observe that even Western disturbances bring more precipitation as rainfall than snow in Srinagar, which may not be true of upper reaches though.”

“Heat budget generated by Srinagar has gone up due to rapid urbanization, depleting green cover, and increased vehicular emissions,” Dr Muslim has further said. “Our changing ecosystem is already creating a rare energy budget that has started attracting the summer monsoon from mainland India, which was not true earlier. This has pushed even arid autumn to more humid conditions in Kashmir.”

Dr Shakil Ahmad Ramshoo, Vice-Chancellor of Islamic University of Science and Technology, said, “the problem of warmer weather is a global phenomenon, and is not confined to Kashmir.

“The reason behind this is climate change. And the major indicator of climate change is the erratic weather that varies from receiving less snowfall and cold weather to more snowfall and coldest weather,” Dr Ramshoo said. “Earlier we used to receive more rainfall in the current season, but now we witness scant rainfall. Traditionally, we receive 120-125mm rainfall in the spring season. If we compare this to what we received this spring, we are already deficient by around 70mm of rainfall. Meanwhile, the unpredictable early snowfall in autumn in the year 2019 or 2020. All these are indicators of climate change.”

While considering snowfall deficiency, Ramshoo added, “the drop in the snowfall in Kashmir is a reason for warmer weather. The depletion of snowfall, not only this year but for decades together has a role to play in it. It is a clear indication of climate change.”

Shakil Ahmed Ramshoo at his office in Kashmir University -- Photo: Bilal Bahadur
Shakil Ahmed Ramshoo at his office in Kashmir University — Photo: Bilal Bahadur

“Ramshoo said Kashmir’s water stores are the glaciers and snow on the mountains in far-flung stations. “These mountains are ‘the water towers.’ We have a lot of water available that won’t push us to face water scarcity for the coming twenty or thirty years. The warmer weather, in fact, has a direct impact on these glaciers. They will melt at a faster rate,” Ramshoo said. “We don’t need water in the spring season, we need it in the mid-summer months when the paddy starts growing. Then we may face water scarcity in the coming months. The water rushing in the streams and rivers in the current season should have appropriate management. Hence, the government needs to think about water management.”

Freak weather has an impact on Kashmir’s agricultural production. “Rains in March are essential for the apple crop,” Altaf Ahmad, a third-generation apple grower said. “The rain deficit in March would lead to early ripening and most of our crop would be market-ready almost three to four fortnights ahead of the routine.”

This may sound like a better option. But the issue is this harvest will force Kashmir to produce to compete with the Himachal apple, which would create problems. Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh have separate harvesting seasons with almost a quarter in between. For the last few years, Kashmir is already facing tensions from Iranian imports that dominate part of the market in December and January.

Rainfall has plummeted the temperatures pushing the population back to the winter setting. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Kashmir’s priority shift has helped it to evade the massive costs that climate change would have dictated. In the last 20 years, most of the Kashmir periphery has jumped from rice cultivation to apple growing. Rice is now limited to a few belts in the south – mostly the plains of Anantnag, and Pulwama and in parts of Bandipore in north Kashmir.

Rice fields are water-intensive and require a 24-hour supply for almost three months. Had Kashmir been into rice production, the way it was in the seventies, there would be drought almost every year because the water discharge in rivers is too little in comparison.

Apple, by and large, is dependent on rainfall and would require irrigation once a year only if the mercury soars too high. This has been the saving grace of Kashmir. Kashmir’s food deficit is managed by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) for up to two-thirds of the requirement.

Director Meteorological Department (MeT) Sonam Lotus

There are three issues that play a crucial role in depleting Kashmir’s water resources. First is the iritic snowfall. Most of the snow in Kashmir takes place by late January and not early December. Most of the snow is wet. This leaves nothing much to deposit on the glaciers. Glaciers survive for a longer period when they get a new coat of snow every year, which is quite infrequent.

The second issue is that the abrupt improvement in temperature in early spring induces quick melting. Most of the water bodies in Kashmir are filled to the brim till early May. When Kashmir needs water, a month later, the levels are too low. This triggers tensions and scuffles between rice growers over irrigation issues.

The third crisis that Kashmir’s glaciers face is the thick coat of dust that they get from the plains. Mostly soot and dust from Punjab, induce melting. Discharge of most of the glaciers in Kashmir has improved over the years, which means they are shrinking fast.

Given the situation, the policymakers may have to take a call and draft a long term plan to manage the impact of the climatic change that is visible in Kashmir, unlike in other places.


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